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Entries in Toronto Blue Jays (32)

Tuesday
Sep062011

Walkoff Continues Lawrie's Scorching Start

Brett Lawrie can do no wrong. The Langley, B.C., native, selected 16th overall in the 2008 draft by the Brewers and traded to Toronto for Shaun Marcum last winter, has pummeled pitchers for a .318 average, a .381 OBP and a .682 slugging percentage since making his MLB debut in early August. Yesterday, he ripped a Dan Wheeler fastball 423 feet into the Rogers Centre stands in the 11th inning, giving the Jays a 1-0 walkoff win over the Red Sox.

Wheeler's fastball was high and down the middle -- a mistake no matter who's at the plate. Lawrie has taken full advantage when pitchers catch too much of the plate against him. Take a look at the location of his eight big league home runs. Seven of them have been on pitches thrown in the middle part of the zone (vertically):

Location of Lawrie's home runs, 2011

It's awfully rare to find a rookie who rakes from the get-go like Lawrie has (his OPS+ is 180), but doing so is no guarantee of future stardom. According to Baseball-Reference, the last time a hitter blasted pitchers like this over his first 100-some odd plate appearances was 2005, when Mike Jacobs put up a 179 OPS+ in 112 PA. Bill Sudakis (1968) and Chris Dickerson (2008) did slightly less damage in a similar number of PA. When the sample size increases, however, you start seeing names like Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas, Johnny Mize, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols with OPS+ totals ranging from the high 150s to the high 170s.

In other words, going Roy Hobbs on the league for a month doesn't necessarily tell us much, but sustained rookie mashing does. Given Lawrie's age (he doesn't turn 22 until January) and minor league track record, there's good reason to believe he's on a path to stardom. Just don't make your Cooperstown reservations yet.

Thursday
Aug252011

Learning Lawrie

Brett Lawrie of the Toronto Blue Jays made a big splash during his first month in the majors.  Ten of his 20 hits so far landed for extra bases, with four doubles, two triples and four home runs.  Pitchers mostly worked Lawrie away but in the strike zone so far.

Brett Lawrie, pitch frequency, 2011.Lawrie demonstrated great play coverage so far.

Brett Lawrie, in play average, 2011.You can see why pitchers are working him a little lower and a little bit more away.  Going away outside the strike zone isn't that great an idea, however:

Brett Lawrie, swing rate, 2011.Note that Brett shows great selectivity on outside pitches, but is more likely to swing at something in on his hands.  The nice thing about that from the pitcher's point of view is that he generates little power inside:

Brett Lawrie, fly ball distance, 2011.Balls on the inside edge of the plate don't get hit for distance. 

Pitchers are learning Brett's tendancies.  If these hold up, look for them to bust him inside more.

Friday
Aug192011

Curtis Granderson Dominating the Fastball

New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson is crushing fastballs this season.  His .785 slugging percentage against them ranks first in the league, as does his 1.231 OPS.  Also, 11.5% of his at bats decided on a fastball have resulted in a home run.

Considering how he's done versus fastballs in the past two years, his current season has been quite an improvement.

Curtis Granderson vs. Fastballs
AVGSLGK%HR%wOBAISOHR/FB
2009.242.48616.5%5.4%.348.24513.0%
2010.285.46817.5%3.4%.358.1839.0%
2011.345.785*14.8%11.5%*.494*.440*27.7%
* - Leads the league

What has helped Granderson's overall numbers against fastballs has been his ability to lay off pitches out of the zone. In 2010, he chased 26.6% of fastballs out of the zone, and 23.5% in 2009. This season, he's chasing only 18.5%.

(Click image to enlarge)

You can see from the above graphic that Granderson is swinging at more fastballs that land in the zone, while chasing outside fastballs a bit less. His increased plate discipline has resulted in a lot more production. And while his 34 total HRs is second behind Jose Bautista's 35, his 23 HRs off fastballs leads all major leaguers.

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