When I saw that the pitching matchup was Edwin Jackson against David Price, I did not have expectations for the Blue Jays/Red Sox game on Victoria Day. But even then, the magnitude of the beat down was pretty stunning. The last one that bad that I recall being at was an 18-4 drubbing by Cleveland on September 24, 1999. There at least, the Jays were playing out the string with noted franchise luminaries Pete Munro, Mike Romano, and John Hudek pitching. At least then they were giving out white mini-towels for the tears (pictured above).
What became striking was how many balls the Red Sox were absolutely destroying. Four balls — in a row! — hit at least 100 MPH off the bat in the 3rd inning off Edwin Jackson. Another four off Elvis Luciano, pair over 110 MPH. Three more off Tepera in the 9th, one home run at 114 MPH.
Granted, 100 MPH is an arbitrary cutoff; there’s nothing particularly special about 100 compared to 99 as opposed to 99 compared to 98. Indeed, the home run Luciano allowed was “only” 98 MPH, whereas one of the balls hit 102 MPH ended up a double play. Nonetheless, it’s a decent proxy for hard hit balls.
After the game, I checked Baseball Savant for the Statcast output and it turns out the Red Sox hit 13 balls in play at 100+ MPH. Which seemed like a lot. So I pulled data on all balls hit 100 MPH off Blue Jays pitching since the beginning of 2015, when the Statcast era begins.
Through Monday’s game, there had been 3,865 such balls hit in 495 regular season games, for an average of 7.8 per game. So Monday was definitely well above average, and it turns out though not totally unprecedented, near the very high end of the historical distribution:
Only three times have the Blue Jays allowed more than 13 balls hit at 100 MPH in a game: quite recently on April 12th (when the Rays hit two 500 level home runs); last May 10th against Seattle; and May 16, 2016 (a drubbing by the Rays a day after the Bautista/Odor dustup). With Victoria Day being the sixth time the figure that been matched, putting the game at the 98-99th percentile of getting shelled.
But as discussed above, not all 100 MPH balls are created equal — many or most hit on the ground still turn into outs, and even if they find a way though are generally singles. The damage is really done when the ball is elevated, so I added a further screen that the ball had to have a launch angle of at least 10 degrees, which corresponds roughly to at least requiring a line drive.
There were 2,025 of these balls, or about four per game, so it’s just over half of all balls hit 100 MPH. However, of the 13 of Monday, nine were elevated, which shows the disproportionate extent to which balls were squared up.
In fact, in the last five years for which we have the data, it’s the highwater mark. On June 9, 2016 the Orioles also elevated nine 100+ MPH hits (though the Jays only lost 6-5). But never more (if we use a minimum of five degrees instead, there are three games of 10).
One final way to assess the magnitude of the damage. The remarkable thing to me on Monday was not just how many balls were hit at triple digits, but how many were well above that — 108, 111, 113, 114, etc. As exit velocity increases, the frequency of the outcome decreases.
So I took a “total tonnage” approach. The 13 balls on Monday exceeded 100 MPH by a total of 98 (meaning they averaged about 107.5 MPH). The nine at a launch angle above 10 degrees totalled 71 (average 107.8 MPH). To put in perspective, the per game averages are respectively 25.7 and 16.5, so four to five times as high.
There’s only worse game by this measure, and it’s that April 12th game earlier this year against Tampa Bay where Trent Thornton got shelled. It’s not particularly close (127 and 97 tonnage points respectively, so about 20% more). On balance, that game has the distinction of the worst shelling Blue Jays pitching has taken in in the Statcast era. The Victoria Day fireworks display the Red Sox has a solid claim for second.
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The April 12th Rays beat down
The Victoria Day Red Sox fireworks