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From Journeyman To HR Leader: Breaking Down Jose Bautista's Success

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From Journeyman To HR Leader: Breaking Down Jose Bautista's Success
Marc Serota/Getty Images

What's a home run leader gotta do to get noticed around here?

Seriously.  Who is this guy?  And why are we not making a bigger deal out of this?

Bautista, the journeyman of six different MLB franchises, currently leads the majors leagues in home runs with 38 with less than 40 games remaining.

To put that in perspective, MVP front runner Miguel Cabrera, who has single-handedly kept the Tigers in playoff contention, has 31. 

Albert Pujols has 32.

Basically, no one's even close.

This, without question, has to be the most surprising, out-of-nowhere home run binge since the end of the steroid era. 

Brady Anderson wholeheartedly agrees.

So, what gives?

Bautista's stock was so low when he got to the majors in 2004 as a Rule fiver, he was swapped five times in a single season from the Orioles, to the Royals, to the Pirates, to the artists formerly known as the Devil Rays, and then back to the Pirates in 2005, playing a total of 75 games in that span, and hitting a grand total of zero round trippers.

He would flounder for three years in Pittsburgh before joining the Blue Jays in 2008. 

The Pirates really can't catch a break, can they?

He no doubt went undrafted in even the deepest of fantasy leagues in 2010.  That .235 average in '09 wasn't winning the hearts of many fantasy owners, despite his modest home run total.  He was a nobody.  Expendable.  A boring player with boring stats and a boring name. 

And then, due in large part to the advice of Jays' hitting coach Dwyane Murphy, Bautista started starting swinging earlier, pulling the ball with reckless abandon.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Please. If that's the kind of advice that turns career journeymen into potential 50+ HR hitters, then where do I sign up?

While it's true Bautista started this power surge last September, when he launched 10 home runs in 125 plate appearances, there isn't a soul on Earth who could've predicted this sort of meteoric rise.  Not Bill James.  Not Matthew Berry.  Not even the nerds over at FanGraphs. 

Lets take a closer look:

Bautista has jacked up his fly ball percentage (53.3 percent from 42.1 percent in 2009), while drastically lowering his ground ball percentage (32.1 percent from 41.3 percent in 2009), giving him a Ruthian HR/FB of 21.2 percent, up from 12.3 percent in 2009. 

Granted, the Rogers Centre has been relatively hitter-friendly (allowing the fourth most HRs in 2010).  But it's not like he's doing his damage against shoddy opponents—he's regularly facing the loaded pitching staffs of the Rays and Yankees, as well as the (perceived to be loaded on paper) staff of the Red Sox. 

The thing about extreme pull hitters like Bautista, is that they are easy defensed—as evidenced by the exaggerated shift someone like David Ortiz gets every time he's up to bat. 

Also, tight fastballs on the inner part of the plate, as well as breaking pitches low and outside typically mean broken bats and ground outs to second base for those hitters lacking in bat speed (again, as evidenced by Ortiz's remarkable early season slumps, until he apparently made adjustments). 

So, it would seem elementary to most pitchers and defenses how to get Bautista out.  And three out of four times, they get the job done (Bautista's paltry .254 average reinforces this fact).

So, it seems pitchers are just making mistakes.  Whether it be a new relief pitcher who hasn't gotten the whole scouting report, or a starter who loses focus or control just briefly. 

It should also be pointed out that Bautista's "O-Swing" (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) is inordinately high this season, meaning he is chasing pitches, but still managing to pull them for dingers.  A sign of improved bat speed, for sure.

The point of this piece?  Well I began it under the premise that Bautista might be secretly and discreetly juicing, and ended it thoroughly impressed with the adjustments he's made, while awaiting with bated breath to see if he continues his success into next season. 

Oh, the wonders of statistics.

 

Thanks for FanGraphs for the nerd-tastic information.

 

 


 

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