It was more than two years ago that I forced a comp here on Getting Blanked (Editor’s note – don’t force comps). Based on a passing familiarity in the swing style and patience levels of the two players in question, I wondered how Jays slugger Jose Bautista might age. Specifically, I wondered about similarities between Jose’s swing, power, heavy pull tendencies and very patient approach reminded me of retired outfielder Gary Sheffield. These two players seemed to have a lot in common, maybe there’s something to that.
This was hot on the heels of the 2011 season in which Jose Bautista went about proving his 2010 breakout was no fluke. There was still a chance for Jose to turn into a pumpkin. Even though were was more than 1000 plate appearances of “new Jose” some thought it wishful to compare him to an established star like Gary Sheffield.
But then a funny thing happened for another two years – Jose Bautista kept hitting like Gary Sheffield.
People worrying about Mussina getting 5-percented this year. OK. The real concern is Gary Sheffield getting 5-percented next year.
— Jack Moore (@jh_moore) January 2, 2014
The above tweet caused me to revisit this old post in the first place. As Jack points out, Sheffield’s Hall case is an interesting is ultimately futile one. I fear his fate will be very similar to Kenny Lofton and Kevin Brown – great production for too many teams during a time when numbers get lost in the shuffle.
But Sheffield’s numbers stand on their own with the best of his era. And Jose Bautista’s numbers since this first lining these two players side by side remain quite similar to Sheffield’s. Eerily so, if we’re being honest. Comparing their age 29-33 seasons (since Bautista’s breakout) produces some interesting results:
So, if we can agree that this comparison has merit beyond similar physical characteristics, what can we learn about Jose Bautista’s future from Gary Sheffield’s past?
Sheff’s age-33 season was his first in Atlanta and represented another great season during the right-handed masher’s long peak, though he claims it was the worst in his career for reasons beyond his production.
His age-34 season, which would bring Jose Bautista into free agency after his five-year contract with the Blue Jays expires, was even better. Like Bautista over the last two years, Sheffield missed about a month of the 2002 seasons (age-33) but stayed healthy and better than ever in 2003.
Over two years in Atlanta, Sheffield hit 64 home runs and posted a 154 wRC+. He was as good as ever. Though some might question just how he managed to stave off decline for so long, posting two more very very good seasons in New York before injuries really took a toll as Sheffield approached 40.
Can the Blue Jays expect two more seasons like the cumulative value of his previous four? Sadly, no. It appears his decline has begun, thanks in no small part to the injuries robbing him of more than 100 total games across 2012 and 2013.
The early projections are split on Bautista, with Steamer and CAIRO bullish on Bautista to bounce back, producing even more than his two injury shortened years – .262/.372/.549 with 35 home runs for CAIRO and .262/.375/.519 with 33 bombs for Steamer. The Oliver projections are less confident in Bautista’s ability to recreate his unbelievable 2010/2011 seasons – which is totally fair since those two years were so, so good, after all.
From both a practical and a theoretical standpoint it is tough to pin Bautista down. After four years of high-level production, it is tough to argue he isn’t one of the elite run producers in the game. But health questions dog him, as his timing-based swing and ability to continually generate home run power might worry those unwilling to give themselves over to the cold math of a the projections.
The uncertainty around the Blue Jays only makes Jose’s future tougher to picture. Could the Jays trade Bautista and his agreeable contract if they fail to contend again in 2014?
It is easy to dispassionately argue that trading Jose Bautista while he still has value is the right move but, quietly, Jose Bautista is turning into one of the most productive Blue Jays position players of all time. It is crazy, really. By the end of this season, he could eclipse Vernon Wells in career WAR in nearly 3000 fewer plate appearances. He very quickly became the face of the franchise, a designation you can take or leave depending on your perspective. His era might lack in glamor and team success but it is difficult to argue his place in Blue Jays lore after 650-odd games.
Looking to Gary Sheffield as an example of similarly-skilled player who held his value as he passed through the Jose Bautista’s approaching age should help assuage the fears that Bautista’s time as an All Star-calibre hitter is over. Jays fans frustrated with his outbursts on the field and leadership abilities will miss his power and his consistency when it’s gone – no matter if he leaves after the final years of contract or earlier.