Image courtesy of Daylife and AP
Unquestionably, baseball is a game of numbers. No matter where you look, there is seemingly a statistic for every aspect of the game. Most of the time, the tale of the tape is in the boxscore. However, there are some things you won’t find in the boxscore, Baseball Reference or FanGraphs.
Questions have been asked all season as to why a 29 year old career journeyman from the Dominican Republic named Jose Bautista is suddenly leading the major leagues in home runs.
Obviously the big things that have changed are his home run, RBI and walk totals. Aside from that, the only big difference is Bautista is keeping the ball off the ground and in the air much more to the tune of a 53.6 fly ball percentage compared to 42.1 last year.
Unfortunately, for a select few … that’s not enough of an explanation. In the modern era of baseball where the cloud of performance enhancing drugs looms over every player, an outlier season like this from Jose Bautista is going to raise a few red flags.
While analysis of the numbers may tell part of the story, the true reason for Bautista’s success isn’t buried within a bevy of baseball statistics. It’s the immeasurable qualities or the intangible improvements to his game that have turned things around.
Take a few minutes and check out this fantastic piece by Frankie Piliere from MLB Fanhouse. It’s basically the antithesis to another article posted on Sunday which insinuated Jose Bautista was using performance enhancing drugs.
In the piece by Piliere, he breaks down how Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy retooled Bautista’s swing mechanics last year – everything from his timing to his hand position on the bat.
Admittedly, I’m quick to judge Cito for some of his managerial decisions, but let’s keep in mind he was a hitting coach for eight seasons. If there’s one thing Cito Gaston knows, it’s hitting.
One thing I definitely noticed in Jose Bautista’s swing this year compared to others is you can certainly tell he’s pulling the ball almost each and every time. Joe Lemire covered Bautista’s pull-happy prominence earlier in the month over at Sports Illustrated.
I don’t want to over-emphasize the importance of increased playing time, but I think that’s another intangible that has done wonders for Jose Bautista. From a player’s perspective, knowing you’re going to start 150+ games probably gives a sense of stability.
We saw a contrary situation earlier in the year from Randy Ruiz. He had the potential to hit 30 or more home runs, but Randy’s playing time was so few and far between that he was swinging at the fences in every at bat.
Had Ruiz been assured a full-time spot on the Blue Jays roster, perhaps things would have been different. Knowing you’re playing at bat to at bat rather than game to game or week to week probably takes a toll a player’s psyche.
Anyway, back to my point – combine that stability of increased playing time with a re-tooled swing and you have a recipe for success. And if you don’t like that answer to “the question”, then do like others and fabricate your own.