JAYS FROM THE COUCH EXAMINES THE SPLITS BETWEEN BLUE JAYS JOSE BAUTISTA’S APRIL AND MAY, AND WHAT HE’S DOING DIFFERENTLY
This is a big season for Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. He’s coming off a forgettable 2016 season where he missed an extended stretch of time with a couple of freak injuries, and had a relatively down year production wise at the plate and in the field. This wasn’t the contract year he was looking for. Now at 36 years old, and on a shorter term deal, Bautista has to prove he still has enough in the tank to produce to his previous standards, and extend his career into his late 30’s.
The start of the 2017 season wasn’t kind to most Blue Jays hitters, but for Bautista it was particularly cold. With so many injuries in the batting order, a lot of people looked to Bautista to be a main force in the offense. Carrying those expectations, his cold streak was even more noticeable. During the month of April, Bautista (in 110 plate appearances) had a .309 OBP, .067 ISO, and 57 wRC+, almost all his power had vanished, and the regular Bautista we saw pulling balls into left field was no where to be found. It’s hard to imagine Bautista would produce something even close to this for an entire season, but with a down year last year, there was cause for concern during this stretch.
During April, Bautista was pulling the ball for 33.9% of balls put in play. This is a drastic drop off from the regular 50% we had become accustomed to seeing from him each season. The lack of pull dropped his hard hit contact rate, resulting in a lot of weak popups for easy outs. Below is a heat map showing Bautista’s spray chart for the month of April. Even in a smaller sample you can see a lot of balls were being worked up the middle, and to the opposite field.
A lot of this stemmed from Bautista’s problem making solid contact with fastballs, a pitch that when he’s in the zone, he’s taken advantage of for his entire career. Pitchers picked up on his struggles hitting hard stuff, and on most two strike counts would challenge him with fastballs, a sight that was probably new for Bautista. In April, he batted .174, with a .196 slugging percentage against the fastball.
Bautista’s greatest skill as a hitter over his career is his ability to work pitch counts in at bats, and drawing a ton of walks. His patience always allows him to test pitchers, making them come up in the strike zone, so he can attack pitches that he usually clobbers to left field. Bautista’s ability to recognize balls and strikes is probably a skill that will never leave him, but that skill is a lot more effective when he’s taking advantage of those pitches in the zone. So far this year, he’s seeing an amazing 4.42 pitches per plate appearance. The league average this year is 3.94, but that number usually stabilizes around 3.85 pitches per plate appearance. If Bautista keeps his rate up that would actually be a career high for him.
His month to month plate discipline numbers are so close, it’s pretty impressive. O-Swing%, Z-Swing%, Swing%, Z-Contact%, and overall Contact% is basically unchanged from each month this year but his overall contact rate is slightly down. Most years Bautista is making contact with 80% of pitches he swings at. His contact rate is down so far this year, in April it was down to 72.4%, which might not sound like a ton, but it’s actually pretty significant for a player like Bautista. This May, his Contact% has gone up slightly to 75%, which is still below his normal contact rate, but the overall quality of pitches he’s making contact with is much better, as this is a number we should continue to watch as the season goes on.
The good thing is Bautista has turned things around in the month of May, in a big way. He’s pulling the ball 54.4% of the time, he’s dropped his strikeout rate by 8%, and the hard hit contact is up which is obvious with his nine home runs. The improvements he’s made hitting the fastball is apparent as well, hitting .382, with a .800 slugging percentage, and 7 home runs, which has led him to finish off the month with a .412 OBP, .327 ISO, and 180 wRC+. The Blue Jays team offense has made major strides to get the back into Wild Card contention, and Bautista’s improvements at the plate were right in the middle of the team’s success.
As mentioned before, it was going to be hard to believe that Bautista was going to continue his play from April for the rest of the season. His hot month of May has helped normalize his overall season numbers, and if he can even come close to sniffing the numbers he produced in May, he will be well on his way to having a nice bounce back season this year.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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