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.