Player Profile: Jose Bautista
by, 04-02-2011 at 08:04 AM (717 Views)
Perhaps the most surprising star of the 2010 season, Bautista heads into 2011 with a shiny new contract and a chance to prove 2011 was no fluke. While expectations vary wildly for the starting third baseman, it's worth looking a little closer at Bautista's career to get an idea of what to expect from him. I'll be looking at a number of players on the Blue Jays in this manner, with Bautista as the first.
Bautista was a 20th round draft pick by the Pirates back in 2000. Over his first few minor league seasons, he showed occasional power (.169 ISO as a 21 year old in A ball, up to .181 the following year mostly at A+) but his biggest strength was probably his patience at the plate (over a 100 point spread between his BA and OBP those same two years.) The following year, the Orioles decided to take a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft in 2003. The next year he didn't unpack his suitcase very often, as he was passed around unceremoniously from the Orioles to the then Devil Rays, then to the Royals, then the Mets (though he never played for them) and finally back to the Pirates, all within the span of about 2 months in 2003. Given his Rule 5 status, he was forced to spend the whole year in the Majors despite never having played above A+ and only having moderate success at that level. It was a wasted year, as he received little playing time and was over-matched when he did play.
He spent most of the following season back in the minors, mainly at AA with a taste of AAA, where he started to show more power potential. He hit .280/.359/.490 between the two levels, with 24 HR and 30 2B in 130 games. He did little in his September call-up that year.
After about a month in AAA in 2006, Bautista got his first extended chance in MLB. He got regular playing time as a utility player over the next three years for the pirates, mostly at third and in the outfield, but really only approached everyday status through the 2007 season. He was traded to the Blue Jays in August of 2008.
At the time of the trade, Bautista seemed to have an established level of performance. He was 27 at the time, coming off three years of similar performance. While his offense was below average (.243/.330/.413) over those three years, he did show some moderate power (20 HR and 31 2B per 162 games) despite never hitting more than 16 HR in a given season.
Taken as a whole, his 2009 looks like more of the same - batting average around .240, slugging a bit over .400, and a decent number of walks - yet there are clues of a possible change as the season went on. His power surge of 2010 actually started in September 2009, when he hit .257/.339/.606 with 10 of his 13 HR.
Then, in 2010, he exploded, clubbing 54 HR, with career highs in BA, OBP, SLG, RBI, BB, and even SB.
Clearly, his performance was well above anything he'd done before, but how much of that performance is he likely to retain?
From the time he became a full-time MLB player, Bautista's hit .246/.346/.465 (113 OPS+), with 28 HR per 162 games. That serves as a reasonable baseline for his performance. It's a solid player still, if well shy of his career year.
However, it's worth looking at 2010 in more detail, to see what kinds of changes there were in his performance beyond the raw totals.
The first thing that jumps out is a combination of a very high FB% (54.5%), and a very high HR/FB% (21.7%). Bautista was hitting more balls in the air than he's ever done before, and more of those balls were carrying. Regression in both areas is likely, but by how much?
Since 2007, no player has sustained a FB% over 50%, so it's unlikely that Bautista will. Bautista's rate during that stretch is about 46%, which isn't far off the most extreme flyball hitters (Soriano's tops at 49%). I'd expect he'll be between 45% and 49%.
Surprisingly, his HR/FB% isn't quite as extreme as his raw HR%. Since 2007, Ryan Howard and Jim Thome are the clear leaders in this category, with a ridiculous 27%. There are more players players with HR% between 20% and 23.5%, including Carlos Pena, Jack Cust, Adam Dunn, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, and Mark Reynolds. Those are major power hitters, but you don't need to be an elite player to have a 20% HR/FB%.
So where should we expect Bautista to fall in? One thing we can look at is HR distances, to get an idea of what kind of raw power he generates looking at the following:
The longest HR
The fifth longest HR
The tenth longest HR
The number of 400 foot HR
Jose Bautista, 2010: Long: 453 ft; fifth longest: 441ft; tenth longest: 430 ft; Number of 400: 33 400ft+ HR; Extreme pull hitter
Jose Bautista, 2007: Long: 427ft; fifth longest: 413ft; tenth longest: 393ft; Number of 400: 9; Extreme pull hitter
Ryan Howard, 2009 (2010 was a down year): Long: 473ft; fifth longest: 447ft; tenth longest: 432ft; Number of 400: 34; All fields
Ryan Howard, 2010: Long: 445ft; fifth longest: 432ft; tenth longest: 417ft; Number of 400: 19; all fields
Mark Reynolds, 2009 (44 HR): Long: 471ft; fifth longest: 449ft; tenth longest: 443ft; Number of 400: 33; pull tendencies
Mark Reynolds, 2010 (32 HR): Long: 481ft; fifth longest: 448ft; tenth longest: 439ft; Number of 400: 24; moderate pull tendencies
Albert Pujols, 2010: Long: 465ft; fifth longest: 443ft; tenth longest: 433ft; Number of 400: 36; Strong pull tendencies
Prince Fielder, 2010: Long: 444ft; fifth longest: 437ft; tenth longest: 424ft; Number of 400: 23; center/pull tendencies
Jason Werth, 2010: Long: 448ft; fifth longest: 425ft; tenth longest: 412ft; Number of 400: 14; Mild pull tendencies
Paul Konerko, 2008 (22 HR): Long: 430ft; fifth longest: 414ft; tenth longest: 400ft; Number of 400: 13; Extreme pull tendencies
Paul Konerko, 2010 (39 HR): Long: 426ft; fifth longest: 410ft; tenth longest: 403ft; Number of 400: 13; Extreme pull tendencies
Vernon Wells, 2009: Long: 449ft; fifth longest: 421ft; tenth longest: 395ft; Number of 400: 9; Extreme pull hitter
Vernon Wells, 2010 (31 HR): Long: 453ft; fifth longest: 422ft; tenth longest: 415ft; Number of 400: 18; Extreme pull tendencies
Bautista wasn't fluking into HR in 2010; he was crushing the ball. Bautista's raw distance in 2010 was much more comparable to the big sluggers as opposed to the more typical power hitters. One thing that's also interesting is that the correlation between distance in a good power year versus a bad power year is often surprisingly weak. Reynolds and Konerko show no real difference here between their big power years and their off years, and for Wells, the difference only shows up on the low end.
Based on this data, it doesn't seem unrealistic to think that he could be around 20% again, and it seems likely he'll be at least in the 17-18% range going forward.
So, power-wise, I'm going to estimate a 47% flyball rate and a 17.5% HR rate in 2011, both above his career averages (it's clear he's a different hitter from in 2007) but both regressing significantly.
Beyond power, Bautista's BB rate was up, and his K rate was down last year. Neither is an extreme jump, but both are far enough from his established levels to suggest there's some real improvement. His BB rate in particular started to climb in 2009, his first full year with the Jays. He could retain those skills, but it makes sense to regress him toward his career levels as pitchers may well adjust. I'm going to project a 22% K rate and a 13% BB rate.
At 640 PA (down from last year, as he started in the leadoff spot), I estimate that to give 427 fair balls, 200 of them flies, for an estimate of 35 HR. I also estimate 83 BB and 120 K.
What's also notable about Bautista's year is the extremely low BABIP. As a flyball hitter, he's always been on the low side, but last year's .233 is extremely low. As noted above, he's almost certainly going to lower his FB%, which is also likely to raise his BABIP. Using his career BA for flies, liners, and GB (not a great estimate due to his adjustments, but the best we have) I estimate a BABIP around .273, right around his career average.
All things considered, this is the estimate I come up with for Jose in 2011:
640 PA, 547 AB, 35 HR, 83 BB, 120 K, 10 HBP, .260/.367/.522 (.889 OPS)
Note that this is not a best case scenario. His raw power wasn't out of place for a true 19% HR/FB hitter, and my estimates assumed that all the lost FB became GB rather than LD. For a worst-case (barring injury) scenario, he could regress to his Pirates levels, but let's look at a realistic low-end and high-end estimate based on the assumption that his change in ability was real:
Low end: (using a 45% FB%, 15% HR/FB%, 11% BB%, 25% K%)
640 PA, 560 AB, 28 HR, 70 BB, 140 K, 10 HBP, .242/.337/.462 (.795 OPS)
High end (using a 48% FB%, 18% LD%, 19% HR/FB%, 15% BB%, 20% K%)
640 PA, 534 AB, 39 HR, 96 BB, 107 K, 10 HBP, .284/.402/.577 (.979 OPS)
Despite how much better Bautista's year was than his established performance, it was not a case of everything breaking well. While he could certainly regress to roughly his career levels, there's actually a non-trivial chance that he has as good a year as last year. If we assume his FB% will decrease, some of the flies could easily become LD rather than GB, raising his expected BABIP. Given the distance of his HR, he could certainly end up in the 19% range for true power. Given his terrific season, pitchers could pitch him more cautiously, leading to an increase in BB%. As surprising a season as last year was, this is not a player with nowhere to go but down. He is likely to regress in power, perhaps substantially, but he's also likely to see gains in other areas.
After looking more closely at his numbers, Jose Bautista's new contract looks like a wise gambit on the part of Alex Anthopolous.