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.
Well, 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.”
This 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.)
This 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.
- Homer Bailey (tightness in right shoulder — 15-day DL)
- John Maine (right shoulder weakness — 15-day DL)
- Brad Penny (strained right latissimus dorsi — 15-day DL)
- Ivan Rodriguez (strained back — 15-day DL)
- Jimmy Rollins (strained right calf — 15-day DL)
- Carlos Gonzalez (strained left wrist)
- Denard Span (bruised right shoulder)
Bringing 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.”
Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that this weekend was a fairly active, eventful one. You only had Mark Teixeira turn in his third three-homer game (as well as his 13th with five-plus RBIs), Rod Barajas hit two home runs to give him nine on the year (most among catchers), Jayson Werth took batting practice for three days against the Braves, the real Jake Peavy returned to action, and Dallas Braden (pictured right, hugging his grandmother after the game) tossed the 19th perfect game in Major League history. I’d say that’s enough to keep one person entertained.
While I would love to go on and on about Braden’s achievement, in terms of fantasy baseball, it is such a rare anomaly, that it really isn’t worth talking too much about. But, after reading about the game later on (I was at work during the two-hour sprint of a game), I remembered how Mark Buehrle‘s and David Cone‘s performances took a sharp tumble after each of their perfect games. With that in mind, I’ll do some digging around tonight and will have a post up tomorrow about how perfect game pitchers do following their feat. This will hopefully help Braden starters figure out whether to start him, sit him or trade him to other owners who now overvalue the southpaw.
Now, on to the other goings-on of the weekend:
Teixeira turns third home-run hat-trick
By now, it’s common knowledge that Teixeira in April is about as effect for your fantasy team as it is using water to put out a grease fire, as his career April stats of .235/.342/.411 show. But I don’t think anyone was expecting for him to surpass his April RBI total within his first seven games in May. Incredibly enough, these kinds of games are not unusual for Tex. Like I said before, this was the third time he’s hit three home runs in a game (June 22, 2008 for ATL against SEA; June 13, 2006 for TEX against BAL).
Not only that, but Saturday’s shellacking of the Sox gave the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket his 13th game with five or more RBIs. His career-high is seven, which he did on June 13, 2006 and on Aug. 17, 2004 when he hit for the cycle. During his years with the Rangers, Teixeira accomplished this feat at least three times a year between 2004 and 2006, but only twice between 2007 and last weekend.
But now that he isn’t bouncing from team to team and is smack in the middle of one of the best lineups in the league, it shouldn’t be surprising to see five RBI games becoming more frequent again.
Putting together Peavy
According to published reports this weekend, 2007 NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy was seen pitching in the South Side of Chicago on Saturday, May 8. This was confirmed to be the real Peavy and not the pitcher who frustrated White Sox fans and Peavy owners through the first month of the 2010 season, as he earned his second win in as many games by holding the Blue Jays to two runs on three hits with eight strikeouts in eight innings.
So, remember how last week I was writing that Peavy was in a tailspin he wouldn’t get out of for a while? You do? Well, this is what’s going on right now as I write this blog:
After two straight dominant starts, it’s safe to say that Peavy is most likely back to his usual self. So what’s the difference between April and May? For one thing, it’s his velocity. The average speed on Peavy’s fastball this year is 91 mph, but on Saturday, he averaged 92.1 mph on his four-seam fastball and 92.5 on his two-seamer. As far as his put-away pitch, the slider, his average speed was 83.3 mph. On Saturday, that dropped down to 82.5 mph on average.
While one may think that would be bad, the speed differential is helpful in this case because, if thrown with the same arm speed as the fastball, a batter who commits to swinging will be out in front of the pitch (basically, a similar concept to the changeup, only with dramatic movement down and to the pitcher’s glove side). The only caveat is that if there is too big of a differential, the batter will have enough time to react and readjust.
One last thing that I noticed about Peavy while combing through Fangraphs.com: the release point of his pitches. Now Peavy is at his best when his arm slot is at a low three-quarters angle, but if it gets too low, his pitches flatten out, lose velocity and/or movement and become more hittable. When you look at this graphic on the top right-hand corner, notice the general height of the release points from the horizontal axis from his two May outings, then look at the RPs from April. The RPs in April are lower when he did poorly and higher when he did well.
Getting your money’s Werth
The man at the right, Jayson Werth.
There seems to be little Werth can’t do (besides finding a decent barber). After hitting 16 doubles in 2008 and 26 in 2009, he has a Major League-leading 16 doubles through 31 games this season. In just the past week, where he was named National League Player of the Week, he collected four homers and four doubles while slugging an even 1.000. He’s also amassed back-to-back 20 steal seasons in 2008 and 2009, and has thrived in the postseason (.285/.393/.650).
Now though everyone is riding free and easy as Werth hammers away, all of you who have him on your roster must realize there will be some New York City-sized potholes in the near future. Why? Well for one thing, it is highly improbable for anyone to maintain a .408 BABIP (batting average, balls in play) like Werth. Since the stat was regularly recorded in 2002, only one player has ever crossed the .400 threshold, with said player being Jose Hernandez in ’02, so if players like Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols have not done it, the likelihood of Werth accomplishing that feat is not very good.
Plus, there are also other, more obvious reference points to expect him to slow down: he’s never hit above .300 in any Major League season; he averages 152 strikeouts per 162 games; he has yet to drive in 100 or more runs in a single season; and finally, he’s on the wrong side of 30 years old.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have him on my team right now (I’m looking right at you, Adam Lind). All I am saying is to not anchor your offense around Werth.
Just before I go, here’s a little forray into my main league, where my squad is called The Men Who Laugh. It’s a 12-team, head-to-head mixed league based on a points system that favors hitters with guys I went to HS with. It’s usually a lot of fun, especially when members make long, rambling posts late at night, and the draft usually features a few moments that bring everyone to tears from laughter (i.e. – I hosted the draft our first year, and one of the guys, needing to make a call and his cell was dead, asked me in all seriousness if the phone on the wall was real. You cannot make stuff like that up).
To avoid coming off like an arrogant jerk or whiner, I’m not going to talk much about the moves I make, unless it is key to a point I’m making in the body of a post. The point of any story about my league isn’t to babble on, but to either illustrate a point or just tell a funny story.
Anyway, one owner, “Tyler,” made a very peculiar deal this weekend, sending over Chase Utley (his first pick), Justin Verlander and Buster Posey (not a keeper league, but we have two spots for Minor Leaguers) to “Rick” for Alex Rodriguez (his first pick), Ben Zobrist and Tim Hudson. While I initially thought “Rick” got the better end of the deal, I looked at the roster situations and determined that both sides won out.
“Rick’s” starting pitching was shaky with Hudson, Francisco Liriano, Matt Cain, Ricky Nolasco, Clay Buchholz, Max Scherzer and J.A. Happ, while both A-Rod and Zobrist have had mediocre starts. After this deal, he was able to switch Pablo Sandoval to 3B and choose between Adam Dunn and Billy Butler to start 1B while gaining an ace in Verlander. On the other side of the coin, “Tyler’s” starting 2B and 3B go from Utley and Chone Figgins to Zobrist and A-Rod. Though he’s losing one of the two best 2B around, he will probably get more production from the incoming players than the outgoing pair. As for losing Verlander, well, you can do that when you also have Tim Lincecum, Phil Hughes and Jeff Niemann on your staff.
The point of this is to not focus on the addition or subtraction of one particular player, but to look at the net gain or loss, especially if you’re in a points-based league.
– Michael Echan