Weekend Matters, May 24

One of the most perplexing things about baseball is how some players quickly emerge into the forefront without any prior warning or hype. The poster boy for this is, and probably forever will be, Albert Pujols, who burst into the big leagues in 2001 after being drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. The odds of that happening again are just a little bit more likely than Ronnie James Dio (a Yankees fan) going on the OzzFest tour this summer, but there usually are one or two players who put on a good show out of the blue.

Jose Bautista 1.jpgWell, in this case, out of the Blue Jays. This year’s best out-of-nowhere (OON) player probably is Toronto 3B/OF Jose Bautista, who somehow has hit 14 home runs to tie Paul Konerko for the Major League-lead despite maxing out at 16 homers in 117 games in 2006 with the Pirates.

Bautista shares a common theme with most OON players (with Pujols being a major outlier) in that he’s closer to 30 (29, to be accurate) than he is to 20, much like Vinny Castilla (27), Luis Gonzalez (30), Jayson Werth (29) and Ben Zobrist (27)*. Not only that, but each of these players saw a decrease in their strikeout percentage (however small it was) in their breakout season as opposed to the season before. But this is where Bautista’s case takes a unique turn.

With all of the above-metioned players, their breakout seasons featured solid, respectable ISO’s (ISO – isolated power, helps measure a player’s raw power) with figures ranging from .208 (Gonzalez) to .246 (Zobrist). Bautista, on the other hand, flies well above this level as his ISO today stands at an incredible .327, third-highest in baseball behind Andre Ethier‘s .352 and Konerko’s .340. To give you a better idea, Pujols’ career ISO is .292, and every time Pujols’ ISO was higher than .300, he hit at least 43 home runs (four seasons total).

The next stat trend (BABIP) is a little more strange. During their breakout seasons, most of these batters–along with many other similar players–posted BABIPs (measures how well a batter hits when he makes contact,or, the efficiency of a defense turning batted balls into outs) north of .310, with the lone exception in our case being Gonzalez and his .262 BABIP. Bautista’s BABIP is an abysmally low .230, 47 points below his career average! Not only that, but his line drive-percentage has dropped (15.1 career to 13.4 in ’10) while his fly ball- and HR/FB percentages have spiked (43.6 – 52.0, and 11.5 to 21.2, respectively). Such rates are rarified air, usually traveled by players like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.

The last thing that jumped out at me was his plate discipline. According to his player page on FanGraphs.com, Bautista is swinging at far more pitches outside the zone and making less contact on those swings. Conversely, he’s swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone, but connecting on those swings at a much higher rate.

So what gives? What can we make of these trends that seemingly pull us in different directions? This morning, I was looking through Buster Olney’s daily blog and saw he wrote about a possible explanation for Bautista’s emergence. Here’s a clip from that entry:

In the midst of last season, Dwayne Murphy, the Jays’ first base coach at the time, talked with Bautista on the bench about starting his swing a little sooner. ‘There was something in the way he told me,” Bautista recalled. “He worded things differently, in a way I could understand.’

“So Bautista began working on starting his swing sooner. Until that point in his career, Bautista began his swing mechanics — the lift of his front foot, the cocking of his hands — as the opposing pitcher drew his pitching arm through his motion. What Bautista began to do is start his hitting mechanics just as the pitcher started: Bautista began lifting his front foot as the pitcher’s motion began, as if in sync.

“The benefit did not come immediately. The whole thing felt awkward, and Bautista struggled to feel comfortable. ‘I had some days when I felt even worse,’ Bautista said.

“…on Sept. 10, 2009, Bautista smashed a double and a homer and felt much better. Soon, he could not imagine how he had ever hit with his old swing.”

Luis Gonzalez 1.jpgThis revelation about a change in batting stance brings me back to Gonzalez in 1998. Before, Gonzo used to have a fairly normal batting stance that produced respectable, but not incredible results. It was during this time that he gradually opened his stance up so that his hips at the start of his stance were on an angle pretty much between the mound and the first base-foul line. From 1998 to 2005, Gonzalez was one of the best hitters in baseball, batting .295/.385/.523 with 247 home runs, 345 doubles and 845 RBIs in one season with the Tigers and eight with the Diamondbacks.

So am I saying Bautista is the next Gonzalez? Not quite, since after all, we’re not even though the first full year of the change and haven’t seen if pitchers have figured out how to exploit whatever weaknesses this approach may have. But, I will say this: the only other third base-eligible players putting up more points than Bautista are Kevin Youkilis and Evan Longoria. Only Ryan Braun is ahead of Bautista in production amongst outfielders. That doesn’t just make Bautista a must-own, he is a must-start-now.

* (note – These players were chosen at random and do not constitute an expected range of performance. They only serve as recent comparisons; points of reference rather than absolute gospel.)

Injury Matters

Injuries.jpgThis is a new section I’m going to put in all W.M.‘s from now on, letting people who weren’t able to follow games this weekend know who incurred any injuries between Friday and Sunday. The type of injury, if known, will be listed and anyone placed on the 15- or 60-day DL during this time span will be listed first and in bold. All listing will be in alphabetical order. And since this is a new section, it will probably have a couple tweaks here and there until it can be at its most useful format.

Laughing Matters

JOKE.jpgBringing this article back full circle, I have a confession to make: I am a complete idiot, rock-head, dope and whatever else you can throw at me that’s fit to print. You know how I just spent the majority of this post espousing the hitting wonder that is Jose Bautista? You do?

Well, I had him and I released him a week and a half ago for Travis Snider.

Who went on the DL the very next day.

The fact that I won this past week is an absolute miracle, given I started an outfield of Carlos Gonzalez (ugh), Garrett Jones (meh) and Denard Span (yay…aw, crap) while Tommy Hanson laid a nice little stink bomb that cost me 11 points. And yet, somehow, I’m 4-3 despite having the fewest home runs and third-worst slugging percentage in my 12-team mixed league.

Just goes to show you that even the so-called “experts” can also double as those people you see trying to push a door open when it clearly reads “pull.”

 

- ME

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