Toronto Blue Jays: Can They Win By Creating a Team of Bautistas?

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Toronto Blue Jays: Can They Win By Creating a Team of Bautistas?
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Nine hitting clones of Jose Bautista (including the DH). Some 486 home runs between them. Over 1,000 "runs" (taking the average of runs and RBI to adjust for batting order). And 900 bases on balls. All with a batting average of "only" .260.

This isn't going to happen. Even Bautista himself might find it hard to hit another 50-plus home runs next season after pitchers adjust to him.

But they will do so at a cost of giving up more walks, and possibly singles, raising at least his on base percentage (OBP), and possibly his batting average while holding him to perhaps 30-35 home runs next year.

Bautista was hardly a star when he joined the Blue Jays, having been traded away by the cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates. Put another way, the Bautista we know was basically a Toronto Blue Jays production.

And given that several other Blue Jays players are at least somewhat similar to him, it might make sense for the team to try to upgrade them by helping them find their "inner Bautista."

John Buck, the catcher, Vernon Wells, the centerfielder, and Yunel Escobar, the new shortstop, all have higher batting averages than Bautista. Buck has hit 20 home runs this year, Wells 31, and Escobar walks more than average.

(I'd try to keep John Buck and play J.P. Arenciba elsewhere, perhaps at first.)

Although Buck and Wells could benefit from learning how to walk, (and Escobar from hitting home runs), all are good defenders playing key defensive positions that contribute more in this regard than Bautista.

Fred Lewis actually has a higher batting average than Bautista. That gives him a good start for OBP. But he needs to learn to walk more. He does so only seven percent of the time, Bautista double that. That's because Lewis lacks plate discipline, swinging at pitches outside the strike zone 27 percent of the time, almost twice Bautista's rate.

But Lewis' eight home runs for 2010 was basically Bautista's 2009 home run production rate for the year (seasonalized) until September. Maybe Dwayne Murphy can do something for HIS swing.

After a slow start, Travis Snider has shown a batting average comparable to Bautista's, and a 25-30 (annualized) home run pace over half a season's worth of games. More experience should enable him to do this over a full season, although he too could learn to walk a bit more.

Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are the big question marks. They've hit the home runs (over 20 apiece), but their batting averages are shadows of their former selves. Much the same can be said for Edwin Encarnacion.

All have hit .290 or so in the past, and are capable of walking enough to approximate Bautista's OBP, but none of them have done any of this in 2010. Toronto will need "career" years from them to be contenders in the American League East.

Hill plays a key defensive position, but Lind will have to step up his hitting and/or play first base to be fully contributory.

The team can't afford to have Lyle Overbay, a moderately below average player making a slightly below average salary at first. If not J.P. Arenciba, then someone more like an Adam Dunn (to whom Bautista has often been compared) or a Derrek Lee from this year's free agent class.

So how could player improvements affect games?

Unlike last year, the Toronto Blue Jays did respectably (10-8) against the New York Yankees, and (8-10) against the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East, as well as winning their share of games (15-3) against the Baltimore Orioles.

Their one big nemesis was the Boston Red Sox (6-12). Neither Bautista nor the rest of the Blue Jays hit well against this team.

The Blue Jays don't look like a winner in large part because they have failed to win season series against losing teams like the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, and Los Angeles Angels. Bautista bats well against them, and the others need to be more like him in this regard.

One other problem for Toronto is their weakness in Interleague play (6-9 this year), where other American League teams dominate. Bautista hits poorly against the National League teams (which is why the Pirates may have been right to give him up), as do other Blue Jays.

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