Jose Bautista: Why the Blue Jays' Home Run Machine Has Struggled in 2012
In their opening game in Cleveland, the Jays' slugger took Indians starter Justin Masterson deep to left field.
It was something Jays fans had seen before. Seeing Bautista extend on a fastball and drive it out of the park reminded fans why they follow the team and inspired others to do the same.
However, since that home run in Cleveland, Bautista has had issues at the plate, hitting only .222 through 10 games in 2012. Perhaps more telling, Jose has only hit two round-trippers and tallied only four RBI. For a player expected to be one of the most productive in the MLB, Bautista is struggling.
But it's wrong to think that Bautista isn't going to recover from his early-season slump.
Here's a look at why the Canadian All-Star has struggled so far and why he will improve.
His Plate Approach and Timing
Last year, it wasn't rare to see Bautista step to the plate with a little swagger and a lot of confidence, jump on a first-pitch fastball and crank it into the left-field seats.
For whatever reason, whether it's pitchers adjusting to Bautista's aggressive approach, a lack of confidence in hitting curveballs, or a combination of both, Joey Bats has looked confused at the plate in 2012.
It would be far too early to say that he's totally unsure of himself—after all, his interviews in the spring were all about how good the Blue Jays are—but check-swings on fastballs down the middle are not what Jays fans are used to from Bautista.
He's also checking his swing much more than usual, which speaks to either a confidence issue or one relating to his pitch recognition. Both are essential to Bautista's success as a hitter.
Consider this: So far in 2012, Bautista has had watched 38 percent of his total strikes go by.
For a dangerous hitter, that's far too high. On top of that, his strikes from foul balls is 10 percentage points lower than where it was in 2010 and 2011. What those stats are saying is that Bautista simply isn't swinging the bat with enough conviction.
The Blue Jays Offense Has Also Struggled
While Bautista has not hit well at all early in 2012, in his defence, he hasn't been put in ideal situations to have productive at-bats.
Yunel Escobar, who has a career .364 OBP, currently sits at .255. While Kelly Johnson has been spectacular at getting on base so far, Bautista has still only had seven plate appearances and four at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Matt Kemp, in comparison, has had more than twice the opportunities to produce runs than Bautista.
In order to be a productive contributor to the Blue Jays, Bautista needs to create runs. Although hitting .206 is not ideal, Blue Jay fans might not even be talking about Bautista's struggles if their offense had given him more ideal situations where he could have made productive outs and provided effective at-bats.
If more opportunities arise for Bautista to create runs, his game will turn around.
It's Only Been 9 Games
Nine games does not a baseball season make.
Six percent of the entire 2012 campaign will not define Jose Bautista, and he has the time and the talent to pull himself out of the hole—although it's more like a small trench—he's dug himself into.
The sample size is far too small to say that Bautista is going to struggle all year to find his timing and regain that swagger that has made him one of the most feared hitters in the American League.
Some players struggle in April. Some struggle in July. Some struggle in September.
The point is, nine games is a tiny sample size that doesn't correspond to any of the stats that Bautista has put up over the last two years. His swing has looked a little wonky at times, but he still possesses incredible natural discipline and league-leading bat speed.
The best sign for the Jays is that Bautista is operating well below his regular level and the team still has a strong record.