Second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers in RC+ and Offensive Runs Above Average (OFF), the 2022 Toronto Blue Jays finished second to the New York Yankees in the AL East standings. The Blue Jays were seventh in home runs with 200, while the Yankees led the pack with 254 homers. The Jays home park Rogers Centre ranked fourth in total home runs, trailing the Yankees yet again.
Of course, everyone loves dongs, and Yankee Stadium is notoriously friendly to the long ball. Apparently, the Blue Jays believe what may be standing in their way is a lack of jacks, because the new dimensions of Rogers Centre seem to indicate the organization’s desire to turn their home park into a launching pad that could give division rivals the Yankees a run for their money.
Toronto Blue Jays With Potential For 40 Home Runs
Although only three players hit over 40 home runs in 2022, five players managed the feat in 2021, while seven players knocked either 38 or 39 home runs. In the previous full season of 2019, 10 players smacked 40 or more.
Anecdotally, many players have voiced opinions about the reasons behind offensive fluctuation over the past few years. Reading between the lines of MLB’s new policy limiting defensive shifts, 2023 may see an uptick in overall offense.
It would seem the Toronto Blue Jays are leaning into this run-scoring ideology with some park changes that go against the grain of what the Baltimore Orioles did with Camden Yards last year. While the O’s moved back the fences ostensibly to fortify their burgeoning pitching staff, the Blue Jays have specifically turned the right field porch into a virtual facsimile of Yankee Stadium’s infamously short barrier for entry to long ball paradise.
Where Yankee Stadium’s right field wall measures 360 feet from home plate, the new dimensions of Rogers Centre’s right field wall will check in one foot shorter at 359 feet. A stark differentiation from the former 375 feet, this effectively erases the stadium’s previous warning track. In other words, a playable fly ball in 2022 becomes a round-tripper in 2023.
Certainly, right field’s alterations should yield the most impact, but center field also will become power friendlier. Especially in the right field alley, the fences move in 11 feet. The left field warning track diminishes seven feet, with fences for pull-happy righties now measuring 368 feet from home plate.
For method behind the madness of these drastic park changes, a cynic might point to the Jays off-season signings of a few key left-handed power bats to avail themselves of a generous right field porch.
Brandon Belt, for instance, finally exits cavernous Oracle Park for a red carpet roll out in Toronto as the team’s primary DH. Some of Belt’s statistical indicators give clues that he could, himself, carry a 40-homer season in 2023, but health will be the primary determinant in his case.
While health will ultimately factor in all the players on this list, five other Toronto Blue Jays also possess the skills, and now have the opportunity to carve their way to the heralded 40-homer plateau.
The Jays front office must believe in the magic of nepotism. In addition to sons of Dante Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, the son of former MLB journeyman Gary Varsho will now play for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Versatile Daulton Varsho came over via trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the off-season. A part-time catcher for the D’Backs, the speedy Varsho will patrol the outfield for the Jays.
If there’s a player custom fit to benefit from the Jays’ park adjustments, it’s arguably the left-handed, fly ball prone Varsho.
Ranking 51st overall in the statistical indicator Barrel %, which predicts power, this landed Varsho in the 70th percentile amongst his peers in 2022.
In Isolated Power (ISO), Varsho tallied 32nd in the league with a .207 ISO, just behind Juan Soto’s .210.
Varsho is also in good company with the same 14.9 Launch Angle as the King Kong of dongs, Aaron Judge.
All those sexy metrics netted Varsho the IRL total of 27 home runs in 2022. Despite the presence of Coors Field, Varsho’s former NL West division tends to play as pitcher-friendlier environs.
Playing in the offensively charged AL East in his age 26 season in 2023, on a team packed with offensive potential, Varsho could find his 54% pull tendency squeezing a baker’s dozen more long balls.
While Varsho role-plays as the dark horse of this list, George Springer has the track record – and now the lack of warning tracks – to suggest 40 homers is well within his grasp.
Entering his tenth full season in the league, it’s somewhat surprising the veteran offensive force hasn’t nailed the 40 mark yet. Springer had a near miss in 2019 with the Houston Astros, when he cranked 39 homers.
In his injury-shortened debut with the Blue Jays, the righty slugger belted 22 home runs in 342 plate appearances. This gave Springer a .291 ISO, certainly putting him on pace for a 40-home-run type of full season.
Springer’s power numbers have fluctuated over the years, so projection systems are bearish with no more than 30 home runs predicted for 2023. At 33, his Max Exit Velocities and Launch Angles still profile very good power upside. With health and friendly park factors on his side, Springer could beat those projections silly.
Like Belt, Matt Chapman made his escape from the Bay Area for friendlier confines in Toronto. Chapman, though, already has a season to show for his Canadian resume with 27 home runs in 2022 – the exact same number he hit for the Oakland A’s in 2021.
A portrait of consistency in top-flight Exit Velocities, Chapman, like Springer, only had one year where he came close to 40 home runs, with 36 in 2019.
Unlike Springer, Chapman has never been able to register much higher than league-average batting averages, despite the two players having an almost identical career contact percentage of 74%.
The reason can perhaps be found in Chapman’s career fly ball rate of 46.1% versus Springer’s 35.7%. Simply put, more fly balls typically go for outs, especially in Oakland Coliseum. By the same token, a high fly ball percentage can also lead to home runs – especially when coupled with a Launch Angle of 19, which placed Chapman in the top 15 hitters of 2022.
These factors likely played in the strategy of Toronto’s front office when acquiring the Gold Glove third baseman. With even more inviting fences, the organization may have availed a prime opportunity for the impending free agent Chapman to flex those exit velocities towards a 40-homer campaign and a lucrative long-term deal.
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While it may not occur in 2023, it’s hard to imagine a world in which 25-year-old phenom shortstop Bo Bichette doesn’t challenge for the 40-homer legacy. Graded at a 60 Raw Power as a prospect, Bichette thus far has displayed a mixed bag of indicative metrics.
On the positive end of the spectrum, Bichette flashed an elite Average Exit Velocity of 91.9 in 2022, placing him in the 91st percentile of hitters. Additionally, his Hard Hit % put him in the 94th percentile.
Bichette’s Launch Angle of 8.5, however, leaves something to be desired for a power profile. No doubt the power/speed dynamo squares up the ball, leading to a 20.4% Line Drive rate – which should provide high batting averages, as shown in his .297 career mark.
One sneaky advantage, which may not be readily apparent, but the Blue Jays organization certainly knows, lies in Bichette’s opposite-field batted ball profile. Right-handed Bichette generates 33.9% of his outcomes to the right field side of the diamond, good for third overall in 2022.
Bichette maxed out at 29 homers over the course of a full season in 2021. A few more fly balls punched to what’s now the shortest porch in the AL East could get Bichette to a 40-homer season sooner than later.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The easy-call lay-up of the list happens to also be the youngest of the quintet. Entering his fifth season at the ripe age of 24, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. already touts the 40-home run achievement on his growing mantle.
As the saying goes: once you show the skill, you own it. Vladito claimed 48 long balls in 2021. Steamer’s projection system has already awarded Guerrero Jr. with 39 homers projected for Toronto’s first baseman.
With Max Exit Velocities in the 99th percentile and average velos in the 96th range, Vladito actually “regressed” in 2022, clocking just 32 bombs.
His 80 grade raw power won’t be held back from multiple 40-home run seasons with Toronto’s adjusted dimensions. Guerrero’s balanced batted ball profile enables the launching of oppo jacks to the new short porch in right field, where he hit 22.8% of his balls in 2022.
All Vladito need now overcome is his Launch Angles, which track ever lower than teammate Bichette’s. If he can put some more loft in his mammoth swing, the sky is the limit. Though in Rogers Centre, unless the retractable roof is open, one has to imagine the sky beyond the dome.
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