If anyone in Major League Baseball has been impacted by COVID, it would be the Toronto/Buffalo/Dunedin Blue Jays. Being the only team in the Majors not located in the United States, the Blue Jays haven’t been able to enjoy their usual space in the Rogers Centre since 2019, as the Canadian Government won’t allow them and other teams to enter and leave the country. In the time being, the Blue Jays have had to use two separate stadiums within their organization to call their home. Throughout 2020, the Blue Jays played at Sahlen Field, their AAA stadium in Buffalo, NY, which may have installed video boards from a trending LED Screen Company. After they went 17-9 in that ballpark, they changed in 2021 to their Spring Training Park in Dunedin. So far, the Jays are 10-6 at T.D. Ballpark. It isn’t unusual for teams to play better at home, but the Blue Jays discrepancies between their performance at home and on the road since 2020 are nothing short of alarming. It’s something you only see from the Colorado Rockies, who play in a stadium a mile high in altitude.
On August 11th, 2020, the Blue Jays played their first game in Buffalo. Before that point, they had been playing home games in their opponent’s stadiums, and they finally had a ballpark to call their own, even if it was made for the minor leagues. From there, the Blue Jays began mashing out in Buffalo, slashing .273/.342/.469/.810, with all of those numbers ranking in the top 11 in MLB. Meanwhile, on the road, they put up a line of .255/.332/.452/.784. Not as good across the board, but their ranks were actually better on the road than they were at home.
So in 2020, the Blue Jays were clearly a better team offensively at home, but it would be a stretch to believe it was because of the ballpark they were in, as it wasn’t too far off from their road statistics. However, these numbers looked a lot different in the early goings in 2020. From August 11th up until September 7th, the Blue Jays home slash line was .286/.366/.512/.877 with a 132 wRC+ (all top 6 in majors). Eventually, everything evened itself out and we ended up with the aforementioned stats.
Now, the Blue Jays have resided in Dunedin beyond the month of March and have been playing their home games there in 2021. Any sign that the offense was better at Sahlen Field last year has been amplified by the Jays’ 2021 performance at T.D. Ballpark. In 16 games there, they’ve slashed .285/.363/.503/.865 with a .373 wOBA and 137 wRC+. Every single one of those stats leads all major league teams at home. So whichever way you look at it, the Blue Jays are the best offensive team in their home ballpark, no doubt. However, this success has not in any way translated on the road. The Jays are slashing .230/.289/.371/.659 with a .292 wOBA and 86 wRC+ away from home. All those rank between 16th and 23rd in the majors.
With the offense as a unit having clear inconsistency between home and road play, it’s fair to ask if the Blue Jays pitching has suffered the same fate as their opponents. Well, not exactly. In Dunedin, Jays’ pitchers have a 3.92 ERA with a 4.32 FIP, ranking 16th and 21st respectively. Not great, but they have a 3.76 ERA with a 4.08 FIP on the road, being 11th and 18th in Major League Baseball. A little better than at home, but in reality, all it takes is one good game at home or one bad game on the road for it to be all even. It’s pretty clear that the Blue Jays offense has been the biggest recipient of good fortune in home/road differences.
With this, there have been a lot of individual performances on the Jays that have been more home-dependent. It starts with the best performer on the team in the young season in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Vlad is slashing a laughable .421/.542/.860/1.401 at T.D. Ballpark with a .571 wOBA and 271 wRC+. Once again, all those stats lead all major leaguers at home. He’s still decent on the road, sporting a 134 OPS+, but it’s nowhere near what he’s done in his home park. Bo Bichette is another Blue Jay who has made himself at home. His .667 slugging percentage in Dunedin ranks 7th among all major leaguers at home and his 182 wRC+ ranks 13th. Meanwhile, he’s a below-average hitter on the road with an 85 wRC+. Several other Jays players have been different stories between home and away, including Alejandro Kirk, (195 home wRC+, 68 road wRC+) Lourdes Gurriel Jr., (121 home wRC+, 6 road wRC+) Santiago Espinal (167 home wRC+, 9 road wRC+) and Josh Palacios (159 home wRC+, -34 road wRC+).
T.D. Ballpark leads the majors in ballpark factor, meaning Statcast has deemed it the most hitter-friendly ballpark through the 2021 season. From 2017-2019, the Rogers Centre had a perfectly average 100 park factor, opposed to T.D. Ballpark’s 111. Even if the Blue Jays were as strong on offense in general in 2017-2019, that’s a notable difference to have been made that quickly. In 2021, the Blue Jays have hit 115 fly balls in their home ballpark. On those fly balls, they are slugging 1.071, the 4th best home rate in the majors. That’s great, especially since they have a .791 slugging percentage on fly balls on the road. Now, here’s where the luck factor comes in. Although the Jays are slugging 1.071 on fly balls at home, their expected slugging (xSLG) is only a .887. That ranks 17th in the majors, and their .184 point difference between SLG and xSLG is the highest in baseball on the luck side. Even with that elite 1.071 slugging percentage, expected statistics have proven that the Blue Jays have been the luckiest team in baseball with fly balls at home.
How does this happen? How does a team get that lucky at a ballpark that isn’t Coors Field in Colorado? If you’re thinking of some possibilities in your head, I can eliminate one for you. It’s not ballpark dimensions.
This is a spray chart of every fly ball the Blue Jays have hit at T.D. Ballpark in 2021. Except, the dimensions shown are from the Rogers Centre, where none of these fly balls have actually been hit. As the graph shows, every batted ball from T.D. Ballpark stays pretty consistent with where it would be in Rogers Centre. All home runs would remain as such, and no balls that didn’t get out would. However, there is another thing that should be considered. Geographic location.
It’s no secret that Florida and Toronto have very different climates, and that could be a large reason why the Blue Jays have this success at home. Toronto leads Major League Baseball this season with 14 games played at the first-pitch temperature above 80 degrees. Only one other team in baseball has more than 7 such games. Out of those 14, 12 of them have been played at home. In the 12 games in question, the Blue Jays have a .843 OPS, averaging a stellar 5.08 runs per game. From 2018-2020 combined, the Blue Jays played 13 home games in 80+ degree weather, and they are one game away from tying that in the first two months of 2021.
Remember in 2015 and 2016 when the Blue Jays were an offensive powerhouse? Remember in 2017-2020 when the juiced balls were running wild across the majors? The Blue Jays have a higher wRC+ on fly balls at home this year than they did in any other year. Even if it’s league-adjusted and offense has been down in 2021, 2020 and 2021 have the best slugging percentage and OPS. The Blue Jays have shattered their recent wRC+ records on this chart in the these they spent in a home ballpark that wasn’t Rogers Centre. On second thought, maybe they were impacted by Sahlen Field…
To answer the question in the title, yes. The Blue Jays have absolutely benefitted from supplemental ballparks. The question at hand is what kind of concern does that bring when they go back to the Rogers Centre. If home offense comes back down to earth and the road offense stays mediocre, what kind of position are the Jays in going forward? The Blue Jays are scheduled to go back to Sahlen Field on June 1st. Although the players likely won’t miss playing in the Florida summer heat, it will be interesting to see if the offense takes a turn at Sahlen Field, or at Rogers Centre.
Featured image via @BlueJays twitter.