Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What's Wrong with Jose Bautista?

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
There was a time earlier this season where Jose Bautista could do no wrong. He was the man with the Midas Touch; it seemed like everything he touched turned to gold.

Whether it was moon shot after moon shot, line drives ripped into the outfield, or even just a simple walk, Jose Bautista was on pace for another monster season. Lately, something doesn’t feel quite right with Joey Bats.

With the Brett Lawrie Express at the front of centre of Blue Jays fans minds, Jose Bautista’s recent struggles at the plate have flown under the radar. Amazingly enough, even with a mediocre second half thus far, Jose Bautista is still putting together an MVP-worthy season.

The first and most obvious thing is Bautista’s power numbers; his home runs have dried up significantly since the All-Star Break. With 31 jacks before July 14th, Jose Bautista has only hit three home runs since.

Where Jose Bautista used to hit a home run approximately once every 9.7 at bats, he’s now going yard only once every 28 at bats since the All-Star break.

But why the sudden power outage for one of the biggest sluggers in the majors? For a quick answer, all we have to do is look at his hot zones against right-handed pitchers.

I’ve broken it down into two time frames: pre All-Star Break (April 1st to July 10th) and post All-Star break (July 14th to August 15th).

Jose Bautista Hot Zones vs. RHP: 04/01 - 07/10
Jose Bautista Hot Zones vs. RHP: 07/14 - 08/15
Given, the sample sizes from post All-Star break pitches are quite small, but we can see that right-handers are favouring fastballs up and away from Jose Bautista, and the strategy appears to be working in the interim.

Where Jose Bautista used to murder fastballs in the upper part of the zone earlier this season, he's either not connecting at all on heaters or putting them into play for outs.

The offspeed Hot Zones also look troublesome to me, but I'm not as worried about Jose Bautista hitting offspeed pitches because he tends to do a good job of laying off those anyway. Catching up to fastballs appears to be the primary concern.

If we travel a little further down the rabbit hole, there is a little more evidence to corroborate how Jose Bautista is handing pitches up in the zone. He used to get fooled pretty often on pitches down in the zone, but Bautista appears to have curtailed that trend in the past month.

What is troubling however, is the Pitch F/X that show Jose Bautista's home runs compared to swinging strikes.

Jose Bautista Home Runs vs. Swinging Strikes - 04/01 - 07/10
Jose Bautista Home Runs vs. Swinging Strikes - 07/14 - 08/15
Once again, keep in mind the smaller sample size of pitches from post All-Star break, but it looks like Jose Bautista has shifted from missing on pitches below the strike zone to missing on pitches up in the zone.

Which isn't to say he wasn't missing before, it's just that Bautista was also hitting plenty of home runs on those pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. Not so much any more.

Lastly, the Contact vs. Whiff Pitch F/X graphs echo the same sentiment as the Hot Zones and Home Runs vs. Swinging Strikes:

Jose Bautista Contact vs. Whiffs - 04/01 - 07/10
Jose Bautista Contact vs. Whiffs - 07/14 - 08/15
Aside from the huge shift in whiffs out of the zone as shown in the pitch f/x chart above, is the significant drop off in line drives. By my count, Jose Bautista has only hit 8 line drives since July 10th compared to 42 in the first half.
Time FrameAt BatsLDLD RateFBFB RatePUPU Rate
04/01 - 07/10299427.11417.292213.59
07/14 - 08/1584810.5184.67117.64

The remedy in itself is simple, it's the execution that's difficult. It's easier said than done, but Jose Bautista needs to hit less pop ups and fly balls and get back to hitting more line drives. A jumping off point is for Bautista to focus on is catching up to those fastballs up in the strike zone.

I don't know whether it means Bautista just needs to get started earlier or if his bat speed has been dropping off since mid-July. Maybe it's just the wear and tear of a 162 game season, perhaps it's the culmination of a couple of injuries that Jose Bautista has been dealing with.

Whatever is wrong with Jose Bautista, hopefully Dwayne Murphy and John Farrell can pinpoint the issue and get Jose Bautista back on track.

I hate to rag on a guy who's leading the league in OBP, SLG and OPS, but when you're among the elite players in baseball, there's always room for improvement.

All graph data courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's PitchF/X Tool

4 comments:

  1. Fantastic analysis. Why doesn't Sportsnet, TSN or similar feature this type of considered, and cogent features!.
    Keep it coming.

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  2. Anon, thanks for the kind words. That's a very good question! I think something like this is better suited for the blogosphere ... more time and space to go into details rather than just a quick analysis on the broadcast or the highlights.

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  3. After watching me struggle with back problems for years, my wife is convinced that Jose is having some problem with his back. He seems very tight and not reaching well. It's probably wear as the season progresses. He needs some days off.

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  4. Mark - great observation, never thought of that. Bautista has been a workhorse these past few years - I think he hasn't been on the DL since 2007 or something like that. I'm sure a few days off in September wouldn't hurt!

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