The amazing thing about Jose Bautista’s breakout 2010 (54 homers, .422 wOBA) and arguably even better 2011 (43 homers, .443 wOBA) is that even when he’s not really able to come close to sustaining that production, as he’s been unable to in 2012-13, he’s still really, really good. A .371 wOBA over the last two years may not be quite equal to what’d done before; it’s still 21st best in baseball. It’s somehow possible that he never did receive enough attention for what he’d done during those two seasons.
Yet Bautista still only finished 28th in our end-of-season outfield rankings because for the second consecutive season, he found himself limited by injuries. Over the last two years, he’s appeared in just 210 games, and as he enters his age-33 season, that’s a real concern. After 2012’s left wrist surgery, his 2013 was marred by a sore ankle (four days in April), a sore back (four more days in April), and a left hip bruise that cost him the final six weeks of the season.
As you’d expect from a hitter dealing with those injuries and advancing age, his important power stats slide over the last four years:
ISO: .357 -> .306 -> .286 -> .239
SLG: .617 -> .608 -> .527 ->.498
Again, it’s unfair to simply look at that and shout “decline!”, because it’s entirely unreasonable to have expected him to maintain that 2010-11 peak indefinitely. Even though his 2013 was the worst year he’s had on a rate basis since 2009, he was still very, very good. That said, we do need to understand what’s likely for him going forward.
Looking back at his 2012-13 lines, the number that jumps out to me is home runs. In 2012, he hit 27. In 2013, it was 28. That would be basically identical, if not for the fact that in 2013, it took him 129 additional plate appearances to get that lone additional homer.
That’s because Bautista is hitting fewer fly balls (down from 54.5% in 2010 to 42.7% in 2013) and of the balls he is putting in the air, fewer are leaving the park (HR/FB down to 17.6%, lowest since 2009). Considering how much a wrist injury can do to a player’s power, that’s not completely unexpected — and the added bonus of the hip bruise makes for some additional uncertainty.
So it seems more than likely that Bautista’s 40 homer days are behind him, and he’s never been one to collect high batting averages, with one exception. If you’re drafting him expecting to get the 2011 version who put up a .302 average or the 2010-11 version just crushing baseballs, you’re likely to be disappointed.
But this really isn’t to scare you off, because merely being “a very good player” rather than “a crazy good elite star” is hardly a negative, especially since his plate discipline remains excellent. When you look at the Steamer 2014 projections of 33 homers, 91 RBI, and a .259 batting average, that sounds about right, with the obvious caveats about health. That might not be a first-round talent, especially now that his third base eligibility is long gone, but it’s still someone absolutely worth targeting for your fantasy team. Just keep in mind that it’s 2014, not 2010, and you’ll be happy with what you get.