Is This the End for Jose Bautista? by Dave Cameron September 19, 2017 Ten months ago, Jose Bautista hit the free-agent market. Even coming off a down year, he looked like one of the best hitters available. However, Bautista was caught up in the cratering market for bat-only sluggers and, after a few months of just moderate interest, eventually re-signed with the Blue Jays on a one-year deal. Now, with that contract expiring in a few weeks, it looks quite possible that not only will Jose Bautista not be returning to Toronto next year, but we might be seeing the last few weeks of Bautista’s major-league career. We already know Bautista has a pretty limited market appeal; the lack of suitors for him last year demonstrated that pretty clearly. But given what he’s done in 2017, it’s hard to imagine anyone is going to be particularly interested in offering Bautista a starting job next year. His current numbers are filled with enough red flags to attract all the bulls in Spain. For instance, there’s this. The main thing that set Bautista apart from all the other sluggers in the game is how often he made contact. During his peak as one of the best hitters in the game, he made contact right around the league-average mark. Then, as his power faded a bit, he upped his contact rate to offset the physical decline. This year, though, he’s going to post the worst contact rate of his career, and it’s not even close. Of course, swinging through pitches with more frequency late in your career isn’t that unusual. A lot of guys try to compensate for reduced bat speed by starting their swings earlier in order to continue to generate power, so they sacrifice contact in order to keep hitting the ball hard when they do put the bat on the ball. But that isn’t the story with Bautista this year. Jose Bautista, Statcast Data Year EV Rank FB/LD EV Rank xwOBA Rank 2015 92.0 10 95.6 18 0.389 12 2016 91.6 14 96.5 10 0.371 31 2017 88.4 55 93.0 65 0.308 114 SOURCE: Baseball Savant Bautista’s exit velocity is down three ticks from last year, and most problematically, it’s down on balls in the air. This is where Bautista has earned his keep over the years, and now when he elevates the ball, it just isn’t hit all that hard. And so his production on fly balls has similarly cratered. Jose Bautista, Fly Balls Season PA AVG SLG ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ 2010 249 0.298 1.008 0.710 0.107 0.535 242 2011 191 0.294 1.016 0.722 0.093 0.536 244 2012 135 0.252 0.855 0.603 0.081 0.444 183 2013 159 0.229 0.783 0.554 0.068 0.422 169 2014 193 0.277 0.856 0.580 0.113 0.474 210 2015 217 0.276 0.924 0.648 0.107 0.481 212 2016 135 0.252 0.809 0.557 0.113 0.418 166 2017 180 0.206 0.600 0.394 0.100 0.315 93 SOURCE: Baseball Savant Bautista’s isolated-power mark on fly balls is down a couple hundred points from the last few years and 300 points from his peak years. Because of how he hits his fly balls, they’re almost always homers or outs, so the loss of exit velocity has just turned a bunch of balls that used to go over the fence into balls that are run down on the warning track. And so, realistically, there’s just not many ways left for Bautista to produce. He’s an extreme pull hitter, so he’s one of the easiest guys to shift in baseball, turning more of his grounders into automatic outs. Because his swing is designed for loft, he doesn’t hit many line drives, but he does hit a million pop flies, which are all easy outs. He already walks about as much as anyone, and once pitchers adjust to the new Bautista, they probably won’t throw him so many pitches he can take. Maybe there’s some bounce back in his bat once pitchers start challenging him more, but that would just come at the expense of his on-base skills, most likely, and Bautista isn’t hitting the ball hard enough to suggest that there’s a big homer spike coming if he gets more strikes. So now, Bautista is a soon-to-be 37-year-old who has taken huge steps the wrong way in his two primary skills and offers basically no other skills to speak of. Considering all of that, Bautista doesn’t have a great marketing case for himself this winter. He’s an OF/DH type with limited upside who may not hit well enough to play everyday anymore and who doesn’t provide any real value on the bases or in the field. He could still help someone as a part-time guy, but is anyone going to bet on one of the game’s foremost personalities responding well to being the weak half of a platoon? And given how few bench players teams are carrying this year, not many teams have spots for pure corner-outfield bench guys anyway, as they need maximum versatility from the non-starters in order to cover all the positions with just three or four backups. So Bautista could find himself a man without many options. He might get some offers for a few million from a low-revenue AL team looking for a potential bargain — the Rays are seemingly always linked to guys in this position — but with the Jays likely to move on with other options, there’s a decent chance that no one else will want to add his personality to their clubhouse for what amounts to a role-player job. Given how poorly this year has gone, this really might be it for Bautista as a big leaguer. And if it is, it’s a career worth celebrating. Andrew Stoeten did a great job examining how Bautista was covered, and his entire piece is worth your time, but this particular paragraph stood out to me. The essay was just about as on-point and perfectly timed as the bat flip itself. And, also like that moment, is made more poignant by all the personal and cultural history that comes along with it. Bautista can be both cerebral and emotional, menacing and exuberant, incredibly disciplined and out of control. There is a genuine and complicated humanity to him in that way that we’re not always fortunate enough to get to see in our favourite athletes, and in the essay it comes across—all of it. Bautista can unquestionably come off poorly at times, and I’m sure a lot of fans around baseball will be happy to see him go. But baseball has enough boring guys repeating Crash Davis cliches. To his credit, Bautista was never boring, and he gave the game some much-needed life. He wasn’t perfect, and he could have controlled his outbursts more often, but the game was better off for having had a superstar like Bautista who provided some legitimate and obvious passion for the sport. Love him or hate him, this remains one of the most memorable moments in recent baseball history. Bautista was a hero to some and a villain to others, but either way, he was someone you wanted to watch. And the game will be worse off without him. This might all be premature. Maybe Bautista will find another team for 2018, and we’ll get a few more bat flips before all is said and done. But if this is it for Bautista, and we’re watching the last few weeks of his career, then I’m happy I got to witness it. Jose Bautista was something to behold.