Jays From the Couch Player Highlights & Lowlights from the Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season. This time: Jose Bautista
2016 was an interesting season for Jose Bautista as he entered what could be his final season in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. The fun began before the season when he was pressed about his contract demands and he made it very clear that he was banking on his past success and asking for the moon. He went as far as to say he’d given the organization a 5 year home town discount already. While he’d presented his demands to the Blue Jays, he stopped short of saying what those demands were. He was unwilling to move on those demands, either. Sources told TSN that he was after 5yrs/$150M at that time. While the player (or anyone, for that matter) didn’t confirm, this is the number that was run with all year.
It is likely for that reason that 2016 stands out as a critical one for Bautista. By that I mean a season where we were extra critical of what he did, or didn’t do on the field.
In all honesty, it is difficult to look at Bautista’s numbers and identify some positives. The numbers that we’re used to seeing just aren’t there. Of course, that is due to injuries and a couple of other things we’ll talk about in a bit.
Bautista’s eye at the plate continues to be his calling card. It is that eye that saw him move into different spots in the lineup. He saw 23 games hitting cleanup, 41 batting third, 12 in the 2 hole and 40 games leading off. In an effort to put his strike zone awareness to work, manager John Gibbons felt enough confidence in Bautista to have him leading off games. This would also allow for Jose to see more plate appearances. And, it worked. The .341 OBP from the leadoff spot justifies him being there.
Oddly, though, Jose had a better OBP (.420) when batting cleanup. That said, he collected more total bases 73 from the leadoff spot than any other spot in the lineup. The power potential, and ability to get on base, made him an interesting leadoff choice. It was one that Gibby played with in the postseason in an effort to get something going offensively.
His ability to succeed in hitter’s counts was also a spot for hope this season. In 3-1 counts (per Baseball Reference), Bautista was looking to get on base. He worked a .750 OBP on those counts. On 3-0 counts, his OBP was .929. On full counts, his OBP was .573
It would be too easy to dismiss the lowlights of Bautista’s season as just another “Hot Take” that is quick to dismiss the player and his demands because he’s a hot head and selfish. This post is not that. Not at all. I went into this exercise looking to find little hints that he would continue to be the Flipper of Bats and live up to his place in Blue Jays’ lore. Honestly, I wanted to find very few lowlights and tell you that his poor 2016 can be washed away by health.
Unfortunately, that was not easy to do. In fact, in several key places, Bautista does give reason for concern if you’re looking at signing him to his next contract. I’m not just talking about the overall numbers that have gone down. For example, 22 HR, 69 RBI and 68 runs are a lot lower than
he’d we’d hoped for. His .234 average is disappointing, as is his 1.4 WAR. But, the guy missed significant time due to turf toe. Before and after an injury can cause a dip in those big numbers.
But, when we look into some other, more specific numbers (via Fangraphs), it is not so optimistic. For example, his ISO dropped nearly 70 points to .217 in 2016. His flyball rate dropped 7%, while his IFFB rate jumped 3.5%. The amount of balls he made SOFT contact on went up over 4%. In fairness, he also made more HARD contact (up almost 6%), too. But, a quick check of Baseball Savant offers a disappointing comparison between this year and last. Look at the comparison of exit velocity:
There was a dramatic shift from year to year in the consistently above average exit velocity off the bat of Jose Bautista. We know him as a guy who absolutely rips inside pitching, especially down and in. His ability to get around on those offerings and hit them with authority is what has made him such a dangerous hitter.
And, none of this is saying anything about the defense Bautista brings. Many would consider him a liability in the outfield at this point in his career. And, despite GM, Ross Atkins saying that the now 36 year old is a “viable outfielder for the foreseeable future”, the numbers make you raise an eyebrow. Bautista has not really even passed the eye test in right field on several occasions, but that can be skewed by personal reactions, etc. The numbers can’t: -8 DRS and a UZR/150 of -9.3 make you question the definition of the word “viable”. Whether Bautista had been playing a more cautious game in 2016, or his skills are failing him is up for debate. But, the final result is that his future looks shorter than the club, or the player, will admit.
This year was certainly a disappointment for Jose Bautista. If you take the numbers out of the equation, it was a disappointment because his demands were so apparently high that he would need a showing closer to his 2011 season than what we saw in order to still be able to talk with such bravado in November.
Now, he will be faced with trying to convince one club, Blue Jays or not, that he is not declining with age and can be more like his old self moving forward. He will have to decide on a qualifying offer from Toronto first. We expect that he’ll decline the offer and look for a multi-year deal instead. But, the $17.2M might not be such a bad idea. If he accepts, he can use this coming season to re-build his value.
The likelihood of him taking that route remains ever so slim. He will just need one team to provide him with the longer term security of a mutli year deal. Whether that offer is loaded with team options for a couple of years from now remains to be seen. Jose Bautista will be the first to tell you that he knows what his value is. The trick will be to get a club to agree with him.
Whether he returns to Toronto, or not, Jose Bautista should be remembered for all of the good he has brought this fan-base. His legacy, whether complicated, or not, cannot be debated. The only question is whether he will get the opportunity to add to it beyond this season.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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