By now you’ve read all the crazy Jose Bautista stats. Your eyes can pop no further, Jose Bautista has suspended your disbelief in a way you didn’t think possible. He is putting on a show many of us have never seen and will never see again, the ride is one to enjoy.

Except if you’re a professional baseball team trying to win games in a tough division. Injuries and disappointing performances from key players means a concerted effort to wring every last ounce of productivity from Jose Bautista, maximizing his awe-inspiring play while surrounded by so many stiffs – stiffs he cannot elevate with his own brilliance.

One of the most common misconceptions of power hitters is the benefit they provide those around them in the batting order. “Hitting in front of him, you’re going to see a lot of fastballs” we’re often told. It is just one of those baseball truisms that, frankly, isn’t actually true. Scads of research exists all across the greater nerdisphere but I thought I’d take a look at this season – what is the benefit of hitting around Jose Bautista?

Hitting ahead of Bautista is supposed to be a boon of fastballs, a steady diet of cookies as pitchers quake in fear as the Great Joey Bats looms on deck. Setting aside questions about the sanity of that reasoning (I don’t to walk this guy so I’ll throw more hittable pitches instead), it turns out it just isn’t true.

In every game he’s played this season, Jose Bautista’s name appeared in the number three spot in the order. I’m certainly not in love with this arrangement but it is unlikely to change, thanks to the comical amount of personal success in the role. The most frequent number two hitter in these games? Corey Patterson, of course.

Corey Patterson is a league average baseball player on his finest day. His bat has some pop and he is almost (almost) fast enough to counteract his base running deficiencies. Hardly a rookie, we can assume the league has a pretty good idea how to pitch Patterson.

Looking at this season – Corey Patterson started 8 games hitting away from Bautista and 20 games in front of the slugger. While this might not provide the largest & most reliable sample, let’s take a look for anything noteworthy. This information comes via MLBAM and Joe Lefkowitz’s site – the classifications are their own and not 100% accurate.

Lineup slot Four Seam Fastballs Two Seam Fastballs Cutters Curveballs Sliders Changeups
In front of Bautista 38.38% 18.31% 4.23% 11.27% 12.68% 11.62%
Other lineup spots 37.61% 18.35% 7.34% 15.60% 3.67% 17.43

A few more cutters and a few knuckle balls spoiling the Small Sample Stew. The differences are so slight in terms of actual numbers of fastballs versus offspeed is so, so slight.

Compelling evidence. Hitting in front of Jose Bautista is next to no impact on the type of pitches offered to Corey Patterson. Pitchers go about their business trying to retire Patterson the same way, regardless of who lurks in the weeds.

Due to injuries, there really isn’t a better option to hit second right now. Ideally, a hitter who excelled at getting on base and then staying the Hell out of the way would precede Bautista in the lineup.

With the increasingly excellent Yunel Escobar getting on base at a great clip in the leadoff spot, the duty of Patterson shouldn’t really extend beyond “don’t hit into a double play.” When a player is a hot as Bautista, the greatest amount of base runners nets the highest number of runs.

If Jose Bautista continues walking in more than 20% of his plate appearances, the man hitting behind him has a great opportunity to drive in runs. When Adam Lind is healthy, his power to all fields can deliver many runs for the Jays. Lind’s pre-injury hot streak provided good “protection” for Bautista, punishing those who opted to pitch around the home run king. Still, no matter how hot Lind gets, teams prefer facing him over Bautista 100% of the time, given the opportunity.

It’s more about opportunity than a change in process. The Jays have a player with incredible ability to get on base and change the game with one swing of the bat. The more often they can stuff the bases in front of him and seize chances behind him, the more runs they’ll score. Unfortunately the ripples from his play only extend so far.

Comments (16)

  1. An excellent post, Drew. It’s nice to see a post like this. I’m actually kind of in favour of running out an order like this once everyone is healthy and Travis Snider works himself out.

    SS Escobar
    1B Snider
    RF Bautista
    1B Lind
    3B Encarnacion
    C Arencibia
    DH Rivera
    2B Hill
    CF Davis

    That is assuming that the team is going to continue to bat Bautista third. I’m actually inclined to bat him second and go Snider, Bautista, Escobar, Lind with the top four if they were willing to try that out. Also, I’m not as solid on the bottom five in the order because it really all depends on who starts to get things worked out. If Hill and Encarnacion bounce back then they should probably be bumped up in the order. It’s a hard lineup to assemble from day-to-day I think (at least in terms of putting them in the optimum order) because it strikes me that this is an especially streaky group of players.

    Actually, on that note I’d be interested in learning whether that is in fact the case or if my eyes are lying to me. I know that all players are streaky, but some seem to be more streaky than others and the Jays’ players seem to fall into that category.

  2. My preference for Bautista’s place in the order: 4th, 2nd, 1st, then 3rd.

    This is great stuff. I love myth bustin’, but surprisingly, not Myth Busters.

  3. I like the question posed the other way… how good does the #4 hitter have to be to make folks pitch to Jose Bautista. I can only assume that with an OPS over 1.300, nobody can actually protect Jose, except maybe Jose Bautista.

  4. Ugh. I spy a small error in the suggested batting order that I posted there. Somehow I think that playing Snider in left instead of running out two players at first base probably will result in more wins.

    And I agree with Parkes. I’d be inclined to bat Bautista second or fourth, but since the Jays are so “top heavy” offensively (read: Jose Bautista is so much better than everyone else on the team right now that it is silly) I favour the number two hole since it gets him more plate appearances than if he bats fourth. I can see the argument for batting him cleanup where he’d get slightly more opportunities with guys on-base and in scoring position than batting second.

  5. Since I am far too lazy to run the stats myself – my curiosity wonders if the hitters in front of Bautista were better hitters if they would receive more fastballs. Its one thing to make Adam Lind or Aaron Hill better because they see fastballs – but I think that truism always thrown around is also relative to the hitters in front of the stud. I wouldn’t throw Corey Patterson or Rajai Davis fastballs either. But what about instances where Colby Rasmus hits in front of Albert Pujols vs hitting after? What about Corey Hart hitting in front of Ryan Braun/Prince Fielder?

    I suspect the same hitter hitting in front of a stud versus hitting in a different position in the lineup while that same stud is in the lineup might change the fastball rate.

  6. I find this stuff interesting.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about for the past day or so that is sort of along these lines, is why Bautista has been getting anything to hit when the guys hitting behind him have been terrible.

    Not just counting these last few games since Lind’s injury, since Lind didn’t seem to really heat up and go on his current hot streak (pre-injury) until Bautista missed those 5 games and both of them weren’t in the lineup at the same time much (if at all).

    I don’t know the best way of looking at it, whether you’d just look at the numbers of the #4 hitters during the games Bautista’s played in, or whether you’d look at them going into that game, but any way, I’m still not understand why anyone would give him anything to hit.

  7. But, is it possible Patterson is more likely to think fastball, thereby seeing the fastball better? We’re well aware that you feel he’s playing over his head this year. Could the Bautista effect be helping him feel more confident coming to the plate before him? What are his splits in the two situations?

    • I’m pretty sure the only thing making Corey Patterson better this season is that he’s only had 127 PAs. And it’s not like he’s tearing the cover off the ball.

      His line: .280 AVG, .317 OBP, .441 SLG, .328 wOBA. His numbers against lefties are much better than career norm right now.

  8. I posted something along the same lines last week. What I noticed is that while Lineup Protection might be mythical, Bautista’s bases empty/runners on splits are huge. Basically: with a guy on base, you can make money betting on a walk, and with no-one on the SLG goes through the roof. (Oddly, the OPSs are almost identical.)

  9. Why is the 4th spot preferred over batting 3rd?

  10. I don’t know if comparing pitch types would be as helpful as looking at pitch locations. I think it would be more illustrative to look at how the #2 man in front of Bautista was pitched in terms of in-zone or out-of-zone. For example – if the book on a given #2 hitter says that he is susceptible to a certain type of pitch, he will see more of that type. Maybe Patterson has a weakness for sliders, but is good on fastballs? Much more likely that they pitch to his weakness than they pitch to contact.

  11. I used to really like Aaron Hill batting in the #2 slot. Wonder if putting him back there now that he’s hitting a few more line drives might be a good thought…

  12. band wagners are back i see interesting…………………

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