Jose Bautista: Patience and Power
Jose Bautista’s breakout has been one of baseball’s most interesting stories of the past two years. From 2006 to 2009 Bautista was a slightly below-average hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays, hitting between 13 and 16 home runs each year. But since the start of 2010 Bautista has hit more HRs, 74, than anyone else in the majors — Albert Pujols is second with 55. Over that time he also leads the league in walks taken with 152 and walks per plate appearance, 16.6%. All those walks and home runs make Bautista the best hitter, as measured by wOBA, since the start of 2010. Here I am going to look deeper into Bautista’s success.
Bautista is a pronounced pull-HR hitters. Of his 74 HRs since the start of 2010 just three have gone to the opposite field (that is had a horizontal angle of less than 90° according HitTracker). That is fewer opposite-field HRs than any other player on the 2010-2011 top 10 HR list — even though he tops the list.
With this extreme pull power one would assume he couldn’t handle away pitches as well. Pitchers have assumed as much, Garik16 showed that pitchers have incredibly pitched him away. But he also showed that Bautista has gotten better over the past three years at dealing with those outside pitches, and now has a positive run value on them. Here is a big reason why. This graph shows the horizontal pitch location on each pitch Bautista has hit for a HR since the start of 2010, and then the angle of that HR in play.
A large number of Bautista’s HRs have come off pitches on the outer half of the plate, and he has still been able to pull those pitches to left field. In fact he has three pulled HRs on pithes far off the plate away. (On a side note Max Marchi has a great article analyzing this type of data at the Hardball Times.)
With that prodigious power pitchers have responded by increasingly pitching around Bautista. He has eight IBBs so far this year second in baseball to Miguel Cabrera’s 12. And even when he is not intentionally walked he is not given much to hit; he sees the fewer pitches in the zone than any other hitter.
Here is a set of graphs showing the how often Bautista sees pitches in each location, based on the intensity of the blue, and Bautista’s 50% swing contour. So Bautista was more likely than not to swing at a pitch within the contour, and more likely than not to take a pitch outside it.
In 2008 and 2009 pitchers pitched to Jose Bautista as they would to most average hitters: throwing mostly in the zone and slightly away. With Bautista’s breakout starting in the end of 2009 and continuing in 2010, pitchers increasingly threw away and down. This change in location is partially a consequence of Bautista seeing fewer fastballs and more breaking and off-speed pitches. Bautista’s swing zone has remained fairly static, and as a result he is walking much more.
Around the end of April Dave Cameron suggested that Jose Bautista might be the best hitter in the AL. Since then Bautista has continued to hit like crazy, and his ZIPS rest of the season projected wOBA is now the best in baseball: an amazing ascent for a batter who went into the 2010 as an at-best average hitter.