Two years ago, when Jose Bautista was enjoying his 50 HR breakout, I was enjoying slotting him in to my lineup on a daily basis in the original ottoneu league. A $1 in-season auction pickup, Joey Bats anchored my last championship team before getting voted off through the off-season arbitration process. He was a stalwart for me again last year, but this April was a different story.
May has been better, but has Bautista turned a corner or had the pauper-turned-prince turned back again?
Bautista’s April line was a putrid .181/.320/.313 (yes, his OBP was higher than his SLG) with just three home runs. A .171 BABIP was not helping, but the .133 ISO was also not what we had come to expect from him the past couple seasons.
The real issue, however, seems to be an inability to pull the ball. Take a look at these spray charts, courtesy of the PITCHf/x tool at texasleaguers.com. First, look at Bautista’s 2009 and 2010 seasons:
Bautista pretty much sprayed the field in his last pauper season. According to baseballheatmaps.com, he pulled about 24% of balls to the outfield, went the other way about 29% of the time, and put nearly half his outfield contact up the middle.
Looks a little different, eh? Especially all those little green dots (particularly the ones over the fence) which are plastered across left field and left field only. From 24% pulled balls into the OF in 2009, Bautista jumped to 49% in 2010, with only 18% going the other way. And the trend continued in 2011, suggesting that a new approach of Bautista, a concerted effort to turn on pitches, led to the sudden turn-around in results.
I am hardly the first to notice this change (Google “Jose Bautista Pull Hitter” – you’ll see), but it gives us an interesting insight into his 2012 thus far. Back to the spray charts!
It’s not quite as spread out as the 2009 version, but April Bautista and 2009 Bautista have more in common than his fans would like. Only 32% of his (admittedly small sample) of balls to the outfield were pulled in April, with 35% going to right. But when the calendar turned to May…
Ta da! He pulled 53% of contact to the outfield! Only 14% to the opposite field! And the results? .257/.342/.552 despite a BABIP that only rebounded to .247. Not exactly the Ruthian effort we were seeing in 2010 and 2011, but certainly plenty to be joyous about if you, like me, are relying on his bat.
It’s hard to say what happened in April. Maybe Bautista just got off to a slow start and needed to get his bat speed back up to…speed. Maybe he was seeing more pitches away and needed to adjust (although looking at his pitch charts, there is little evidence for this explanation). More than likely, Bautista just had a rough month. It happens to the best of us.
But, to date, Bautista’s season is still not up to par with his 2010 and 2011, which means maybe, just maybe, you can get an owner willing to sell low on the Jays cleanup hitter. If you can get him for anything less than first round value, run, don’t walk, to get that deal done. Bautista may not hit 50 HR this year, but I see no reason not to expect an OPS .950 or higher with another 25 or more HR the rest of the way. As long as he keeps pulling the ball, Bautista is Bautista and (unless you get in a time machine and go back to 2009 or earlier) that is a very good thing.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.