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Why the Blue Jays are right to bet on Jose Bautista

pallen
Sep 21, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) flips his bat after hitting a solo-home run to tie the game against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino (3) is at right. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) flips his bat after hitting a solo-home run to tie the game against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino (3) is at right. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Less than a year removed from his well-publicized comments regarding his upcoming contract situation, Jose Bautista is back in Toronto on a one year deal.

Half a year ago, it seemed like a long shot that Jose Bautista would be back with the Blue Jays in 2017. Most of us remember when his camp was rumoured to be seeking a deal in the area of five-years totaling $150 million, and the veteran comes into Jays spring training amidst a cloud of uncertainty.

The 2016 season did not go as he had planned. He battled multiple injuries and saw his offensive numbers decline at a rate that many would find typical for a 35-year old (now 36) athlete.

But Jose Bautista is far from typical. His journey to becoming a six-time All-Star is one of immense resilience and fight, and even though the task of re-establishing himself as one of the premier offensive players in baseball may be his most difficult challenge to date, there are few players more capable of said task than Jose Bautista.

Plate vision

Having twice led the majors in home runs and a three time recipient of the Silver Slugger Award, Jose Bautista’s pedigree as a power hitter is without question in the baseball community. What sometimes gets overlooked, however, is his tremendous discipline at the plate.

Click the fangraphs.com link in Tweet for larger size

The above graphic, courtesy of FanGraphs.com, showcases Bautista’s elite vision as a hitter since joining the Blue Jays in 2008.

Though he has never had a batting average above .302, which he hit in 2011, Bautista rarely chases pitches outside of the strike zone, as illustrated in the graphic. This allows him to not only get on base more frequently via walks, but also extends the duration of each at bat, causing opposing pitchers to fatigue at a greater rate and informs upcoming hitters about potential pitch combinations.

According to Fox Sports, Bautista was tenth in the majors with 4.25 pitches per plate appearance in 2016. He also posted a .366 OBP, which is not far off his Blue Jays career average of .379.

To put these numbers into perspective, compare Bautista’s swing % to one of the best contact hitters in baseball today, five-time NL on-base percentage leader Joey Votto, who finished 2016 with a marginally higher 4.28 PPA.

Click the fangraphs.com link in Tweet for larger size

Votto’s numbers in this regard are top of the line, and the fact that Bautista’s swing percentage is either equal to or lower than Votto’s in 41% of the regions outside of the strike zone is a tremendously impressive representation of just how gifted Bautista is at reading pitches as a hitter.

Clutch performer

If you subscribe to the notion that there are big game performers, then Jose Bautista should be near the top of any list detailing the current best in baseball.

Everyone remembers his three-run “Bat-Flip” home run against the Texas Rangers in game five of the 2015 ALDS that gave the Blue Jays a 6-3 lead in the seventh inning. However, that was just one instance during the 2015 postseason when Bautista excelled at a time when his team needed him the most.

In addition to his post-season heroics, Bautista also has an uncanny ability to elevate his game during times of confrontation with other players and teams – perhaps best illustrated in his ongoing feud with Darren O’Day and other members of the Baltimore Orioles. Regardless of the circumstances, it seems Bautista is always capable of shifting his game into a higher gear to ensure that he comes out on top.

Final thoughts

The aforementioned stats paint a picture of a tremendous past, and depending on your opinion of Jose Bautista, maybe nothing more.

Players past the age of 35 inevitably begin showing signs of regression, and it would be fair for someone to interpret Bautista’s 2016 struggles as the onset of his eventual decline.

With that being said, Bautista’s 2016 performance can’t be evaluated fairly without consideration for the two nagging injuries, turf toe and a grade 1 knee sprain, that he battled throughout the course of the season.

Only Jose Bautista knows how prominent a role these injures had on his production. However, despite the fact that his power numbers declined, Bautista’s plate discipline and ability to get on base remained well-above league average and relatively consistent with his career production.

Next: The 5 Most Interesting Toronto Blue Jays Going Into 2017

That bodes well for a healthy Bautista having a bounce back year offensively in 2017. Especially when paired with the fact that he comes into the season with plenty of people doubting his ability to regain his elite form. If history serves as any indication, never bet against Jose Bautista’s ability to rise to the occasion.

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