Name: Jose Bautista
Position: Right Field
Six months ago, after the dust had settled on the blockbusters moves of the winter and Spring Training was underway, there were expectations that Jose Bautista would be the heart of a lineup that was going to challenge for the title of Major League Baseball’s most potent. The concept of starting 162 games with Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion was drool-worthy for Blue Jays fans, and that was without even mentioning breakout candidates Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie, who John Gibbons planned to slot into the five and six holes in the order.
Individually, despite undergoing season-ending wrist surgery in 2012, Bautista was pencilled in for another 30-plus home run year, and it was expected he’d produce a laughable RBI total as Reyes sprinted around the bases in front of him. The possibility of re-injury was always present, particularly after observing how gentle and cautious the organization was in March, including their decision to hold him out of the World Baseball Classic.
|162 Game Avg.||637||89||28||31||85||86||120||.254||.361||.487||.849||125|
I think it goes without saying that Jose Bautista’s season did not go the way he or anyone else wanted it to. It began with two separate injuries in early April causing him to miss seven games; three for a sprained ankle, and another four with back soreness, and ended with him missing the team’s final 37 contests with a severely bruised hip bone. The in-between was marred by inconsistencies at the plate, as for stretches he looked like the demigod who set the baseball world on fire for two seasons, but then he’d have multi-week periods where he looked merely mortal.
A lot of paper and ink was wasted talking about his arguments with umpires, and while maybe he does need to tone things down a bit, the idea that some writers put forth that his “antics” were causing the umpires to make decisively erroneous calls against not only Bautista but his teammates as well, was ridiculous. In their criticism of Bautista, those writers implied that because the umpires didn’t enjoy getting jawed at, they were willing to trade in their cape of neutrality for one of spitefulness, completely tearing down the pillars of impartiality. It’s beyond insulting to insinuate that umpires are so petty that they would undermine centuries of tradition because Jose Bautista thought a ball should be called.
Contract remaining: 2 years, 28 million (2016 team option worth 14 million, 1 million buyout)
Jose Bautista broke out as a 29 year old with a completely revamped stance and approach, displaying elite level bat speed and plate discipline. Wary/smart pitchers worked around him, allowing him to collect the first 100 walk season of his career. Bold/foolish pitchers chose to challenge the former utility player, enabling him to more than triple his career high in home runs, and set a Blue Jays franchise record with 54 bombs. He took his game to the next level as a 30 year old in 2011, walking in an absurd 20% of his plate appearances while hitting 43 home runs alongside a jaw dropping .302/.447/.608 slash line. His .443 wOBA and 181 wRC+ were first in all of baseball. He was unquestionably the best hitter on the planet, but finished third in MVP voting because Toronto wasn’t particularly good. Over those two years, he was a 7.4 WAR/162 games player.
Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans and all of baseball, Injuries have limited him to just 210 games over the past couple of seasons, and it’s entirely possible that this is something he (and we) will have to deal with for the remainder of his career. Bautista will turn 33 next month, he plays with intensity, and he spends half of his season running around on carpeted concrete. That’s hardly a justification to trade him, an absurd idea that far too many Blue Jays fans have suddenly found swirling around in their heads. He’s accumulated 7.2 WAR in those 210 games – a pace of 5.6 WAR/162 games – indicating that when he’s on the field he’s still an All Star calibre talent, just not the MVP candidate we had quickly become accustomed to seeing.
There are a few trends in his statistics that can give us an idea of what to expect from Bautista in 2014. His walk and strikeouts rates have settled, with the former around 14% and the latter around 16%. Jose’s isolated power (ISO) has dropped in four consecutive years, peaking at .357 in 2010, and declining to .306 in 2011, .286 in 2012, and .239 in 2013. Unsurprisingly his groundball rate has gone in the opposite direction, as after only 31.1% of his batted balls were hit on the ground in 2010, the rate has grown to 36.9%, 37.0%, and 41.1% in the three years since. At least to me, the two suggest a decline in bat speed generation, which is normal given the natural aging process of the human body. As a possible counterpoint, however, Jose did undergo wrist surgery in late-2012, and many will argue it takes a full year to fully recover your power stroke.
Defensively, the fact that Bautista is no longer bouncing around the infield or between right and third has been a huge plus for him, as after being a negative defender in right field in 2010 and 2011 (-8.1 and -11.2 UZR/150 respectively), he improved to +2.0 in 2012 and a well above average +7.6 in 2013. He probably knows the bounces of the right field corner of the Rogers Centre like the back of his hand at this point, and as anyone with a pair of eyes can attest, his arm is beyond question.
In terms of a 2014 statistical projection, I think the following would be realistic:
135 games, 580 PA, 500 AB, 130 H, 25 2B, 35 HR, 80 BB, 90 K, .260/.360/.520, .380 wOBA
The .260 ISO roughly splits the difference between Bautista’s two injury marred seasons, and while I mentioned above that the statistic has been trending in the wrong direction, I’m attributing at least some of it to the wrist problems. The idea of Jose producing another sub-.500 slugging percentage while mostly healthy is unfathomable to me, though that might be a bit of the bias kicking in. Speaking of health, I’m expecting Joey Bats to play in 135 games next year, which would be his highest total since 2011. That figure would allow for a stint on the disabled list and a cushion for a few day-to-day injuries, as well as the occasional maintenance day that players in their 30’s often require. Runs scored and runs batted in are too dependent upon the surrounding players to predict, but if Bautista and the offense manage to stay healthy I think it’s fair to say he’ll accumulate plenty of both. In terms of value added, I think he’ll be in the 5.0 WAR range.