Jose Bautista stepping forward as Blue Jays unlikely X-factor
Recency bias calls baseball home. For Jose Bautista, that means his 2016 season, plagued by injury, quickly changed his league-wide image from elite slugger to aging talent.
The numbers supported this until recently, as toe and knee injuries have limited Bautista to just 109 games and capped his counting stats in his free agent year. Entering play on Monday, Bautista has 21 home runs and 67 RBI, producing a season that somewhat mirrors his injury-shortened 2012 (92 G, 27 HR, 65 RBI).
After missing over a month before returning on July 25th, Bautista has slowly begun to find his stride. These last 10 games, he’s stomped on the gas.
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In Bautista’s last 46 plate appearances, he has gone 13-for-37 (.351) with eight walks and just six strikeouts. The 35-year-old has also hit three home runs, the biggest of which was a three-run shot to give the Blue Jays a 3-0 win on Saturday. He kicked off Sunday’s game with another solo shot in the fourth inning.
The timing is perfect for Bautista, too, as he looks to salvage some level of value entering the open market. It shouldn’t be surprising, either. Bautista is a businessman, and the next few weeks are his peak season. His Christmas rush.
Bautista’s production through much of the season was, relative to the rest of his career, rather average. If he is able to maintain this high rate of offensive production through the Blue Jays’ playoff run, it extends the heart of the order back into one of the league’s very best.
The one variable remaining with Bautista is whether he’ll play in the field come playoff time. In September, he’s split time between right field and designated hitter with 11 games each.
John Gibbons’ recent decision to put his “fly hawks” in the outfield for a Marco Estrada start (Kevin Pillar, Melvin Upton Jr., Ezequiel Carrera) could be a hint at Toronto’s playoff plans. With Estrada or Happ on the mound, Bautista may be better suited in DH role. With Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez pitching, however, their ground ball tendencies could make it easier to hide Bautista in right.