To say that Jose Bautista has enjoyed rough starts over the last few seasons would be an understatement. The formidable leader of the Toronto Blue Jays offense has struggled mightily out of the gate each of the last two seasons, as seen below.
2012: .181/.320/.313, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 16 BB, 12 K
2013: .200/.300/.533, 7 HR, 12 RBI, 11 BB, 20 K
So it goes without saying that the now 33-year-old Bautista wanted to get off to a better start in 2014, both for himself and for the sake of the Blue Jays chances of doing anything more than being an also-ran. But what has happened thus far has been an interesting collection of oddities, a menagerie of statistics that create a variety of perceptions.
One of the things that Bautista wanted to improve was his approach at the plate, which has come under scrutiny in the recent seasons. However, that has been a mirage of sorts, as his pitches per plate appearance has been nearly identical from his break-out season in 2010 to right up until this season.
It’s hard to say that there has been any distinct difference in his pitch selection thus far. Yes, he is featuring a positive K/BB ratio of 0.57, but I don’t think that’s a product of his pitch selection. Rather I believe it’s more a product of his direct approach when swinging the bat.
Bautista’s 3 home runs have all gone to left field on vicious swings, and the fact that he’s gone yard on 3 of his 4 hits (.500 ISO) would seem to indicate that his approach hasn’t changed all that much. However, the eye-ball test on his other at bat (sorry no spray charts available yet) have shown a new approach to hitting. With teams focusing on over-shifting against Bautista in the infield, he has shown an early tendency to try and punch the ball the other way, much as he did in 2011. We saw it in yesterday’s game when, with Melky Cabrera being held on first and the overshift one, Bautista tried to take it through the massive hole on the right side of the infield but lined out to Carlos Beltran in right field instead.
That’s been somewhat of a common theme thus far in 2014, as evidenced by his meager .100 BABIP mark through the team’s first 6 games. However, it shows growth on his part, as well as a better situational awareness aside from going for the big fly with every swing. He’s found the home run groove when he’s needed it, but doesn’t appear to be pushing for it as heavily this season.
Once the hits start falling, that approach will prove very beneficiary to the Blue Jays in 2014. After two big seasons from Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista is obviously much more comfortable in knowing that there is another capable bat in the line-up and he doesn’t have to play the hero every time up. Instead, he can play a smarter brand of baseball and put his team in a better position to win by understanding the situation he is in, knowing when to swing for the fences and when to take what the defense is giving you.
In the end, the Blue Jays will benefit much more from this Jose Bautista than they did from the one of the past two seasons.