Questions swirled around Jose Bautista ahead of the 2011 season. How would he follow his amazing 2010 season? Would the pressure of a new contract affect him? Would losing the invaluable protection of Vernon Wells hurt his production? Without Cito Gaston, how was Jose expected to go on?

Jose Bautista answered all these questions and more by following his historic 2010 with another incredible season. Very little doubt how remains – Jose Bautista is one of the very best hitters in baseball. He hits for power and exhibits a terrific eye at the plate.

With these facts now taken as 1100 at bat gospel, what does it mean for Bautista in the future? What kind of career arc can we expect from this right-handed slugger? I can think of one excellent comparison – Gary Sheffield.

The career paths of Gary Sheffield and Jose Bautista could not be more dissimilar. Sheffield stormed onto the scene as a 19 year-old shortstop (!) with the Milwaukee Brewers (!!) in 1988 (!!!). Like Bautista, Sheffield changed teams with alarming frequency as a young player, moving from Milwaukee to San Diego and finally Florida within the first three full seasons at the big league level. Unlike Bautista, these moves owed largely to Sheffield’s role as History’s Greatest Villain as opposed to a plain-old under-performing ballplayer without a position.

Sheffield moved from position to position and team to team, leaving a trail of bodies and arrests in his wake. But he always hit. After posting a very impressive .421 wOBA as a member of the Padres, Sheffield moved to the Marlins and continued raking.

After struggling through injuries and labor stoppages, Sheffield hit his stride in 1996. Looking at his numbers, his ’96 season (at age 27) is strikingly similar to Jose Bautista’s 2011 (at age 30.)

  • Sheffield – 21.0% walk rate, 42 home runs, .310 ISO, .454 wOBA, 183 wRC+.
  • Bautista – 20.2% walk rate, 43 home runs, .306 ISO, .441 wOBA, 181 wRC+

Gary Sheffield didn’t strike out as much as Jose, though Bautista cut his strikeouts considerably from 2010 to 2011. The Sheff never managed that lofty a K/BB ratio again in his career and 1996 marked his career high in intentional walks, just as Bautista gladly took 24 free passes in 2011.

Looking forward into Sheffield’s career, we see a player who maintained his crazy offensive numbers without sacrificing his trademarked patience. At age 31 he posted bonkers numbers for the Dodgers. Though his strikeout rose while his walk rate shrank from his obscene 1996 levels, he still posted a remarkable season. 16.5% BB rate, 43 more home runs, .317 ISO, .447 wOBA and a 171 wRC+.

From the time he started in Florida and embodied the patient slugger lifestyle that defined his career, Sheffield averaged a 15% BB rate, a near 12% strikeout rate about 15% home run per fly ball. Sheffield, a slugger with a pronounced leg kick and incredibly quick bat much like Jose Bautista, still managed a .372 wOBA at the age of 37 in Detroit.

Sheffield, of course, admitted to steroid use in his 2004 Grand Jury testimony. At the very least, this drug use helped Sheffield stay on the field to post these numbers. At worst, they delayed his decline phase until a time well past its natural date while pumping up his power stroke. His 2003 season stands out in some ways, with his home run per fly ball rate jumping up well beyond his normal rate attracts some suspicion. Though Sheff did continue posting big numbers well after the drug testing was in place and the witch hunt crackdown was in full swing.

Aside from the atrocities, a career path similar to Gary Sheffield’s would make Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays very, very happy while looking very, very smart. While the direct benefits of Sheffield’s drug use are unclear, what is clear is the type of hitter he was and the type of hitter Jose Bautista has become. If Bautista produces as Sheffield did, the contract looks great and Jose might have another significant pay day in his future.

It might not be a popular comparison but it is one that seems more than apt. Quick-strike pull hitters who covered the plate with incredible eyes. The Bill James projection system tips Jose Bautista for a 15% walk rate with 38 home runs and a .263 ISO in 2012. James’ system is generally very aggressive but, using Sheffield’s career as a guide, Jays fans can hope Jose keeps producing some of the best offensive numbers in baseball. Let’s just hope he avoids the Brewer/Padre/Marlin/Dodger/Yankee/Tiger/Met’s penchant for everything else.

Comments (28)

  1. Awe man, I really hate to dump on you.

    I really do.

    However IF you are going to write comparison pieces. Please, please get your facts straight before letting your blogs get past the Toronto Sun sports editors.

    Your first two paragraphs describing Sheffield paint a much different picture of Sheffield then what really happened and how his career “arc” went with his first 3 teams.

    You create the myth that Sheffield moved around as frequent as Bautista which is incorrect. He played for 3 teams over 10 years. 4 with the Brewers and then become quite a successful hitter with the Padres, the same McGriff Padres. He was traded to the expansion Marlins for pieces to help the contending Padres.

    Sheffield along with everybody else from ’97 Marlins team was dump for money reasons.

    Look I get it, you write Toronto Sports blogs, Bautista probably gets the most hits for you. But maybe, just maybe you should put your thinking cap on (the black jays cap) before hitting send on the blog.
    compare if you must, but please, please leave the rest out.

    • I appreciate your tact but I think this line “The career paths of Gary Sheffield and Jose Bautista could not be more dissimilar” hardly suggests an attempt to paint them as the same guy. When I then stated “Unlike Bautista, these moves owed largely to Sheffield’s role as History’s Greatest Villain as opposed to a plain-old under-performing ballplayer without a position” I, again, suggest the only real similarity is the number of jerseys in their closet.

      Perhaps that categorization of Sheffield isn’t fair but it is also obviously in jest.

      If that spoils the rest of the comparison for you, I’m sorry. I still think they’re very similar players.

    • I’d really hate to be a condescending dick and harp on someone “not getting their facts straight”, only to not get my facts straight in my witty retort.

      But there you are.

      Sheffield wasn’t dumped to reload on talent for the contending Padres. If that even makes sense. He was a salary dump because the Pads committed a fire sale – McGriff, Fernendez, et al. Not that it fundamentally changes the whole career arc thing, I just like seeing dicks get their smarmy desserts.

  2. I really don’t think that the comparison between Bautista and Sheff is as strong as you suggest. Yes, the stats that you picked out suggest that Sheff’s ’96 season and Bautista’s ’11 season were similar, but as you mentioned Sheff was just entering his prime at 27 years old when he had that season whereas Bautista was on the wrong side of 30 in 2011. Three years difference in the life of a professional athlete is an eternity.

  3. Fair enough, if you want to find two years by Bautista and compare it to a career by Sheffield it is your blog and you can shape the numbers anyway you want.

    What I was trying to get at, and the point you missed in your rebuttal. Is that, the career path Sheffield had is not the one you paint. Your “facts” on his early years is just plain wrong. You are creating a misconception of a player and his path.

    If you want to compare the numbers Bautista has put up since turning 29 and those that Sheffield did at the age of 29, then do that. Although I would argue it is a weak argument thinking two players, One who had 10 years experience and success and one whoo has two years are going to follow the same career paths because their numbers are identical at the same age. I mean would have compared him to Rob Ducey before hand and written him off?

    Just dont tell a story about a player whose story you don’t know accurately

    • You are right. I overdid the “team after team” stuff in the early part of my post.

      I do, however, believe the patience, power and similarities in the swings make Sheffield and Bautista fair comparisons. The reason I chose Sheffield was because of the way his skill set aged (very well.) A pull-power swing dependent on timing and patience. Yes, Sheffield has a much better track record as he approached his decline phase but Bautista now has two-plus seasons as one of the three best hitters in baseball. There is more evidence, at this point, to suggest he can keep it going than evidence suggesting a collapse.

      • That’s your strongest point for the comparison – “a pull-power swing dependent on timing and patience. Constructing blog posts around Baseball Reference data is pretty easy and has crowded out any sort of practical analysis of swing mechanics – if it can’t be plotted by these very new and often inconsistently-applied metrics, it doesn’t seem to get written about. But anyone who actually sits down and watches a game can relate these two swings. I wish you would write about that stuff – what we can actually see on TV and relate to – it makes the viewing experience of individual games a lot richer.

      • And what evidence is that?

        I am all ears for that discussion. Shouldn’t we though find players who develop later on in their careers. Who saw a huge spike in performance at similar ages. Rather then using a player who was productive for the majority of his career before the comparison age.

        • I think this is the main source of our disagreement. I haven’t considered the long track record of Sheffield because I’m of the “what have you done for me lately/most recent three years are more telling” school of thought. In hindsight, I should have made that more clear.

          After 1400 plate appearances in the past two seasons, we have an excellent sense of the type of hitter Jose Bautista has become. That kind of hitter is very similar to Gary Sheffield at a similar age – they both draw walks in spades and have comparable swings which produce comparable power. It is that belief which suggests, to me anyway, that Bautista can age well as a patient slugger. He won’t end up with gaudy career numbers like Sheff but I feel better about his chances of earning his pay check during the final years.

          What Bautista did as a journeyman as a part of with the…Royals system doesn’t matter as much as the here and now. Projecting him forward, we use this, most recent data rather than the older stuff. Just as Sheffield’s less-than-refined approach as a teenage in the Brewers system didn’t have a lot of bearing on his seasons in his early 30s.

          • Okay, but are not players track records the best way to compare what player and A and Player B have in common and what they might do going forward?

            Perhaps David Ortiz would be a better example?

  4. Jay Buhner had a pretty good season at the age of 30

  5. I had to read it again. Just to make sure I was being unjust.

    Then it hit me. This whole blog reeks.

    You are trying to use a reliever sized season sample, and compare it to an Cy young candidate starter.

    You are trying to convince your readers that because two players at the same age have put up similar numbers that they probably will from here on out. This of course acts as though neither player has a statistical history.

    I think the numbers of both players show that, Bautista is more likely to fade at a younger age then a HOF candidate.

    • Actually, he said they have a similar style and we should hope Bautista performs the same as Sheffield did. He didn’t even say he thought it was likely.

    • Remember that time you made your point and then shut up?

      • Come on, this is the Fox & Friends comments section.

      • Remember those many many many other baseball players who hit well for two or 3 years in their prime and then disappeared?

        • Who hit like Bautista and disappeared? No.

          • Perhaps we should stop feeding the trolls…

          • Nobody was talking about disappearing.

            No I am not trolling.

            I disagree that there is anything similar to Sheffield and Bautista except for the fact at a certain age they had a similar season.

            Using that thought for the basis that Bautista should age the same in the baseball world of production is ludicrous. Taking a small sample size of two years against a proven track record, well even weakest of the new age stat geek baseball fans should know that those numbers just dont work.

            Would it be nice, sure of course. I am fan of both players.

  6. Does anyone else like bacon?

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