Ridiculous Players: Jose Bautista
You may have noticed Jose Bautista when he came to Target field for a weekend series and hit 5 home runs. In fact, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for his Sunday performance, where he went 3 for 5 with 3 home runs. The first one, he clobbered into the left field seats. And it looked easy. The second home run wasn’t even in the strike zone, but Bautista hooked the inside pitch just inside the left field foul pole.
Digressing for a moment, last year a lot of pundits pointed out that Bautista hit almost all of his home runs to left; he was a dead pull hitter. For good measure, then, Bautista flared his last home run just over the wall in right field. Yes, a flare. Like how Denard Span can get hits by flaring the ball over the shortstops head. Or how a reasonable power hitter like Pat Burrell will hit a flare that makes the left fielder come in a few steps for the out. But Jose Bautista is so locked in right now, and swinging with so much power, his flares are home runs.
The Twins have 6 home runs at Target field this year. Bautista has 5 in three games.
The Twins have hit 18 home runs all season. Bautista has 16, which is ahead of his 2010 pace, when he hit a league leading 54. A 2010 that everyone with sense assumed had to be a fluke to some degree. Most experts in predicting what “Joey Bats” would do for 2011, tried to find a middle ground in not minimizing Bautista’s amazing performance from 2010, but making sure not to jump on board for a repeat. They respectfully predicted a .250 batting average, with good plate discipline and perhaps 30 home runs.
Which is basically taking the average production of Bautista from 2004-August of 2009, and the Bautista from September 2009-2010. The first iteration had a strong sim score with Jim Hickman, who had a journeyman career with the Cubs, Mets and Dodgers in the 60’s and 70’s. Hickman played a couple positions, and displayed above average plate discipline, some power, and a .250 batting average. That was Bautista. Prior to 2010, he had received one season with 600 PA’s. He hit .254/.339/.414 for those 2007 Pirates, similar to his .235/.335/.420 2006, and his .238/.313/.405 2008. He did average 15 home runs during those years, so as a utility player with pop he wasn’t useless. In fact, he probably would have secured major league contracts for years to come.
But then on September 7th, 2009, Bautista apparently got tired of being a plus bat, minus field utility player. So, working with Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, Bautista began starting his swing earlier. He changed his hand position as well, but mostly he stopped swinging defensively, which was something he tended to do, according to scouts.
I don’t know, of course, but it seems like Bautista’s talent was always there, but he suffered from David Ortiz syndrome. The tragic illness present mostly in parts of Minnesota, Missouri, and Pittsburgh, that causes hitters with great power and great eyes at the plate to, “Hit the ball the other way” and to, “Grind out good at bats even if it means letting a meatball go by on 3-1.” But like Ortiz, Bautista found that loading up and being ready to hit the crap out of the ball, didn’t mean he had to swing. He hit 10 home runs from that point on in 111 at bats.
Then 2010 came along, and Bautista hit 54 homers, adjusting to pitchers as the year wore on and actually being more productive in the second half of the season. Even after pitchers had realized that, hey, this guy hit 24 home runs in the first half, we should probably notice, Bautista hits 30 in the second half in 38 fewer at bats with a better average OPB and SLG. But overall he did hit just .260 and all but one of his home runs went to left field.
Not content to be another Willie McCovey or Mike Schmidt, Bautista has this year decided to be Barry Bonds. Crazy, huh? But as it stands, Bautista’s current 277 OPS+ is better than the record set by Bonds in 2002 of 268. Better than Babe Ruth’s best of 255. Or Ted Williams best of 234, Jeff Bagwell’s 213, Albert Pujols’ 190, or Alex Rodriguez’s 176. Yes Bautista could let his OPS+ drop 100 points and equal A-Rod’s best offensive season ever.
And again, Bautista was considered a utility player prior to 2010. As in, someone who got into the lineup based on defensive versatility, and not offensive production. A guy that doesn’t hit well enough to be a regular player, but who could fill in for enough guys at other positions to get 400 plate appearances during a season. Guys such as Nick Punto, Aaron Miles, and John McDonald fit this mold. Those three players do not just change their swing and become the best hitter in baseball. Except that’s exactly what Jose Bautista has done.
But hey it’s mid-May. He won’t keep this up forever. And surely some team has figured out how to get him out. Surely he has some weakness.
Vs Lefties: .409/.552/1.045
Vs. Righties: .361/.508/.804
Batting average on balls in play: .333, which is a bit above average, but not exactly Josh Hamilton’s 2010 (Bautista had a BABIP of .233 that year to Hamilton’s .390, all things equal who should have been MVP?)
Day games: .278/.418/.815
Night games: .446/.591/.877
His worst line against any opponent: Against Boston he holds a line of .217/.333/.391 with only one home run.
His best line against an opponent: Against the East leading Rays, Bautista is hitting .750/.846/2.250 with 3 home runs. Yes, that’s a slugging percentage at 2.250, which in layman’s terms means that on any given plate appearance, Bautista will, on average, end up about a quarter of the way between 2nd and 3rd base.
Against the Twins, he’s hitting .480/.581/1.360 with seven home runs.
Players go into slumps. What I’m wondering though, is if Bautista slumps mean he goes .250/.400/.500 for a week with two home runs. It remains to be seen, of course, but if Bautista maintains 80% of his current pace throughout the year, we’re in for a season only Ruth and Bonds could ever claim.
Which is pretty ridiculous.
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