Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.
Few players have had an effect on the Toronto fan base the way Jose Bautista has. Since arriving in 2008, he has been the club’s best player, making the All-Star team six times and leading the AL in home runs twice. With a career resurrection in Toronto, fans might have thought that Bautista would be anxious to stay in the city he helped bring to the ALCS twice (once almost single handedly) but a preseason ultimatum to the Blue Jays’ brass quickly had fans accepting the fact that 2016 would likely be Bautista’s last in Toronto.
Would Jose Bautista be worth in the neighbourhood of $30 million per year for five or six years? His (rumoured) lofty contract expectations had Bautista playing a dangerous game of “put up or shut up” in his Age-35 season and, in the end, the power-hitting righty is likely going to have to take far less money over far fewer years thanks to a subpar season.
Bautista started the season strongly, hitting 11 home runs in April and May but in the second month of the year, his production dropped, going from a .928 OPS in the first month of the season to .775 in the second. Bautista continued to slump in June, playing only 12 games and having his OPS fall to .695 with just one home run before going on the DL. Coming back in July, Bautista struggled through six games, hitting just .130. Despite a knee injury in August and playing in just 16 games in the month, he actually turned things around, launching four homers and posting an .860 OPS and maintained his solid play, taking 26 walks in September down the stretch (with a .411 OBP) and hitting five home runs.
Over 116 games this season, Bautista hit .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI. His solid OBP was actually higher than his 2012 and 2013 totals but his .452 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2009. Bautista’s eye remains excellent as he walked in 16.8% of his plate appearances but his 19.9% strikeout rate was his highest since (you guessed it) 2009. Interestingly, Bautista actually posted reverse splits this year, hitting right-handed pitchers to the tune of an .834 OPS while he hit lefties for a .752 OPS.
After reviving his season down the stretch, Bautista went into the Wildcard Game and hit a big home run, going 1/3 with a walk. In the ALDS against his bestie, Rougned Odor, and the Texas Rangers, Bautista only had two hits (including a home run) and two walks. In five games against Cleveland, he had just three hits with three walks and had a .508 OPS.
Jose Bautista had a solid offensive season by major league standards, particularly given the fact that the Blue Jays were in the final year of paying him just $14 million per year. His declining defense, however, seriously limited his ability to provide wins above replacement. Baseball Reference had his value at 1.0 rWAR while Fangraphs had it at 1.4 fWAR, losing a lot of ground from his defense despite offensive production that was 22% higher than league average.
In the playoffs, Bautista didn’t look nearly as fearsome as he had in the past. Was it because his skills are declining or did the Cleveland Indians figure out how to pitch to him that made him relatively toothless?
The question that teams are going to have to ask themselves this offseason is whether Jose Bautista is in irrevocable decline or if he can rebound. David Ortiz was said to be done after a 28-home run season in 2009 at the age of 33, failing to make the All-Star game for the first time since 2004. Since then, however, Ortiz has never had an OPS below .873 and has topped 1.000 twice (including this season, leading the AL in doubles, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS at the age of 40).
Does Bautista have more left in the tank? Is he too pull-happy to make adjustments when pitchers are being careful? If he takes a qualifying offer, can he increase his value for one more big contract? Even he does return to Toronto, can the Jays continue to play him in right field?
Bautista is a free agent after the World Series and the Blue Jays are likely to make him a qualifying offer which, if accepted (not likely), will net him a one-year contract at $17.2 million.
The final year of Jose Bautista’s contract was a bit anticlimactic. In spite of 5 outfield assists and a few memorable catches, his defensive performance continues to slowly decline. He played in only 116 games because he missed time due to getting hurt twice, and only logged 91 games in right field. After returning from his second injury, he spent some time at DH.
While both injuries were of the freak accident variety, both occurred while fielding, and each had a lengthy recovery period. This seems to make the case for more time spent at DH or first base moving forward. He missed over a month in June-July with ‘turf toe’ after running into the wall in Philadelphia, and then missed two weeks in late August when he sprained his knee because his cleat got caught in the SkyDome turf.
The significant amount of time missed would explain in part the downtick in his offensive numbers – he hit 22 home runs and had 69 RBI, compared to 40 and 114 last season. He can still take walks with the best of them (he had the 6th-most in the AL with 87, and his OBP of .366 ranked 9th) and in fact had a 32-game on-base streak between August and September.
He hit a memorable home run in the 9th inning to tie a game at 1-1 in Seattle on September 21, although they lost in extra innings. He also reached the milestone of 300 home runs for his career in August, against the Houston Astros.
Bautista hit two home runs in the playoffs, one in the Wild Card game and one in Game 1 of the ALDS in Texas. Those, plus the four he hit in 2015, tie him with Joe Carter for the most career postseason home runs in franchise history. But in the entire ALCS he only had three hits, which resulted in a 6-hit, 6-walk postseason – netting him a .182 average, a .308 OBP and a .394 SLG. He also struck out 12 times in 33 at-bats.
Regular Season Grades
Emily Says: Bautista hit two home runs in the playoffs, one in the Wild Card game and one in Game 1 of the ALDS in Texas. Those, plus the four he hit in 2015, tie him with Joe Carter for the most career postseason home runs in franchise history. But in the entire ALCS he only had three hits, which resulted in a 6-hit, 6-walk postseason, netting him a .182 average, a .308 OBP and a .394 SLG. He also struck out 12 times in 33 at-bats.
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