Is Jose Bautista Better When He’s Angry?

If you somehow missed the seventh inning of Wednesday’s ALDS Game 5 and now somehow find yourself here at this website, do yourself a favor: go watch it. On the days following games like that, after we’ve been through something as grand, troubling, exultant, and trying as that seventh inning, we spend most of our time trying to make sense of it all: not only the fact that what we witnessed could only happen in this singular game of baseball, but that we’ve never seen anything like it before. Just think: there are more games like that in the future. How crazy is that knowledge? How will we possibly survive all of them?

Even though many of you, like me, are probably still dealing with the fallout of increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and psychological trauma, we all have a job to do, and mine is to somehow analyze a piece of what went on Wednesday. We already had Jeff breaking it down with his usual aplomb. We had Eno looking into the rules associated with the plays in question. And, perhaps most pertinent to this article, Dave weighed in on the line between emotion and sportsmanship.

There’s a part of that final subject that we’re going to key in on: emotion. We try, in many ways, to capture how players perform in different situations. We can look at dozens of splits on our player pages. Leverage is the situation that immediately comes to mind when we’re talking about intangible forces that can impact performance. The closest we get to measuring an emotional response is how players perform under pressure — how clutch they are.

But what about anger? We don’t measure that, and it’s understandable why we don’t — measuring anger is impossible or impractical with the tools we have right now. It would also be a pretty strange thing to measure, but we also measure plenty of strange things.

That brings us to what happened on Wednesday in the bottom of the seventh inning. By this point, the top half of the inning had already included the go-ahead run scoring on a deflected ball being thrown back to the pitcher, multiple instances of fans throwing objects onto the field, and the Blue Jays playing the game under protest. To say that tensions were running high would be a gross understatement, especially for the Blue Jays.

So, when Bautista stepped to the plate in the bottom of the inning during a tie game that hung in the balance, it’s not a stretch to say he was probably feeling a bit of frustration, maybe even anger. Then he did this:

This is an incredible event on its own: home runs in the late stages of elimination games often are. Put the homer in the context of what happened earlier in the inning and the fact that it was Bautista, and it fits a narrative that’s been building for a few years now: that of the Bautista revenge homer.

Let’s travel back to April 12th of this season, when the Blue Jays were in Baltimore. In an 8-7 game, Darren O’Day let one slip on a 2-1 count to Bautista:

The night before, Russell Martin had a ball thrown behind him; while this pitch from O’Day was probably not intentional (why would it be in such a tight game), the outcome of the at-bat two pitches later probably informed some of the animosity that these two teams felt toward each other during the next couple months:

A little over a week later, on the 21st, the Orioles were in Toronto, and Jason Garcia was on the mound for the O’s in the seventh inning during a Blue Jays rout. On a 0-1 pitch, this happened:

Again, this could have been unintentional, but this is the sort of game situation when batters usually get hit intentionally, and the half-hearted attempt to catch the ball by Caleb Joseph doesn’t inspire confidence that that wasn’t the case. Ryan Goins had already been hit by Garcia the previous inning. Three pitches later, Bautista did this:

In addition to admiring the homer and adding a little bat flip, Bautista yelled at Ryan Flaherty on his way around the bases, pausing at home plate to stare down the Orioles’ dugout. He and Adam Jones then got into it between innings.

This feud goes way back. From an article after the April 21st incident:

“The bad blood dates back to a three-game series in Toronto that took place in late June 2013. O’Day struck out Bautista to end the seventh inning in the series opener, and there was a verbal exchange between the two on their way off the field. Later in that series, Bautista hit a go-ahead homer late in the game. When the veteran slugger rounded third, he began shouting at the Orioles reliever. Last year, the emotions ran even higher when O’Day hit Bautista with a pitch that was believed to be in retaliation to a pitch that Marcus Stroman threw above the head of O’s catcher Caleb Joseph.”

I’m barely keeping up with all the unwritten rules that are being broken here, but it sure seems like history basically repeated itself with everything that happened in April. That leads us to June, when the Orioles were in Toronto again. They didn’t waste any time, going after Bautista in the first inning of the series:

This game ended up producing two more hit by pitches, and Bautista would walk in the next two at-bats he had. In the final game of the three-game series, he finally went deep:

That connection is obviously more tenuous because of the time between the plunking and the homer, but we can see this isn’t just a 2015 thing for Bautista. We can go all the way back to August 23rd of 2010 to find the first instance of this sort of connection: Bautista hit a homer against Ivan Nova in the third inning, Nova threw one over Bautista’s head in the sixth, the benches cleared, then Bautista homered again in the eighth. On August 24th, 2011, Luke Hochevar brushed Bautista back; he went deep and stared Hochevar down.

Maybe Jose Bautista doesn’t get revenge more than other great players. Perhaps he simply shows his emotions more often than other players in the context of the American game, where the culture is inherently against that sort of expression. Because he shows his emotions, he gets himself into conflicts, and then we notice the events in which he rights a perceived wrong by hitting a home run.

We can’t really know that he does this more often because we don’t measure anger, or really any part of the emotional side of the game. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t emotional, or that those influences don’t have a major impact upon performance. At some point in the future, we’re going to know how performance is impacted by how a player is feeling. There sure seems like a connection between Bautista being aggrieved and Bautista crushing baseballs shortly afterward — that’s anecdotal, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Bautista is an incredible power hitter, and he hits a ton of home runs. He also has a penchant for hitting them shortly after being hit or almost being hit by a pitch. Are they connected? We can’t know for sure right now. But it’s a rare player who doesn’t seem to take any form of intimidation from pitchers and actually seems to sharpen their focus after being brushed back or thrown at. Heading into the ALCS, perhaps it’s best for the Royals not to make Bautista angry.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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When I saw that towering blast against Texas, this was the first thing I thought of. Glad someone did the leg-work. KC should keep Hochevar in a closet bubble wrapped until its safe to come out again.