This is a question that the Yankees, Royals, and three of the five AL West teams are pondering right now. Yea, the playoffs aren't decided yet, but there is so little time to analyze during the playoffs that some analysis/strategery should be done before the playoffs. This kind of thinking might be anathema to the superstitious fan. Superstition is fun, but if I were an analyst, my job would be dependent on getting as much done possible with as little time and resources as possible. No time for superstition.
The narrative is that the Blue Jays are a fastball-hitting team. The narrative ain't wrong. By far, the Blue Jays are the best against fastballs in the league. By run values available on FanGraphs, the Jays have created 108 runs above average on the fastball. That's about 48 runs more than the second-place team, the Yankees. The gap between the Jays and Yankees is as big as the gap between the Yankees and 11th-place Tigers. Adjusting for the number of fastballs thrown to each team, the story is basically the same.
Therefore, the solution suggested by the narrative to solving the Blue Jays offense is to throw fewer fastballs. In some ways this is true; in others, not so much. That statement probably didn't make much sense, but basically I'm just going to show you the mixed data I've seen.
As you might expect, as the innings wear on, the Blue Jays see less hard stuff (Baseball Savant data). The increase starting at the sixth inning is almost certainly due to relievers entering the game. Combine this insight above with the following data from Baseball Reference regarding the Blue Jays times through the order stats. Recall that the times through the order penalty (TTOP) stipulates that pitchers do worse each time they face an opposing batter.
|Time Through the Order||sOPS+|
sOPS+ measures production relative to the league in that statistic
This is in agreement with the narrative - the Blue Jays see fewer fastballs as they go through the order, so naturally their production falls back toward earth relative to the league. While the league in general improves as players go through the order, the Blue Jays apparently do not match the league's increase. They still do better than the league overall, but the trend is a clear downward one.
That seems pretty cut and dry, no? Well, it's not so cut and dry. Notice in the graph above that offspeed usage increases in innings one through five. Breaking pitch usage increases too, but the percent increase in offspeed usage is about double the breaking increase (~55% vs. ~27%). Harken back to the pitch type values from FanGraphs. In addition to leading the league in runs above average against fastballs, the Blue Jays also lead the league against changeups! Throwing more offspeed stuff doesn't necessarily equal success.
In addition, observe the overall distribution between hard, breaking, and offspeed stuff as the season has gone on.
There is quite the crash in the percentage of hard stuff seen since it peaked in June. Offspeed usage has about doubled since June, while breaking pitch usage has increased by about a third. Having seen a decrease in fastballs, one would expect the Jays offense to cool down, right?
Despite seeing the largest share of breaking balls, against which they don't do as well as offspeed and hard stuff, for the whole season in September, the Blue Jays offense has kept on rolling.
I suppose the best advice is to throw more breaking balls. The Blue Jays swing the least against breaking balls and whiff more than the hard stuff (still less than offspeed stuff though). I hesitate to offer that advice since that's what teams have done since June to little effect; the Jays led the league in runs scored the first half of the season and again lead in the second half. Hesitant advice being the "best" advice is not a good sign for the other teams. The other playoff hopefuls should really get their analysts and coaches to do way more with more resources than I have...in any case, best of luck!
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