A 2016 Blue Jays Season Retrospective, told through Statcast Data

2016 was a good year to be a Blue Jays fan: the team was exciting to watch, the rotation was stellar, and even though the bullpen was a bit of a rollercoaster, and the Jays once again made it to the ALCS, falling just short of a World Series berth.

As pitchers and catchers begin to report for spring training, let’s close the book on the 2016 season by taking a look back on all the highs, lows and interesting storylines of the Blue Jays’ season using outliers in MLB’s Statcast data.

Hardest Hit by Exit Velocity – Jose Bautista, 115 MPH

May 19: 20-23, 4th Place, 6.0 Games Back (GB)

Though the Blue Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion to free-agency and subsequently to the Cleveland Indians, they did not lose Jose Bautista. And hopefully that means that Jose will only continue to add to his impressive list of memorable moments.

Among all of your favorite Bautista moments, you’re not likely to remember this single off Ervin Santana against the Minnesota Twins in May. At the time, the Blue Jays were 20-23 and in 4th place in the division after getting off to a putrid start to the season. This hit traveled 297 feet, and isn’t necessarily memorable for its impact on the game, but it is memorable for the fact that Bautista turns Santana’s 95 MPH pitch into a 115.34 MPH single.

At the time, Bautista was hitting .211, had an OPS of .827, and his stats really wouldn’t improve significantly the rest of the year (he’d finish with a .234 average and an .817 OPS). His 2016 season was, by all acounts, a down season for Bautista, and he struggled to stay on the field throughout the season. Though this happened in mid-May, it did stand as the hardest hit baseball by any Blue Jays hitter all season, and hopefully it stands as an indicator of what is to come for Bautista in the 2017 season, regardless of where he plays in the field.

Fastest Pitch – Roberto Osuna, 100 MPH

May 30: 27-26, 3rd Place, 4.0 GB

It probably won’t surprise you to read that the fastest pitch thrown by a Blue Jays pitcher was not by Ryan Goins, but by Roberto Osuna. Osuna’s four seam fastball on a 1-2 count to the New York Yankees’ Chase Headley touched 100 MPH (100.16 to be exact) according to Statcast, and was the fastest pitch of any Blue Jays pitcher in 2016.

Headley still managed to squeeze a single out of that pitch, but Osuna and the Jays held on for the win. By May 30th, the Blue Jays had already begun their climb out of the AL East basement, into 3rd place. Osuna would go on to have another stellar season, earning him the distinction of being the pitcher with the most career saves before the age of 22.

Highest Spin Pitch – Pat Venditte, 3217 RPM

June 12: 35-30, 3rd Place, 2.5 GB

Finally, I can throw a stat at you that just might surprise you. The pitcher with the highest spin rotation on any pitch last year for the Blue Jays was Pat Venditte, whose slider (from the right side, for those of you who were wondering) to Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop had a spin rate of 3217 RPM. You’ll notice that Schoop swings right over this pitch, as it doesn’t quite have the break that he expected it to have.

Venditte allowed two runs in that appearance on June 12th, and it would be the last time he pitched in a Blue Jays uniform (he’d be optioned to AAA two days later, and eventually traded to the Mariners later in the season). In a sign of what maybe was the beginning of the Jays’ bullpen turnaround, this was also the first save earned by Jason Grilli in a Blue Jays uniform. In 3rd place at the time, the Jays were within striking distance – just 2.5 games behind Baltimore – of the division lead.

Hardest Exit Velocity Allowed – Drew Storen, 117 MPH

June 19: 39-33, 3rd Place, 3.0 GB

The hardest hit allowed by a Blue Jays pitcher by Statcast’s exit velocity was given up by none other than current Cincinnati Red, Drew Storen. Storen gave up a double on a 0-1 count against Baltimore to Mark Trumbo that was blistered off the bat at 116.9 MPH.

Drew, unfortunately, never lived up to the hype that he brought with him after being acquired from the Nationals for Ben Revere. At the time of this double to Trumbo, the Blue Jays were still in 3rd place but 3.0 games back, and Storen’s ERA had been declining to a still-awful-but-getting-better 5.33.

It would go as low as 4.94 on June 24th, but by the time he made his last appearance for the Blue Jays on July 23rd, his ERA had ballooned to 6.21. He would be traded to the Mariners for Joaquin Benoit. The swap for Benoit was certainly productive for the Blue Jays, and seemed to have some positive effect on Storen, too; the move to Seattle allowed Storen’s ERA to drop nearly a full run (to 5.23) by the season’s end.

(Second) Fastest Pitch by Perceived Velocity – Bo Schultz, 99.38 MPH

June 26: 41-36, 3rd Place, 5.0 GB

Unsurprisingly, Roberto Osuna had the fastest pitch by perceived velocity (that is, how fast a pitch looks to the batter) of any Blue Jays pitcher in 2016. It may surprise you to know, however, that the second fastest pitch by perceived velocity was thrown by Bo Schultz on June 26th (although, if you’re a frequent reader of Bunt to the Gap maybe you did know all about Bo). Schultz threw a fastball to Alex Avila on June 26th that looked like it was 99.38 MPH. Admit it; Bo Schultz probably wasn’t the first guy that came to mind when you thought of guys with the fastest looking pitch.

On June 26th, the day Bo lit up the radar gun against the Sox, the Blue Jays were still in third place, trailing the Orioles by 5.0 games. This past season was an interesting one for Bo Schultz: June 26th was the first of his 16 appearances throughout the year, having dealt with injuries and spent some time in AAA. He finished the year with a disappointing ERA of 5.51, and a K/9 of just 3.33.

Longest Hit – Edwin Encarnacion, 471 feet

July 20: 54-42, 3rd Place, 1.0 GB

Given that Edwin Encarnacion is now a Cleveland Indian, it is perhaps bittersweet to see his name up there as having the longest hit by a Blue Jays player (and the ninth longest of any player) in 2016. EE took this 2-1 fastball from Daniel Hudson of the Diamondbacks deep to left-center, for a total distance of 471 feet. This is a monster home run. Watch it a few times in 2017 when you’re missing the Edwing days.

This win against the Diamondbacks, less than a week after the All-Star break, would allow the Jays to creep to within 1.0 game back of the division lead, even though they were still in third place.

Lowest Exit Velocity Allowed – Aaron Sanchez, 34 MPH

July 25: 56-44, 3rd Place, 3.0 GB

Keeping with our pitching stats, the lowest exit velocity on any hit allowed by a Blue Jays pitcher last year was by Aaron Sanchez’s 96.71 MPH fastball to Wil Myers of the San Diego Padres. Even though Sanchez’s fastball was over 95 MPH, Myers soft groundout right back to Sanchez only left the bat at 33.5 MPH and barely made it past the mound, travelling only 64.8 feet. 

On this day in July, Sanchez was stellar. He pitched seven full innings, allowed only three hits and two walks on 97 pitches. He struck out seven and allowed no earned runs. This start lowered Sanchez’ ERA to 2.72, and according to Bill JamesGameScore, it was his second best start of the entire year.

Though the Jays would still be in third place by the end of the game, by end of play on the 26th, they’d reach 2nd place. 

Lowest Spin Pitch (Non-Knuckleball Edition) – Marcus Stroman, 515 RPM

August 27: 73-56, 1st Place, 1.0 Game Up

OK, time for me to be honest with you. The lowest spin on any pitch by a Blue Jays pitcher last year was thrown by R.A. Dickey. But he threw that pitch hundreds of times, and according to Statcast, there are sooooo many instances of 0.00 spin rate pitches thrown by Dickey. That’s not exciting since I can’t pick out just one, so I’ll have to move on to another pitcher.

Your non-knuckler low-spin king is Marcus Stroman, whose slider on a 2-2 count to Minnesota’s Miguel Sano on August 27 had a spin rate of 515 RPM. Due to the relatively little amount of spin on the pitch, Stroman’s slider in this instance dives completely toward the bottom of the zone, and Sano swings right over it.

(For those of you who are new to Spin Rate, it works like this: pitches with a low spin rate drop faster, and those with a higher spin rate tend to stay up longer – as a pitcher, you want to be on either end of the spectrum to be less predictable to hitters; the closer your pitches are to the middle of the spin rate bell curve, the more predictable their break/drop will be, and the easier they will be to hit).

Though his slider was working that day, this was one of Stroman’s worst starts of the year. He threw 100 pitches through 6 innings, allowing 5 earned runs on 9 hits. Even though his GameScore was only 38 (which, unfortunately was not his worst start of the year), the Blue Jays still won game 8-7, on Melvin Upton Jr.‘s little league home run and RBI.

The Blue Jays, at this point in the season, were enjoying being on top of the division

Highest Perceived Velocity – Roberto Osuna, 99.32

September 12: 79-64, 2nd Place, 2.0 GB

Since I already told you that Roberto Osuna had the highest perceived velocity, you should have expected this. I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the pitch as I will the circumstances surrounding the pitch: at two hours and thirteen minutes, the game on September 12th against the Tampa Bay Rays was the second shortest game by time that the Blue Jays would play all year.

In fact, this very well could have ended up as the shortest game played by the Jays all year had it not been for Roberto Osuna eagerness to get the game done.

Here’s the pitch to Steven Souza Jr:

Pretty fast pitch.

And here’s what happened in the rest of the at-bat:

Yeah. That was the time that the Blue Jays and the Rays had the softest benches-clearing incident of recent memory. I bet you had completely forgotten about that, didn’t you.

Softest Hit by Exit Velocity – Edwin Encarnacion, 14 MPH

September 16: 81-66, 2nd Place, 2.0 GB

Speaking of weak outs off the bat, the weakest ball hit all year belonged to Edwin Encarnacion. Edwin swinging at this 3-2 pitch on September 16th resulted in a batted ball that left the bat at just 13.7 MPH. So while Edwin had the longest hit by Statcast, he also had the weakest.

Edwin’s exit velocity here may as well have been a metaphor for the last part of the Blue Jays’ season: they went 6-7 for the rest of September, falling to 11-16 for the month.

To 2017

Well, there you have it, the 2016 Blue Jays season as told by Statcast. Reviewing the 2016 season like this brings up some interesting questions for 2017: can Jose Bautista continue to crush the ball? Who will hit this year’s longest home run for the Blue Jays? Who will have the highest spin rate on a pitch?

We’re just over a month away from the return of meaningful baseball – I can’t wait.

Dave

Dave is the Managing Editor of BunttotheGap.com. He lives in Toronto, is staunchly #TeamDog, and has been to 18 of 30 MLB ballparks. You can contact him at dave@bunttothegap.com.