It's no secret the Toronto Blue Jays have underperformed this season and their former manager, Charlie Montoyo, paid the price for the team's struggles.
There's plenty of blame to go around. It hasn't been just one individual who's been underperforming, nor has it been just one area of this roster. Everyone can perform better.
Offensively, Toronto was supposed to possess one of the top units in the majors for a second-straight campaign. And it did, albeit briefly, in June. Overall, however, this lineup still hasn't reached its full potential, especially shortstop Bo Bichette.
Last season, Bichette enjoyed a sensational performance and was one of his team's main contributors. He posted career-highs in several different categories, including home runs (29), RBIs (102) and fWAR (5.1). The 24-year-old also slashed .298/.343/.484 in 159 games.
This season has been a much different story thus far. In 88 contests, the 6-foot middle infielder is currently producing career-worsts in batting average (.262), on-base percentage (.305), slugging percentage (.430) and wRC+ (105). His strikeout rate has also climbed to 24.4 percent - the highest of his career.
That's not ideal production from your No. 2 hitter.
It hasn't been all bad, though. Bichette has looked like himself in small stretches, they just haven't occurred consistently enough.
Bichette struggled mightily out of the gate, possibly caused by the lockout and shortened spring. Nevertheless, he only registered four extra-base hits, eight RBIs, a 46 wRC+ score and a measly .213/.237/.298 slash line across 97 plate appearances in April.
Understandably, the right-hander's slow start caused plenty to worry about his ability to replicate last season's performance. But he bounced back the following month, hitting .304/.364/.554 with eight round-trippers, 24 RBIs and a 157 wRC+ score over 162 PAs from May 1-June 11.
Since then, Bichette has fallen back into an offensive slump as he's generated just four home runs, 17 RBIs, an 85 wRC+ score and a .250/.284/.383 slash line through his last 134 PAs. He also features a 25.4 percent strikeout rate during this rough stretch.
The Blue Jays obviously need more from Bichette moving forward. They can't afford to have him posting a .305 OBP and a .320 wOBA in the second half.
He's capable of breaking out of this slump, although the key will be to sustain that success.
One of the ways Toronto's bright young star could perform more consistently likely involves improving his quality of contact. While he owns a career-best 48.9 percent hard-hit rate in 2022, his overall percentage is somewhat misleading.
Bichette’s hard-hit rate ranks in the 89th percentile of the majors, according to BaseballSavant, allowing his xAVG (.283) and xSLG (.487) to sit much higher than his traditional results. These too, don’t provide the full picture.
In most cases, boasting higher expected numbers would suggest a player is unlucky and has been hitting into more outs than he should be. But that’s not entirely true for Bichette. Instead, his biggest issue is not generating enough hard contact for extended stretches.
This season, Bichette's rolling hard-hit rate has soared as high as 70 percent but it's also fallen as low as 28 percent. His hot and cold streaks have largely been tied to his ability to generate hard contact.
Bichette is struggling the most during the times he's barely creating any hard contact, and unlike in 2021, his rolling line has dipped below the league average on multiple occasions.
Last season, Bichette was largely a model of consistency, particularly regarding his rolling hard-hit rate. It experienced its peaks and lows throughout the season while rarely ever reaching a concerning point.
That was a key reason the former second-round selection was so successful. Consistency is what separates good from great, and he was exactly that a season ago.
Bichette was also far more effective at generating hard-hit line drives in 2021 - something that's eluded him this season. His hard-hit rate on those types of batted balls has declined by 6.1 percent in 2022, down from a career-best 39.4 percent.
The former top prospect isn't generating as many line drives this season either, which has only added to his hitting woes. He's recorded a career-worst 19.7 percent line-drive rate, with his rolling line positioned below 20 percent throughout most of the first half.
But with Bichette's rolling hard-hit and line-drive rates both climbing upwards recently, it appears the talented shortstop is nearing another hot streak. And this would certainly be the perfect time for one.
The 2022 All-Star Game is only a few days away, and barring last-minute dropouts, Bichette won't be in attendance this year. That means he's in line for some much-needed rest after playing all but one of Toronto's 89 games.
At this point, though, the 2021 All-Star is likely accustomed to a high workload. He played 159 games last season - his third full season in the majors - meaning he has missed just four contests since '21.
It's probably fair to assume Bichette will benefit from a mid-season breather, and perhaps it'll result in a strong start to the second half.
We have witnessed impressive finishes from him before. Just last season, he slashed .305/.345/.486 with 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and a 122 wRC+ score across his final 304 PAs.
If Bichette has better at-bats, lowers his overall whiff rate (25.6 percent) and creates hard contact and line drives more consistently, like he's done previously, chances are he'll enjoy another quality second-half showing.
The Orlando, Fla., native can't control how his teammates perform but there's no question the Blue Jays' lineup will receive a massive boost if Bichette's 2021 form returns.
So, along with his many other duties, one of interim manager John Schneider's biggest tasks will be attempting to get the best out of Bichette — who he also managed in the minors — down the stretch.
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