Jose Bautista: Improving on Greatness
All Blue Jays fans know just how much of a great hitter Jose Bautista is. He’s a 5 time All Star, a 2 time home run champ and the face of the franchise. He has been called one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He is known for his line drive left field, no doubter home runs. With one swing of the bat, he can change the outcome of a game. It is worth looking at how he is actually improving on his ability to impact a game. Jose Bautista is becoming a more complete hitter.
In 2012, Jose Bautista was an All Star. He put up 27 HR and 65 RBI in an injury shortened 92 games. He slashed .241/.358/.527. In 92 games, he picked up 80 hits and 59 walks to go with just 63 strikeouts. Obviously, due to the injury, his numbers were less than what we’d expect from the slugger. But, the numbers do not tell the whole story. If we look at his spray chart, we see a tendency to pull the ball.Bautista Batted Balls 2012
Of his 90 hits, there were very few that went to the opposite field. In fact, there were just 8 singles, 3 doubles and a lone home run. It is hard to be the run producer that the Blue Jays need him to be when he is a dead pull hitter. Teams know where to position themselves, etc. It limits his ability to drive in runs. If you look at the fact that 27 of his 65 RBI came from driving in himself, that only leaves 38 RBI from driving in others. That’s 41% of his RBI coming from his own HR.
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In 2013, Bautista improved in this area. His overall numbers were slightly improved as well. He hit 28 HR, 73 RBI in a shortened 118 game season. He slashed .259/.3558/.498 while walking 69 times to 84 strikeouts. Bautista showed more willingness to use the entire field in 2013. We can see a lot more balls hit in the opposite direction.Bautista Batted Balls 2013
Of all the balls hit to opposite field, Bautista increased his number of hits by quite a bit. He hit 17+ singles, 5 doubles and one home run to what would be considered opposite field. 45 of his 73 RBI came without hitting himself in via the home run. That is to say his own homerun accounted for 38% of his RBI; a decrease from the year before.
One could argue that 2014 was Bautista’s best season. Of course, the biggest argument would come form those who look to his 2010 campaign. That year he hit 54 HR, 124 RBI with 100 walks and 116 strikeouts all for a .260 average. That is a very nice season indeed. However, 2014 is even better in a number of ways.
In 2014, he hit 35 HR, 103 RBI with 104 walks and just 96 strikeouts in 155 games. His slash line was much better too: .286/.403/.524. The increase in average is a huge improvement. It has a lot to do with the approach he brought to his at bats. He used the entire field more last season than in the previous two.Bautista Batted Balls 2014
Of note is an increase in the number of line drive hits the other way. With an increase of balls hit to the opposite field, we also see an increase in successful hits to that direction. He collected 25+ singles, 10 doubles and 2 HR. The use of the opposite field in key situations is something that Blue Jays fans have been pleasantly surprised with. He’s using the shift to his advantage. The recent discovery and more consistent use has had an impact on Bautista’s RBI totals too.
Of his 103 RBI, just under 34% came via his own HR. Now, this is not exactly a tried and true, mathematically sound way to evaluate a run producer, but if you look at the number of runs a player drives in without the homerun, Jose Bautista has shown improvement over the last 3 seasons. To me, it makes a hitter less of a ‘one trick pony’.
When Jose Bautista steps into the batter’s box, pitchers notice. They may get nervous, make a mistake; dig deep, try too hard, make a mistake. There are few guys in baseball who can make a pitcher pay for their mistake like Bautista can. What is great to see is that he is starting to make pitchers pay in multiple ways. This is the sign of an improving hitter. The fact that he is improving on what was already pretty great is very exciting for Blue Jays fans.