Jose Bautista used to be a problem for the home team, when that team was the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But now that he has found his stride, or rather his bat, in Toronto, it's now his opponents that are wondering if they have a problem.
He's looking at 50 or more home runs this year. This seems like a "high water mark," at least for now, but even if he regresses to say, 30 to 35, he will still be a dangerous long ball hitter.
He'd just be in front of the "pack" (think Josh Hamilton of Texas, a hard-hitting team, or Mark Teixeira, formerly of Texas, now a Yankee) instead of way ahead.
"Regression" is likely to take place, partly because of the laws of statistics and partly because opposing pitchers will adjust to him. Now that he's a threat, instead of just a fluke, they'll pitch him more carefully.
Even so, their options are limited.
Bautista, a right-handed batter, hits most of his home runs to left field, a minority to left-center, and NONE to the opposite field. That suggests that pitchers should try to offer him opposite field balls, to his outside.
That's easier said than done. Most pitchers pitch better to batters' insides (which is why the conventional wisdom is to put up right-handed pitchers against right-handed batters and left-handed pitchers against left-handed batters).
If they pitch to the outside, they're likely to give up walks, something that Bautista is good at drawing. Defying the above conventional wisdom, it's now LEFT-handed pitchers that pitch better to Bautista, because his outside is their "inside."
Likewise, most pitchers prefer to pitch low. That's a bad strategy against Bautista, who likes to "lift" balls for pop-ups. His vulnerability is high pitches, chest- or even shoulder-high, like the ones that got him ejected from a game against the Yankees after he protested the umpire's calls.
Pitchers may adapt to Bautista. But after they do, they would have to "revert" for other batters. Or a team may use a left-handed reliever against Bautista and then need to switch to a right-hander against the next batter. The confusion that could occasionally result could be a plus for Toronto.
As well, if pitchers can adapt, so can Bautista. In some ways, an outside pitch may be easier to hit, or at least "leverage," because it doesn't have to be "rebounded" like an inside pitch. The outside pitch is at least partly headed toward right field.
Although he doesn't yet have the knack, Bautista can learn to guide the ball to the opposite field using his bat. That may even come naturally to him someday, because he won't have to use as much power (he has enough to hit home runs, but perhaps less than the average slugger).
While maintaining his long ball pace, Bautista has started hitting more singles in the second half, thereby raising his batting average, formerly his Achilles heel. That seems to be because he is striking out less.
However many home runs he actually hits, Bautista is now a credible home run threat. Opposing pitchers can probably limit his home runs, but only by making concessions in other areas, like walks.
Bautista's OBP (on-base percentage) is now approaching .400 and could exceed this mark next year if pitchers pitch "shy" to him. To take this concept to an extreme, pitchers could hold his home runs to ZERO—by giving him an intentional pass every time he shows up at the plate for a 1.000 OBP.
Most opponents would like to "solve" Bautista. Some will succeed better than others. But they will all find that there are no easy solutions to a multifaceted offensive player.
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