Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Jose Bautista Cleanup Project

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Yesterday, David Schoenfield of ESPN's SweetSpot wrote that Jose Bautista is the most feared hitter in baseball.

While more and more opponents may be intimidated of facing Jose Bautista, is it possible the Blue Jays aren't maximizing his potential by batting him in the three slot? On any other team, their best hitter would be hitting cleanup, but Bautista remains hitting third.

Conventional lineup construction would dictate that your power hitter should hit in the cleanup spot. But we all know that conventional lineups were thrown out the window once John Farrell started managing this team.

So I present to you the pros and cons of moving Jose Bautista from the three slot into the cleanup role, or as it's more astutely called, the "Jose Bautista Cleanup Project".

Pro: More men on base equals more runs driven in

It's incredible to think that all but three of Jose Bautista's 13 RBI's have been driven in via home run. And all but one of his home runs have been solo home runs as well.

Obviously the Blue Jays want Bautista to drive in as many runs as possible, and it's very disheartening to see Jose trotting around the bases and not having any teammates who were previously on base congratulate him at home plate.

Bautista may receive less at bats overall hitting fourth as opposed to third, but the situations in which he will come to the plate will be that much more meaningful. Simply put, Jose Bautista can do the most damage hitting fourth in the Blue Jays lineup.

Con: He gets less at bats

One of the drawbacks though from hitting cleanup is the number four hitter typically gets 18 or so less plate appearances than the number three hitter. Once again, the Blue Jays would be best served having Jose Bautista come to plate as many times as possible.

At Bautista's current pace of a home run every 8.2 at bats, an extra 16 at bats or so could translate into a couple more home runs for Joey Bats. Even if he doesn't hit more home runs due to the extra at bats, having your best hitter come to the plate as many times as possible just makes sense.

Pro: More risk, but more reward

By all indications, Jose Bautista is playing for the greater good and subsequently is more interested in seeing his team win rather than garnering individual success.

Padding his statistics is secondary, but if Bautista wants a chance at upping his RBI total and possibly even his home run total, maybe entertaining a move down in the lineup might not be such a bad idea after all.

Con: He may not want to hit cleanup

Last year, Adam Lind voiced his displeasure hitting cleanup saying he wasn't comfortable being slotted in as the number four hitter. So you can imagine after hitting third since July 7th of last year, Jose Bautista might be adverse moving down in the lineup as well.

There's no question Jose Bautista has been in a groove ever since and at the risk of upsetting the great Jobu, perhaps Bautista should just stay where he is and continue to do what works best for him.

Pro: There is some lineup protection

One of the drawbacks of last year's lineup construction was that Jose Bautista didn't receive much protection. Often times, pitchers would pass on Jose and go after Vernon Wells, and it seemed like Wells got the pitches Jose was looking for.

By moving Bautista down to the cleanup spot, Adam Lind can serve as some protection in the fifth spot that otherwise wasn't there last season.

Or, here's a crazy thought; if John Farrell prefers to keep Lind in the top part of the lineup, why not slot Edwin Encarnacion in the fifth spot? He's on a tear at the moment, and EE has power to bring Bautista home if he gets on base.

Con: Who fills the vacant third spot?

Going back to your prototypical lineup construction, typically your number three hitter is somebody who can hit for average, but also get on base at a decent clip.

In the Getting Blanked post-game webcast, Parkes suggested giving Aaron Hill a shot at the three-hole. I like Aaron Hill's power, but his lack of ability to get on base doesn't really fit in with the progressive part of the lineup.

If Travis Snider can sustain an average around .250, give him a crack at hitting in front of Jose Bautista in the three spot. An additional benefit of having Snider up there is his speed on the basepaths.

Batting Snider third seems like a bit of a contradiction though compared to Aaron Hill, since Hill actually has the better career on base percentage (.323 vs .315). Despite that, I don't think it would be difficult to sell Farell on that since he's already tried Snider in the two spot anyway.

Conclusion

No matter where Jose Bautista is placed in the Blue Jays lineup, he's going to do plenty of damage. John Farrell's job is to maximize the opportunities for the team's best hitter so he can bring in the most runs.

At first I was leaning more towards advocating the Jose Bautista Cleanup Project, but now I'm not so sure. Bautista is obviously very comfortable where he is, so why mess with a good thing?

On the other hand, it's such a shame to continually see Bautista hit solo home runs without any of his teammates on base to cash in additional runs.

Moving Bautista to third means either Travis Snider or Adam Lind could hit third, and if need be Edwin Encarnacion can bat fifth. I know it sounds crazy, but if John Gibbons was willing to shuffle the lineup every other night, Farrell can at least give the Jose Bautista Cleanup Project a shot.

9 comments:

  1. I think this is only really a problem because of Davis' injury. When healthy, both he and Escobar are good OBP guys for José to drive in.

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  2. Xave, I agree when healthy, the lineup looks much better than its current incarnation. I've never really been a fan of Patterson hitting second, but understand it's a band-aid solution for the time being.

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  3. Snider hitting 3rd virtually guarantees a boost in avg and obp. He will either see more fastballs, so that pitchers don't have to face JoBau, or they will continue to throw him junk, and he will start taking more walks. He will also continue his pattern of slow Aprils, and break out in a big, big way...

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  4. Seems your ain problem with Bautista's spot in the order is not his spot, but those of the players in fornt of him.

    the #1 and #2 hitters are supposed to get on base base, but recently have not been doing so. We get more consistent on base % from from Escobar and Patterson (eventually Davis) and Bautista's RBI totals will rise.

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  5. 5th Starter, the more I think about it, the more and more I like Snider hitting third. Better to throw him into the fire now to see if he can handle hitting in front of Bautista rather than ease him into it.

    Slippy, it's not so much an issue with Escobar as it is Patterson. Once Davis comes back, the Blue Jays will be much better off, but Patterson is creating too many outs on the basepaths. He has 3 stolen bases, but has been caught 3 times as well.

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  6. I like it. the stated reason for having him hit third had to do with being faster on the basepaths, which is not what he's getting paid for (plus, 90% of his mistakes this year seem to have been running the bases)

    I love giving Snider a chance to hit third (although the howls will go up that he hasn't earned it) but I do worry that you end up with Snider/Bautista/Lind so that your two lefties are kinda bunched.

    The flip side of that is that few managers would be foolish enough to serve their Loogy up to JB so maybe it's not a bad plan even at that.

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  7. Southpaw, good point about the lefties. Especially since there are only 2 of them (3 if you count Patterson), maybe it's better to spread them out throughout the lineup.

    I don't think Snider needs to "pay his dues" but any means, but Farrell should reiterate that if Travis wants to stay in that coveted spot he'll need to deliver.

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  8. a hitter who hits third is more likely to come to bat with no one on base and two outs. Rivera should be batting 3rd with bautista cleanup.

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  9. Anon, not a bad idea. I also like Rivera's power in the three hole, so that could definitely work. I guess the Snider option is out of the window for the time being.

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