What if I told you that Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays actually got really unlucky at the plate last year? One's reaction might be "Are you fooking insane?"
As we all know, Bautista had one of the craziest seasons baseball history partly due to the past lack of notable success in the journey-man's career. Bautista never hit more than 16 long balls in a season and has never been on pace for more than 21, until last year. Before 2010, he had a career total of 59 home runs and in 2010 alone, he hit 54. To say that his season was ridiculous would be an total and utter understatement. So why, at the age of 29, did Jose Bautista have a breakout year?
I bet your still wondering why he I say he got UN-LUCKY. Well here's why:
He had a .260 average yet his BABIP was .233. (For those of you that do not know: when calculating BABIP, it only counts balls in play, hence why it is called Batting Average on Balls In Play. BABIP does not count for homers, strike outs and sacrifices.) Bautista's career BABIP is .270. I mean I really don't even have to spend the time to write how un-lucky he was.
His BABIP was down because his line drive rate (14.4%) was not significantly different from his career mark (15%) therefore making his BABIP prone to a down year. What did change, however, was his ground ball and fly ball rates.
Bautista's ground ball rate dropped from a career 39.2% to a 31.1% while he witnessed his fly ball rate lift up to 54.5% compared to 45.8% in his career. More fly balls = more home runs. According to hittrackeronline.com, Bautista had the most No Doubt home runs in all of baseball with 19. (A No Doubter is classified as a home run
Bautista also contributed a very good amount of runs against all pitches except the splitter and the change-up in which he hit just below the zero mark at -1.4(wSF) and -1.5(wCH) respectively, according to fangraphs.com. He notably crushed the fastball with a 36.7 wFB. (NOTE: when rating pitch type values, you are supposed to put a "w" in front of the pitch to represent the weighted value of the pitch when a hitter hits it, in other words: it represents how many runs that are contributed when a hitter hits a pitch over the course of the season.) What was even more surprising was that Bautista hit 10.2 wSL (slider) and 6.5 wCB (curve ball). One would think that a player with a home run total that has un expectingly exploded in the middle of his career is just hitting fastballs and getting extremely lucky (assuming PEDs are not involved).
The reason for all this crazy success is a new stance.
Up until about July of the 2009 season, Bautista's swing was very quick. It was in and out the zone in no time and that gave him no time to keep his hand and bat head in the zone to make adjustments to off speed pitches. His feet were normal and when he took his load step, it would be towards first base which closes his body off from the pitcher and the pitch causing him to speed up his stroke in order to make up for the bat speed. When a hitter closes off his body, he is unable to get hands around to the ball and it also prevents the hitter from flying his hips open thus making that hitter a "gap-to-gap" hitter which basically means that do not really have much power.
In July, Dwayne Murphy, Blue Jays hitting coach, made a couple adjustments that Bautista off on a tear for the last month of the season.
Bautista opened his stance up. This allowed his hands to get into the zone and his hips to fly open big time. He also started holding his bat more above his head and have his head in between his arms. This created a much more direct path to the ball. By opening his stance up, it also allows him to straiten out his front leg more which then created a more balance swing and better follow through with his hands.
Bautista's new stance obviously worked very well for him in 2010 and because of it, there is not a single pitch that you can put him away with consistently, and he is now a legit threat at the plate. Since his BABIP was so low, it is right to think that that it should rise next season. I think hitting another 50 homer season is a little absurd so project about 35 and maybe 40 homers, though I think 35 homers is the best bet. He should strike out a tad more. He makes the pitcher work a lot (4.16 P/PA) and swings at pitches out of the zone at a better than average rate (19.5 O-Swing%) which is always a great thing for hitters.
Look at Bautista's shape. He has not gained any weight and has never been a fast runner. I don't think that steroids are the likely answer to all this.
Projection: .270/.370/.500 line with 30-35 homers.
(Statistics in courtesy of: espn.com, fangraphs.com, hittrackeronline.com and baseball-reference.com)