Jose Bautista: The Story of a Utility Man

Tom AuSenior Analyst IIApril 30, 2009

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Jose Bautista #23 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during photo day at the Bobby Mattick Training Center at Englebert Complex on February 23, 2009 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Forgive me for harping on this one subject. But the more I study it, the more of a mistake it looks like the Pirates made in dumping Jose Bautista (and trading Jason Bay for a replacement in Andy LaRoche). While in some ways, Bautista was an "average" Pirate, in others, he was anything but average.

In fact, Bautista probably looked "below average" to the Pirates based on his mediocre batting average.

What distinguished Bautista from his former teammates was his pitch selection, and a walk rate that was high enough to compensate for his low batting average in bringing his on base percentage ( OBP) to "average." But OBP is something the Pirates (a hard-swinging team) don't fully understand.

Bautista was also something of an outsider on the team. In part, this was due to his personal style, not exactly slap-happy like other Pittsburghers, and partly due to his professional contributions.

His performance was a bit out of sync with the rest of the team, like gold in a stock portfolio. That is, gold (or Bautista) would zig when the rest of the portfolio zags, not a bad thing (in statistical language, he was negatively correlated with his former teammates).

Some nights, the Pirates would run up the score, say, 10-1. But that would be no thanks to "Mr. 0-4." On another night, Bautista might walk, then score on a homer by, say, Jason Bay in a 2-1 game.

Congrats to Bay for the two run homer, no thanks to the other guy, even though he provided the margin of victory. But think about it; a run on a night when runs are scarce is much more valuable than a run in a "runaway" game.

Bautista also had good months in May and June of last year, the very months when the team slumps, and less-good months in April and July, when others were doing better.

One reason I'm so down on the Pirates is that they usually get off to a decent start in April, (12-12 in 2007), then have a sophomore slump in May (pitching ace Paul Maholm, for one). If there is such a slump this year, it will be deeper without Bautista as a dampener.

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And it's noteworthy that the Pirates lost three of their last six games by one run. They used to be good at one run games, not so long ago, er, when Bautista was on board.

So how is Bautista doing on his new team, the Toronto Blue Jays? Quite well, thank you. In his usual fashion, he made the difference in a close 8-7 victory over the Texas Rangers.

Bautista is sort of in a "platoon" with Kevin Millar, in providing a right handed bat against left handed pitching in a basically left handed line-up. He is also a utility fielder, who can play almost anywhere on the left side of the field (Millar on the right side), which gives the Blue Jays flexibility in putting up hitting/fielding combinations.

So is this a wise move? The answer can be found in that although neither Bautista nor Millar plays enough to qualify for league records, a composite player, call him Bautista Millar, would have a .343 batting average with an OBP just under .400.

Managements have to play the hand they are dealt, in terms of money, players, etc.  A management that can get the most out of a supposedly "average" player like Jose Bautista is a strong management indeed. That is something the Pirates do not yet have.