Jose Bautista will forever live on in Blue Jays history. And while his departure certainly left a massive hole in the Jays outfield, we may have already found his hier apparent – and he’s already on the 40-man roster.
Few players hold a place in the hearts of Blue Jays fans like Jose Bautista. A late bloomer, Bautista found himself shuttled from team to team early in his career giving him a reputation as a journeyman. In his rookie season he played for four different organizations, finally settling in with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the next three and a half seasons.
Now none of this was unwarranted, as Bautista was not particularly successful early in his career, struggling mightily at the plate by slashing a meagre .205/.263/.239 across 96 plate appearances in his rookie season. His sophomore season in 2005 was spent mostly at AAA. However in a small sample with the big club he again struggled, hitting a mere .143/.226/.179 in 31 plate appearances.
It wasn’t until 2006 (his age 25 season) that he finally got into a bit of a groove with the Pirates, making 469 plate appearances and hitting a respectable .235/.335/.420 while making starts at all three outfield positions as well as third base and even at second.
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While Bautista seemed to figure things out a bit offensively, he continued to struggle defensively. In 2006, Bautista combined for -18 Rdrs (BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Avg) while posting a -19 Rdrs in 2007. This is a big reason why he put up a -1.1 WAR in 2006 followed by a -0.6 WAR in 2007, ultimately leading to the trade that sent Bautista to the Blue Jays in 2008 for a player to be named later.
The Jays offered Bautista a second chance in which he took full advantage, repaying the team with six All-Star seasons, three Silver Slugger Awards, and finishing in the top-10 in MVP voting four times while accumulating a combined 37.4 WAR during his ten year tenure with the Jays.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because there’s a player currently on the Blue Jays roster who has also struggled to find his way early in his career and hasn’t received a lot of love from the fan-base lately.
Let me show you two stat lines. One is Jose Bautista’s slash line across 10 minor league seasons and 1778 plate appearances, while the other contains the minor league numbers belonging to our mystery player.
Can you tell which one is Jose Bautista’s? They look eerily similar don’t they?
The first one belongs to Bautista, while the second belongs to our trade deadline acquisition from last season – Derek Fisher.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the numbers, shall we? First off, let’s take a look at their major league numbers.
To date, Derek Fisher has accumulated 419 major league plate appearances – spread over three seasons – through his age 25 season. In that span he has slashed a combined .191/.279/.369 with 6.0 defensive runs saved over 933.2 innings in the outfield. Overall, Fisher has managed to accumulate 0.2 WAR over the course of his young career. Not spectacular by any stretch, but not terrible either.
In comparison, through his first 419 plate appearances (which was also reached during his age 25 season) Bautista slashed a combined .238/.322/.391 with -13 defensive runs saved over 769.1 innings in the outfield. In his first three seasons, across 596 plate appearances and 1184.0 defensive innings, Bautista had a rough go of it, accumulating a -2.4 WAR.
As we can see, Bautista has faired a bit better at the plate, yet his defensive struggles and weak baserunning early in his career torpedoed his value to his club. Fisher, on the other hand, managed to offset his offensive struggles at the major league level by providing positive value on the defensive side of the ball as well as on the base paths.
Now this isn’t a knock at Bautista by any means. If anything, it makes the adjustments he made and his incredible turnaround all the more impressive. But it does help to put into perspective the adversity that Fisher has faced early on in his career.
Now let’s go back to the minor league numbers we touched on earlier. First, let’s compare their minor league numbers according to level:
Looking at the above table, it’s clear that Fisher has faced stiffer competition during his minor league career than Bautista, as about 50% of his plate appearances have come at the AAA level vs about 15% for Bautista. Not only that, but Fisher has actually put up better numbers at AAA than at the lower levels.
Now let’s take a look at their minor league numbers by age up to their age 25 seasons:
One thing that stands out is the age difference between the players and their competition. Notice that while both players have faced competition that on average are quite a bit older than them, the gap faced by Fisher is significantly greater than Bautista has faced. If we weight the age gap by plate appearance we find that Bautista has faced competition that is on average 0.78 years older than him, while the average player Fisher has faced is 2.04 years older than him.
Now again, none of this is to imply that Bautista is an inferior ball player to Derek Fisher in any way (clearly his resume speaks for himself). But what it does show is the potential that exists within Derek Fisher, as well as his track record for success.
Am I saying that Derek Fisher is going to storm onto the scene and smash 54 bombs and put up a 7-WAR season the way Bautista did in 2010? Of course not. Even Bautista took some time to figure things out (three seasons in fact, from 2007 to 2009). But consider what we would have missed out on had we not given Jose Bautista an opportunity to work on his game at the major league level. We would have missed out on one of the greatest players ever to put on a Blue Jays uniform.
What we have to realize is that Derek Fisher is facing adversity for the first time in his career. He has excelled at every level in which he’s competed until he made the jump to the major leagues. Now, while facing the best players in the world, he’s being forced to make some adjustments on the fly. Let’s give him an opportunity to figure things out at the major league level.
Given what we’ve seen of their career paths, Derek Fisher is no less worthy of a second chance than Jose Bautista was at the same point in his career. And who knows, maybe we’ll find that we have the next Jose Bautista already on our roster and we don’t even realize it.