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Blue Jays’ offence won’t go without Vladdy and Bo


The Toronto Blue Jays are built around Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The Jays go as they go. It’s no surprise then that the offence has struggled with Guerrero and Bichette off to slow starts this season.

Bichette normally challenges for the league lead in hits, but not his year. In his career, he’s a .295/.336/.476 hitter. This season, his numbers have plummeted. He is batting .227/.287/.320 in 39 games. He is not hitting for average or power. Last season, he hit .306/.339/.475 with 30 doubles, three triples and 20 homers. This season, he’s on pace for 24 doubles and eight home runs.

When a player struggles, it’s rarely a single issue. Mechanical flaws can lead to slumps, which then affect a player’s mental state and confidence. Sometimes a hitter’s thinking can lead to a slump, and then unnecessary mechanical adjustments can cause additional struggles. The league can make an adjustment to a hitter and focus on an area of weakness, and will continue to do so unless the hitter makes an adjustment. Occasionally, bad luck can mess with a player’s mind. He can hit line drive after line drive right at defenders, then lose confidence for no real reason at all.

The way out of a slump is never about trying harder. It’s usually about trying less. Hitters need to maintain concentration and intensity without being tense. 

So, what is wrong with Bo?

Bichette is struggling in some obvious areas this season. He’s between pitches, which means he is behind the fastball and in front of the breaking balls and off-speed pitches.

He hit .328 versus fastballs in 2023, while he is only hitting .278 against them this season. That is a major drop-off, but not nearly as significant as his struggles against breaking balls and off-speed pitches.

Last year, he hit .267 on breaking balls and .333 on off-speed pitches. This season, he is hitting a meager .158 on breaking balls and .143 on off-speed. It’s not hard to figure out what opponents are going to throw him. He’s going to keep getting the slow stuff until he makes an adjustment.

Bichette is showing signs of coming out of his slump with 10 hits in his past six games, hitting .370 during that time. The key to the turnaround seems to be that he is starting to look for pitches other than fastballs.

Hitting is a process that often calls for educated guesses as to what pitch is coming. If a hitter continuously only looks for fastballs while being fed off-speed pitches, he’s going to struggle. Six of Bichette’s past 10 hits have come on breaking balls or changeups. Bichette’s barrel percentage is the lowest it’s been in his career, as is his launch angle. Because his timing has been off on every pitch, he isn’t getting his bat head in proper position to drive the ball. 

Bichette can get back to hitting the fastball, but only once he drives the breaking balls and off-speed pitches. The full adjustments will take a couple weeks as the advance scouting catches up to the adjustments he is making.

Guerrero is hitting .275/.373/.388 so far this season. The batting average and on-base percentage are good, but the slugging is not. Does that sound familiar?  He is in a downward slide with his slugging percentage over the past four seasons: .601, .480, .444, and .388. He’s moving further away from being that aircraft carrier in the middle of the lineup that he was in 2021 and closer to a contact hitter who just puts the ball in play. 

Guerrero’s hard-hit rate is excellent as is his exit velocity and barrel rate. That all sounds great, right? So, what’s the issue?

The most important aspect of Guerrero’s swing is the launch angle. The league-average launch angle is 12.4 degrees, while Guerrero’s is just 6.4 degrees. He hits the ball hard, but he hits it on the ground. There are plenty of hits on the ground but not much production. Stop me if you have heard this story before.

The other struggle for the Jays first baseman is that he is not hitting breaking balls or off-speed pitches like he has in previous years. He is only slugging .388 on breaking balls this year, down from .433 last season. The off-speed pitches have been his biggest nemesis though, as he is only hitting .087/.224/.217 on them. Why would any pitcher ever throw him a fastball to hit?  I would only show him a fastball out of the zone and then overwhelm him with changeups and splits until he proves he can make an adjustment.

I think Guerrero needs to trust himself more. He doesn’t want to swing and miss, so he gets in between with his timing, and it changes his bat path to the ball. He needs to deliver his best swing on every pitch until he gets two strikes and then look for contact. This isn’t golf where you drive for show and putt for dough. In baseball, you drive for dough. Sluggers get paid the most.

Guerrero can do that, if he just lets himself. He will figure it out at some point, but the question is whether he will figure out as a member of the Blue Jays or somewhere else. 


Kikuchi cruising in contract year

Yusei Kikuchi

Yusei Kikuchi has figured it out. His first season with the Jays felt like a bit of a bust. In fact, I wondered if he would have to be moved to the bullpen for good.

The problem was that he didn’t throw enough strikes as a starter, let alone as a reliever. He was somewhat non-functional. But he has completely turned things around. He now pounds the strike zone and throws his pitches with conviction. He deserves a lot of credit for persevering and making the necessary adjustment as recommended by Jays pitching coach Pete Walker.

My experience is that left-handers often take a bit more time to figure things out in their development. Plus, if you factor in the adjustment of coming from Japan, having less time between starts, a different baseball and strike zone, and a language barrier, it makes sense that it took some time. 

He is earning himself a lot of money with his improvements. He will be a free agent this off-season and should be in for a big payday. He will likely price himself out of the Jays’ payroll. That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that with Walker’s ability to evaluate a pitcher’s mechanics and stuff, study the analytics and recommend adjustments, the Jays can find the next Yusei Kikuchi this off-season and do it again. 

Kikuchi’s pending free agency, however, is a further reminder that the window to win with this core is closing soon. They need to fix things this season before retooling and/or rebuilding becomes the plan.