Advanced statistics have given us wonderful insight into the minutiae of baseball, the way the game really works. We know what every pitcher throws, and how often, and how hard, and in which counts. We know which base runners go from first to third on singles most efficiently. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that left-handed batters are suffering worse than they have in decades when a lefty is on the mound.
Another thing we know, although it’s something we don’t talk about all that often, is how batted balls break down, in terms of both trajectory and directionality, and where hits and home runs come from. We know, for example, that the average big-league hits mostly ground balls when he pulls the ball, but mostly fly balls when he hits it the other way. We also know that most home runs come on pulled fly balls.
Major League Baseball, Batted-Ball Distribution, 2013
Line Drive %
Ground Ball %
Fly Ball %
Of course, these are just aggregate figures. There are some great power hitters, like Chris Davis of the Orioles, who spray flies all over the park, and hit a lot of them out of the park, even the other way:
Chris Davis, Batted-Ball Distribution, 2013
Others, like Miguel Cabrera, have fairly normal distributions of fly balls, grounders and liners to the various fields, but homer nearly every time they lift one to the pull field:
Miguel Cabrera, Batted-Ball Distribution, 2013
Jose Bautista is a different kind of slugger. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger derives his power from a drastically different approach:
Jose Bautista, Batted-Ball Distribution, 2013
Line Drive %
Ground Ball %
Fly Ball %
Bautista is a dead pull hitter, and his power comes from volume. He’s not an above-average power guy in terms of the number of his flies that leave the park to any field. He just pulls the ball more often than most, and lifts a higher percentage of the balls he does pull than all but one other qualifying hitter.
I wanted to highlight this fact about Bautista, in light of the fact that the Blue Jays are (apparently) open to dealing Bautista if the right trade partner (anyone with starting pitching to burn) pops up. I’m not sure, to be honest, what it means, but it’s a fascinating truth about Bautista. It’s what makes him unique.
What’s encouraging about that profile is that, except in extreme cases, I imagine Bautista’s power is essentially park-proof. No team needs to worry much about acquiring him and seeing balls start falling into the gloves of outfielders, instead of souvenir hawks. He makes a lot of outs by hitting all those flies, a good number of which do stay in the park and get caught, but he also turns on the ball and lifts it, over and over, and no park in baseball today truly punishes right-handed pull-conscious power hitters.
The one guy who gets more of his pulled balls in the air than Bautista, by the way, is Evan Gattis. Gattis is an average overall hitter, at best. Bautista is that at worst. The reason is that Bautista walks a ton, and strikes out less than a league-average hitter, despite his swing-for-the-left-field-fences approach. The lesson here might even be that Bautista’s real value lies less in his power than in his tremendous strike-zone control. I take this as another good sign; it’s generally easier to maintain that plate discipline than to maintain the sort of bat speed necessary to keep yanking balls out of the park at the prodigious rate (one every 14.9 times he steps to the plate for the last four years) Bautista has posted since finding his groove.
There are two years left on Bautista’s curtrent contract, at $14 million each, with a third-year club option for $14 million more. If it’s me in the general manager’s chair in Toronto, Bautista stays put. It’s not me, though. It’s Alex Anthopoulos, and it’s entirely possible that Anthopoulos sees something I don’t, either in Bautista (who, admittedly, can’t stay healthy lately, and who is 33 years old now) or in the market. Suffice it to say that if Bautista is what’s leaving, what’s coming had better be pretty impressive, or the Blue Jays have actively hurt their own chances to get it right and compete in the AL East next season.Next post: Joe Sheehan, Josh Johnson and the San Diego Padres
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