Before we dig a little deeper into Jose Bautista’s slow start we have to mention that it just that, a slow start, nothing more and nothing less. Players go through these types of slump many times throughout a season but when a player does so at the beginning of a season the ugly numbers become magnified.
Another caveat is the extremely small sample size we are dealing with, obviously.
But I thought we could take a look and see if there is anything that sticks out as a possible culprit for what seems like an unusually long Joey Bats slump. After posting back to back incredible seasons (.422 & .441 wOBA) the expectations of another magical season were high for Bautista. In only 42 plate appearances this season Bautista is slashing 203/354/359 to go along with three homeruns and a .323 wOBA.
What’s going on? Is this the result of Brett Lawrie intentionally sabotaging him by punching his head too hard in the dugout? I’d have to say yes actually (if I was crazy!).
Seriously, is there anything wrong with Bautista?
Well for starters he has had rotten luck on balls hit into play, currently sporting a .189 BABIP (career .276) which is ridiculously low for a guy with a 17.9% line-drive rate so far. Let’s compare some data for the past three years to give you a better idea that anyone worrying about Bautista actually is crazy.
As you can see he has had literally zero luck to start the season after making contact. His batted ball profile is essentially unchanged outside of more hard hit line drives and a few less fly balls. I’d be more worried about the drop in fly ball rate if his ground ball rate had skyrocketed (Hanley Ramirez-itis) but it is essentially the same.
**UPDATE – The groundball rate has definitely trended in the wrong direction since the original writing of this story, maybe something to keep an eye on.
He is hitting the ball hard yet not getting rewarded and when you see him getting frustrated on a daily basis you can clearly see why. If he does hit a fly ball it isn’t leaving the yard with much frequency. The past two seasons he has seen his fly balls leave the yard around 22% of the time while this season only 14%.
**UPDATE – The HR/FB is starting to normalize and is trending in the right direction. He is still not hitting as many fly balls however.
Now one possible red flag would be the amount of infield fly balls (or pop ups) he has hit so far this season (27.3%, career 13.7%) and that is something to watch. My assumption is that is a product of his timing being slightly off in the early going – and small sample size.
**UPDATE – This issue has seemingly resolved and his infield fly ball (pop ups) has gone back down to his career levels.
His bread and butter over the past few seasons have been an impeccable batting eye and his patience. That remains strong as his BB and K rates are right around career levels and let’s have a look at his overall plate discipline:
As expected his contact rates are definitely down so far and he has certainly swung through a few more pitches he normally hits but none of these rates are outlandish. He is actually chasing few pitches outside the strike zone but also hitting balls thrown inside the strike zone less – another sign he is just not locked in.
**UPDATE – He has now made essentially the same contact percentage as last year but has shown a huge uptick in making contact with pitches outside the zone (77.6%) which is never a recipe for solid contact and power.
You might think this is a result of pitchers throwing more junk and soft stuff but as we just discussed he is not really chasing outside the zone and in fact thus far he has actually been thrown more fastballs. Amazingly he has a negative pitch run values against both the four (-0.6) and two (-1.4) seam fastballs.
**UPDATE – He is still not zoned in on fastballs.
*That is a true oddity as for his career Bautista has absolutely murdered fastballs (both two and four seam) and has always shown insanely positive pitch run values.
To conclude, looking at all the data available to us it is almost a foregone conclusion Jose Bautista is due to break out in a big way if the baseball gods will shine a little good fortune on him. Not that you would jump ship after two weeks but in case you were wavering or worried, don’t be, it’s way too early and he is way too talented.