|Pitchers may now fear Bautista, but umpires apparently still do not. (Icon/SMI)|
Players picked in round 20 and later have a less than 1 percent chance of making it to the major leagues. And if the odds are not less than 99-to-1, it is still an incredible feat for any player drafted so late. It is even more amazing, then, that the Pirates produced three major league starters from their round 20 through 29 picks in the 2000 draft, two of whom were All-Stars for a season and the other had a near All-Star-caliber season.
These three players are Jose Bautista (round 20), Nate McLouth (25), and Ian Snell (26). Snell and McLouth had their outburst season in 2007 and 2008, respectively, but Bautista, the player we will be focusing on today, is experiencing his breakout season now in 2010 and ending it in spectacular fashion.
In a new era of baseball where 40 is the new 50 in terms of home run totals, Bautista’s 2010 season is summed by the gratifying gaudiness of his 52 (and counting) home runs. Each additional homer Bautista hits—an altogether common occurrence—seems a slap in the face to conservative thought about player projections. While hitting home run number 40 (video), Bautista outwardly revels in the glory of the moment, displaying an enthusiastic arrogance that would have warranted more backlash had it not been Jose Bautista in 2010 on the Blue Jays. It surely has been fun to live the path of the unlikely home run champion vicariously through him.
Had I owned him on one of my fantasy baseball teams this year, it would have been even more enjoyable. Especially because in most leagues it did not require a draft pick, but merely a willingness to experiment to have him.
+------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | Year | PA | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | +------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 2006 | 469 | 58 | 16 | 51 | 2 | 0.235 | | 2007 | 614 | 75 | 15 | 63 | 6 | 0.254 | | 2008 | 424 | 45 | 15 | 54 | 1 | 0.238 | | 2009 | 404 | 54 | 13 | 40 | 4 | 0.235 | | 2010 | 653 | 106 | 52 | 118 | 8 | 0.264 | +------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+
One can see why little was expected from Bautista based on his past few seasons, consisting mostly of high .230s batting averages and mild pop—the kind even Mark Ellis can sometimes achieve. The fact people must learn to accept is there is no way to paint Bautista’s season as reasonable or likely since it is the exact opposite—unreasonable and unlikely. Clearly something changed in his swing or something clicked in his head that allowed him to make solid contact with the baseball far more often than he had before.
It is, however, interesting to look back to 2009 and see how his 10 home runs over the season’s final 30 games, a signal that perhaps this change in mechanics occurred before the 2010 season began (and a rate to which he has remained remarkably close in 2010), intrigued almost no one. In ESPN drafts, he was not in the first 260 players selected, which is as deep as their ADP numbers go. Certainly there are numerous players in the 200s he should have been targeted over, though I do believe even if he was valued appropriately he would still be a last-round pick at best, given his numbers at the time.
+-------+-----+----+-------+ | MONTH | PA | HR | AVG | +-------+-----+----+-------+ | April | 102 | 4 | 0.213 | | May | 114 | 12 | 0.287 | | June | 99 | 4 | 0.179 | | July | 110 | 11 | 0.347 | | Aug | 120 | 12 | 0.299 | | Sept | 94 | 9 | 0.241 | +-------+-----+----+-------+
Even though the end results are pretty, Bautista did struggle through parts of this season, starting with the beginning. After April, Bautista was batting just .213 with four home runs and was still unowned almost universally. It wasn’t until a seven-game stretch in May, over which he hit six home runs, that people started to take notice. After finishing the month on a strong note, thanks to Jeffrey Gross’ great chronicling of his season, we know his ESPN ownership reached 100 percent in late May.
Then came June. Throughout June, Bautista batted a mere .179 with four home runs, which were hit in two multi-homer games. In the other 23 games that month, he went homerless. Despite his struggles, most people found reason to hang onto Jose; his ownership rate never dropped below 90 percent in this darkest hour of his season. His 20 home runs were near the league lead, but his .228 average was also near the league bottom. For their patience (or laziness) in keeping him, people were rewarded in July with a Pujolsian eruption that has yet to subside and left owners of Albert Pujols wondering whether the two players had switched, if only for a moment.
Since July Bautista has batted .299 with 32 home runs in 75 games. Obviously maintaining a rate for half-a-season is much easier than a full one, but it is noteworthy to point out that for half the season Bautista has hit home runs at nearly the rate Barry Bonds did during his record-setting 73 home run campaign. Overall his current 106 R, 52 HR, 118 RBI, 8 SB, .264 AVG line ranks him sixth among hitters this year, with that batting average sticking out like a sore thumb compared to the other fantasy league leaders. The last player to be ranked remotely as high with an average below .270 was Ryan Howard in 2008 when he overshadowed his .251 average with 48 homers and 146 RBI.
While everyone can agree Bautista has had a tremendous 2010, opinions are bound to be polarized regarding his value in 2011. I suspect he will be selected quite high in drafts since every draft is likely to have at least one believer who expects 40+ homer production again. I don’t intend to make it sound like such totals are out of the question either—anything between 25 and 40 would not surprise me. I know I do not have any particular insight into what his power numbers will look like next year, so I will leave that range wide on purpose.
If Bautista is picked as highly next year as I envision—around picks 20-40—I do not imagine drafting him in any leagues. I am far from pessimistic about him though, and will be hoping for a similar slump to start the season, after which I would be willing to “buy low” on him and hope for a subsequent power outburst. All of this is many months away though, so for now I plan to simply enjoy the final week of Bautista’s renegade season.
Last season I wrote the same article of admiration on fellow Blue Jay Adam Lind and I also could have honored Aaron Hill in the same fashion. Hill and Lind have followed up by having underwhelming seasons to say the least, but both are capable of bouncing back to being highly productive players again. It is frustrating to see Bautista’s, Lind’s, Hill’s and Vernon Wells‘ most productive seasons separated by the dimension of time, but if the stars align for these four talented teammates in 2011, baseball may see one of the most impressive power displays by a team in recent memory.
Whether all of this offensive firepower can render the Jays meaningful in the bloated AL East is a discussion for elsewhere.