Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What's Wrong with Jose Bautista Now?


By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
Initially, I didn't want to contribute to a sense of panic in Blue Jays Land, but I'll be honest ... I'm beginning to get a little worried about Jose Bautista. And not just because I paid $70 dollars for him in the BJH Fantasy League.

Bautista has been mired in slumps before, but never to this extent. And never has Jose been swinging so wildly at pitches and missing in fastball counts when he knows very well a heater is coming right down the pipe.

Last summer, Jose Bautista was also suffering from a second half slump. Post All-Star Break, Jose's slash line was still fairly impressive at .257/.419/.477, but it wasn't quite to the echelon as we were used to seeing him at.

At the time, the problem seemed to be that Jose Bautista was having trouble turning around on those fastballs, and by all indications it's more of the same here in the early going of 2012. Time and time again, Bautista is struggling in hitter's counts.

This season, Jose Bautista is hitting a measly .130 in batter's counts while hitting .250 in pitcher's counts. Compare that to the 2011 season, where Bautista hit .372 in hitter's counts and .245 in pitcher's counts.

While it doesn't surprise me that Bautista holds his own in 1-0, 1-2 and 0-2 counts, what is a little perturbing is that he's batting just .130 when he's out ahead in the count. In many instances when he knows a fastball is coming, he either misses it completely ... or hits into a harmless pop up.

Looking at the strikezone report on Joe Lefkowitz' Pitch F/X Tool, it's pretty easy to see where the glaring hole is in Jose Bautista's swing.

Jose Bautista vs. LHB 2012

Image courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's Pitch F/X Tool

Jose Bautista vs. RHB 2012

Image courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's Pitch F/X Tool

Keep in mind these are all still very small sample sizes what with it being just 23 games into the 162 game schedule, but it is a veritable donut of nothingness in Jose Bautista's swing against right-handers on fastballs.

Unless they're lobbing it right down the middle (right down the donut hole AKA Timbit), Jose Bautista is not doing any damage whatsoever on fastballs from righties. And that should be very concerning, because destroying fastballs has been Bautista's bread and butter these past two seasons.

My good friend Navin suggested on Twitter that in the past two years, Jose Bautista has not looked as bad as he did during that three pitch strikeout in the fourth inning. And I would tend to agree ... Bautista was lost and chased a pitch that was outside of his wheelhouse, thus contributing to yet another strikeout.

It all seems rather simple solution, but it's the execution that is the main hurdle here. Is it maybe that instead of looking for the fastball, Bautista is expecting a breaking ball and thus trying to overcompensate when a fastball comes down the pipe?

Because he very clearly has the bat speed to hit the fastball, even though right now you might not be able to tell it as such.

Here's the only hairbrained theory I can offer, and it stems from something Frank Catalanotto told me a few weeks back regarding his six hit game. He recalled seeing the ball so well that day, and that he looked fastball the whole game, while simply making the necessary adjustments for off-speed and breaking pitches.

Jose Bautista has a keen eye for his pitch, perhaps one of the best in the game right now, therefore allowing him to draw plenty of walks. But maybe his ability to track the breaking ball is helping him more as an on base weapon and not so much as a hitter.

So if Jose is priming his swing for an 88 MPH curveball, of course he's going to have trouble catching up to a 95 MPH fastball later in the at bat; because he's not primed to swing at the fastball, he's primed to swing at the breaking ball.

Again, this is just a hairbrained theory from yours truly who has zero Major League experience, but at this point I'm willing to chalk Jose Bautista's struggles up to anything. Even if it's incredibly wrong, it feels better to diagnose it as something because then at least we know what to look for.

Whether it's mechanical or whether it's a mental issue, something needs to change with Jose Bautista. I don't think it's time to be concerned about him just yet, but the last thing the Blue Jays need is for Bautista to look like that donut of nothingness.

In the meantime, I'll be drowning my sorrows in a pile of bear claws.

17 comments:

  1. That picture says it all. He's way off balance and his body is making it impossible to hit the offspeed stuff. On fastballs, his swing is ending with him facing and looking into the third base dugout. He's a total mess right now is really the only way to describe it. He needs to spend some time hitting off the Tee. From the left side of the plate. With his spare change in his right front pocket. And his shoes Double Knotted.

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    1. I don't know the exact terminology for it, but Bautista looks like a spinning top out there when he swings and misses. That can't be a good sign.

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  2. I agree, Bautista hasn't looked good, but I have faith he could turn it around.

    As a side, I've got both Bautista and Pujols on my dynasty league team.

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    1. Let's hope so, Peter! I'm confident both guys will turn it around at some point, but for the Blue Jays sake (and our fantasy teams), I hope it's sooner rather than later.

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  3. I've been wondering if Bautista's crouch has become too pronounced. It seems as though he's getting deeper in his stance, and has to stand up out of it when the ball is coming. (Hence, all the pop-ups.)

    I'm just relying on memory, but I'm going to look at some pictures of his stance over the past three years. Might be hard to find...

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    1. Interesting observation Tao - would be interesting to see a side-by-side comparison to see how different his stance is in his swing loadup.

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  4. it is all mental. He has put in his head that he is going to excel this year saying that he was going to break records. When you place such high expectations on yourself and dont achieve them on cue it does damage. Whenever he steps out there he is trying to hit it out of the park and when its called a strike he gets mad thinking he knows what right and wrong. He just needs to get back to just thinking about it pitch by pitch and not the expectations we have of him. Just back to basic baseball

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    1. Ruh-roh ... maybe it's the cover curse of MLB The Show?

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  5. It really is an interesting situation. I wonder how long it has to go on before Farrell flip flops EE and Bautista in the batting order.

    In a sense Jose has the opposite problem of Yunel. Yunel is apparently 'too bent over' which is causing him to pound ground balls repeatedly to the short stop. Bautista is hitting the ball about an inch too low creating an avalanche of pop ups.

    The great thing about Bautista has always been that he swings so hard. The problem is that his bat simply is not on the same plane as the ball. I have no idea whether he is too crouched or too tall but I do know that when I start hitting a golf ball 'fat' it is usually because my body is dropping through the swing or my back shoulder is collapsing instead of coming around. I suspect that eventually he will find the right 'swing thought' and get back to hammering rockets out to right field.

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    1. I don't think you take Jose out of the three spot until at least 60-70 games in. You can't really do that. He is the franchise right now.

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    2. Strange, however, that the player with the worst on base percentage (Escobar- .257) is leading off, the player with the most strike outs (Johnson- 26) is batting second, and the player with the lowest batting average (Bautista- .181) is hitting third.

      I am actually not arguing that Bautista should be moved from the 3 spot until he gets back on track; I was only wondering how many games have to go by with these kinds of results before it stops being a 'small sample size'.

      On the other hand... if you put together a line up with the top three consisting of best OBP, average, and strikeouts we would have to live with EE, Lind, and maybe Thames at the top of the order and that probably wouldn't be an improvement.

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    3. Agreed ... I don't think we're quite at the point where Farrell has to move Bautista out of the #3 spot. I think keeping Encarnacion as the go-to cleanup hitter is baby steps, and that's the first move that needs to be made.

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  6. Uhh... by 'right field' I meant, of course, 'left field'.

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  7. Hmm. What were Bautista's stats like in spring training? I seem to recall them being not bad, but they don't seem to be available online. I mention not to give credence to ST stats per se, but because sluggers often start slow, and if Jose started ok it suggests he should still be ok. In other words, not a technical problems.

    But the idea that he has gotten away from concentrating on the pitches he wants, rather than the pitches he expects to get, makes a lot of sense.

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    1. He hit .288/.345/.635 with four homers and 10 RBI in 18 spring training games. Not too shabby.

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  8. It is killing me seeing him strike out so much. Honestly, it seems as though it started at the All-Star game last year. We was awesome heading into the game, once he got there and it not succeed, everything fell apart. Complete speculation, but I wonder if something was said, that has caused self-doubt. He has just never been the same that went into that game.

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  9. I had a look at his batted ball and plate discipline as I wanted some answers as well. Awful start. Check my piece for the findings. He is still walking at the same clip, he is just chasing too many bad pitches.

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