Monday, January 10, 2011

The Truth About Jose Bautista's 2010 Season

posted by Jon Williams

There is already a lot of debate on message boards about Jose Bautista's place in fantasy drafts going into the 2011 season. So far, drafters seem to be betting on a repeat of 2010's homer barrage. As a third round pick Bautista needs to return a value around $20 to $25 in standard AL-only leagues. He was valued around $32 in 2010.

To properly judge Bautista's ability to repeat his performance I think we need to know what he did differently. Stats tell us part of the story but without a root cause it becomes very easy to predict a large regression, to something closer to his career levels. Not that his career levels are bad. The 2010 season was one of Bautista's few opportunities to be an everyday starter. Using his career fly ball and HR/FB rates and projecting 500 at-bats Bautista comes out at 32 homers. That's probably a good baseline expectation for 2011 but some of us would like to see better.

Bautista owes much of his success to Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy who showed Bautista during the 2009 season that he was late on nearly every pitch. This made him easier to strike out as well as reducing his production rates. Murphy and Bautista worked on fixing his swing throughout the 2009 season and when he received regular at-bats in September of 2009 he hit ten homers from September 6th to the end of the season. Then he played winter ball to cement the changes into his muscle memory. He even changed his off season workouts from a power lifting routine to a regimen based on polymetrics and cardio with the aid of his Dominican trainer, Kelvin Terrero.

Frankie Piliere, a former scout for the Texas Rangers and presently writing for FanHouse.com breaks down the changes far better than I could:
The first part of Bautista's new setup is rather simple. Compared to past years, he is slightly closer to the plate with his back foot. He's not a player that uses the whole field exceptionally well, but he also trusts his hands and knows that he can spin on the best inner-half fastball. So, what he appears to have done is edged his way up on the plate and cut off parts of the zone that pitchers once were able to exploit. It's a subtle one- or two-inch difference, but that small movement up on the plate has allowed him to build on a strength.

Then there is the slight change in his lower half. A little more straight up and down in 2009, Bautista is now in a bit more of a crouch and sitting more on his back leg. His bat angle in his setup is worth pointing out as well. At an angle closer to 45 degrees last season, it's close to flattened out now. Overall, it appears he has made an effort to get his top hand more involved and get his hands moving through the zone quicker in general. To do that, he has put his hands in a higher position and is creating much more leverage. Rather than low and close to his body, we now see him with his hands not just higher but also further away from his body. So, before he even begins his swing, he is in a stronger, loaded position with his hands back.

Take a good look at the way Albert Pujols reads and reacts mechanically to a pitch inside and you'll see some extreme similarities. Pujols does not use a leg kick, but once Bautista's foot is down, the similarities show up in a big way.
"I was getting ready way too late and the ball was beating me to the strike zone," Bautista said. "When I wasn't playing every day, making the adjustments was really tough because I wasn't seeing the results."
The changes outlined above make the statistical changes easier to understand. With that understanding comes the ability to believe Bautista can repeat them or at least come close enough that we can bid on the side of the over of our earlier baseline for homers.

The uptick in contact rate is the easiest to believe. With Bautista getting better looks and improving his timing, it is only natural that he would make better contact. Manager Cito Gaston's call for more balls hit in the air leads to an improved fly ball rate. Better timing and improved contact leads organically to the improved HR/FB which together with more flyballs leads to 54 homeruns.

I'm calling myself a believer in Jose Bautista. I think there will be some regression but not enough to call Bautista a fluke or a potential bust. I think 35-40homers is a good bet and a repeat of 2010 is not out of the question.
Information for this article was gathered from many sources including these great articles:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/joe_lemire/08/04/jose.bautista/index.html
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/why-jose-bautista-is-for-real/
http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2010/08/24/altered-swing-mechanics-key-to-jose-bautistas-home-run-binge/

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