Apr 26, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Jose Bautista watches the ball of his home run to lead off the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
It seems only fitting that after you publish an article about a player and his prodigious walk rates, he immediately goes four consecutive days without drawing a single walk. Such was the case when Lucas Silva examines Jose Bautista’s batting eye last week. Since running the piece on April 23rd, Bautista has not drawn a base on balls.
However, what he did do over the weekend is swing the bat, doing some damage against the Red Sox pitching staff when the team needed to dig out of some deep holes.
That lead me to think about the other half of Bautista’s keen eye at the plate; what he does with the bat when he gets the chance to swing it.
I figured we would start small and take a look at his batted ball statistics, as provided by FanGraphs.
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One of the benefits of picking your pitches better is you are going to be swinging more at the pitches you are going to drive more. In the case of Bautista, that is precisely what he is doing. His line-drive rate, while a bit down from last season, is still a solid 15.2. However, the big difference is his ground-ball and fly-ball numbers. Bautista has managed to increase his FB rate to a four-year high, while reducing his GB rate to a four-year low. That has helped in two significant ways, as it helps to reduce the number of times he hits into a shift, which teams are using against him more frequently. It also helps that 20.6% of his fly-balls are resulting in home runs, a three-year high. That all helps to build a ISO of .294 and a BaBIP of .305, also three-year highs.
For those of you who like that data in a graph, well here you go.
Okay, so we’ve established that Bautista is hitting the ball harder and putting the ball into more viable spots. What about the moments he’s choosing to do his damage?
When you look at Bautista in regards to the leverage of the situation he is in, the results are somewhat split between FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. We’ll start with the Baseball-Reference data first.
According to B-R, Jose Bautista is doing quite well in high leverage situations, hitting a robust .714 with a 1.961 OPS, 1 home run and 4 RBI. He’s also seen four walks in 11 plate appearances in those situations. However, when the situation is a medium leverage, Bautista has struggled a bit, hitting just .240 with a .897 OPS, which is driven even higher given his 10 walks in those 35 appearances.
That performance in medium leverage situations could be why FanGraphs differs here. According to FanGraphs, Bautista has accumulated Average Leverage Index of 0.81, which is below the average neutral level of 1. That might explain why FanGraphs feels that Bautista has a clutch rating of -0.02. However, it is worth noting that Bautista is adding a WPA 0.99 wins in neutral situations (WPA/LI), which after one month is already half of the total he put up in both 2012 and 2013.
The good news in all of this is that this is not the frustrated Jose Bautista of 2012 and 2013, that struggled mightily in April. This is a new approach, or perhaps a return to an older form that proved more successful in 2010 and 2011. That’s not to say that his 2014 production in the season’s opening month is a precursor to the return of the good ol’ days, but it is certainly a welcome sign. Hopefully he sustains it over the course of the entire season, and more importantly, is able to close out the season well.