With free agency looming, is Blue Jays RF, Jose Bautista’s defense matching up with what he is telling everyone?
Jose Bautista is the man. Of this there is no doubt. He has etched his place among Blue Jays folklore with monster seasons and a playoff performance few will ever witness. His Bat Flip has become a culturally iconic moment; larger than life. And, when he ends this season, he will be hoping that this will play into any decisions about signing him to what could be his last contract. He’ll point to his HR prowess and his uncanny eye at the plate to drive up the price of inking him.
As well, Bautista will point out his very strict health regimen in an effort to squash any talk of him aging and the subsequent fears that come along with it. He will tell you that hot yoga, proper nutrition and a hyper focus on his health will provide you with confidence in your investment. And, for his part he is probably right. A 35 year old (he’ll be 36 in October) Jose Bautista is not the same as a regular 35 yr old baseball player. He’s better. Honestly, the health and aging argument is obviously going to be a factor, but it shouldn’t be a major one.
Jose Bautista will tell you that he plans on playing the field for a few more years. Some are suggesting that he might be right, but in a different capacity than what Joey Bats envisions. See, he will tell you that he plans on playing in the outfield for a while longer. His doubters will tell you that those days are over and the only ‘field’ he’ll see is first base. Who is right? This week on the Jays Nest Podcast, I brought up this question in our “Hot Take” segment.
So far this season, Bautista is demonstrating defense that is not really in line with what he’s putting out there. He is not showing signs of a player who looks to be staying in the outfield for years. Before we go further, we need to acknowledge that 15 games is not exactly enough to provide a solid argument of anything, really. Not in isolation. But, we’ll look at that in a bit. Since we only have 15 games to work with this year, coupled with impending free agency, we can continue with this line of thinking.
Thus far, there have been a few examples of Bautista’s displaying defense that would be damaging to his case for big money. Firstly, we look at a play against the Boston Red Sox where he just looked plain awkward:
OK, this one is a little unfair given that he probably lost the ball in the lights at the last minute. He can be given a pass based on the lights and the lower path the ball took. This could happen to anyone. And, at the end of the day, he made the catch; the out was recorded. End of story. Or, is it?
What happens when you combine this with the play that happened later that very same game? You may recall that Hanley Ramirez hit a flare into RF and it promptly bounced over Bautista’s head:
Hanley getting the job done today! ? pic.twitter.com/D4DZX0csYw
— Red Sox (@RedSox) April 9, 2016
Let’s set aside the trolling nature of the Red Sox tweeting this. It was slightly surprising to see this kind of thing happen. Balls don’t bounce like that on grass, so we can immediately point to the turf as being an issue. OK. But, shouldn’t Jose be used to that turf? Shouldn’t that kind of thing not happen? The look on his face after the play suggests that he certainly wasn’t blaming the turf.
What happens when we combine these two with another play against the same Red Sox, but this time in Fenway Park? Let’s take a look at a Travis Shaw home run that, at the time, certainly seemed catchable by Bautista:
With the above samples of defense, it would be hard for Bautista to make the case that his defense is A-OK. This is only 15 games into 2016, so we really can’t take money away from him based on that…not that that is the goal. But, you can bet that the Blue Jays or, more likely, other teams will be using these kinds of plays against him.
If we look back at Jose’s defensive numbers (at Fangraphs), we see a player who is declining:
2013 DRS: 6 UZR/150: 7.6
2014 DRS: 1 UZR/150: 5.7
2015 DRS: -3 UZR/150: -12.5
Thus far in 2016, he has put up 0 DRS and a UZR/150 of 8.8, which is a bit surprising given the above examples of defense. Likely, he is being helped out by his arm, which certainly would have had an impact in previous years. As we know, early stats in a season can be wonky (just look up Justin Smoak and his slash line). It’s no stretch to think that Bautista could see his defensive value take a dip from where it currently sits. Now, whatever he lacks in range, etc. he makes up for with his arm. But, if you’re a GM, would you concede money based on that? Likely not. Instead, you’ll look to dismiss the arm in favor of the other aspects of playing RF.
This is not to disparage Jose Bautista at all. He is the man. And, he is going to get PAID. Whether that is from the Blue Jays or not, remains to be seen. If Bautista is heading into an impending free agency period telling everyone that he plans to play the outfield for a while, he’ll have to be able to prove it. He is not the liability that some make him out to be, but he certainly is showing signs of decline. At the moment, his play is not backing up his words. There is lots of time left in the season for things to even out. But, if you’re a GM, you’re watching it all; good, bad and ugly.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.