Is This the End for Jose Bautista?

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
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.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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6 years ago

I’m not sure who the team would be to take a chance that he’d be worth a semi-regular role (since pinch hitter roles don’t exist anymore, right?). It’s amazing how quickly it can end.

I for one will never forget the ‘flip’. That game is near the top for me in most memorable non-WS games involving two teams for whom I had no rooting interest.

6 years ago
Reply to  Ben

I was supposed to miss the game because of jury duty but both lawyers agreed that Jays playoff tickets were a valid reason for being excused! Still get the shivers to this day when I see the highlight, and the flood of emotion that was released in the Skydome (always and forever) that night comes back a bit. Great write up

6 years ago
Reply to  DBall

I had to work late that night, so I was sitting in my empty office with the radio call on. I was done by the fifth inning or so, but too scared to miss any of the game, so I just sat there at my computer listening.
When Odor scored on the insane throw Martin bounced off Choo’s bat, I was sure that was the game. It just seemed like a sign. Then Jays came up and the back to back to back errors happened. I couldn’t believe that was really happening. It seemed like a tacky sports movie. Then the groundout and the fly out to tie it up, and Jose at the plate. When he hit it out I lost it. Screaming, dancing in my cube, just freaking out. Then I checked to make sure I was the only one on the floor who stayed late (thank God), went home, cued up the game recording, and watched the bat flip about 30 times in a row.
That was easily the highlight of my sports fan life. Jose is one of the major characters animating baseball in the past decade. If this is the end, which it probably should be, the game will be just a little bit less fun without him.

6 years ago
Reply to  Expo27

My friend with season’s tickets apologized to me that after getting his family in for games, the earliest he could offer to take me was Game 5 vs. Texas. So I was lucky enough to have been there, but I did the same thing when I got home – watched the bat flip home run at least 30 times in a row.

And then on some day in the middle of that winter, I did the same thing, just cued it up and watched 50 times in a row. What an inning and what a moment.

6 years ago
Reply to  Simon

I’d like to continue the thread of how we lived the most memorable game of the past decade for the Blue Jays.

I live in Mexico, so I was listening at the game at work. When José hit that ball, I tossed my headset, lapped around my boss’ office shaking my cap (I was wearing my cap for luck, my office has a strict dress code but I didn’t care). I was euphoric. I had been Bautista’s fan since his breakout in 2010, he really is for me what Carlos Delgado was for other people in the past. To watch him cap his first postseason series with that bomb is just magical. Those moments are what baseball it’s all about.

6 years ago
Reply to  rockbard

I was in the stands, and the top of the inning I had no idea what was going on. So was understandably depressed going to the bottom of the inning. And then the errors happened, and when JB hit it out, it was just such a crazy rush of emotions. And then after the game, I can’t count the number of random high-fives and people honking horns in the street.

6 years ago
Reply to  Expo27

I was at home, standing and pacing the entire time, and when that hit went off, I jumped (the entire world felt like it jumped) but I hit my head on the light fixture. 🙂

The Ghost of Johnny Dickshotmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Ben

That 7th inning may have been the greatest I’ve ever seen. The Odor weird score, Andrus dropping consecutive throws, Bautista’s HR, it was an amazing 45 minutes or so.

6 years ago
Reply to  Ben

I think there is a decent chance that if he wants to play he could get a “prove it” deal or a spring training invite for a bad team just looking to fill out a roster and hope he has a bounce-back year so they can move him at the deadline for a middling prospect.

A team like the White Sox, for instance, have to give somebody PA’s in LF and DH next year and none of the prospects are likely to be ready to start the season.

6 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

I think you’re right, but I don’t know if his pride will allow it. I’d guess he would rather go into go into coaching instead.

6 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

I wouldn’t be least bit surprised if the Red Sox went with him over retaining Chris Young for another season. As good as his glove is, his bat just doesn’t make him a good fit to rest the lefties and OF in the lineup.

Bautista can be more aggressive with an on-base approach lineup that needs someone to take a fastball off the green monster. He would be easily loved by Boston fans in the likes of Mike Lowell or Orlando Cabrera, and would shift some more positive ABs away from the likes of Moreland (who won’t be back) or Hanley (who doesn’t seem he’s ever gonna get shoulder strength back). He would still have strong adherence to be in the lineup against most pitchers as his splits are pretty even, and can be spelled against good hard-throwing types who can beat him inside.

Red Sox are in desperate need of just a decent, not great, power RH bat to complement the lineup short of trading for a big bat, and would be a good bridge for 1-2 years vs giving up more youth than they already have.

Only reason Sox balked at RH bats last year was due to the luxury tax. I don’t see them trying to pry any lefties like Moose or Hosmer who would get their power sapped with the right-field park factors at Fenway. It would be the most efficient signing and worse-case most efficient Summer trade bait if they want to re-tool elsewhere.

6 years ago
Reply to  redsoxmaniac

Jose Bautista is about as popular in Boston as he is in Baltimore. The Red Sox should solve the first base problem by moving Devers, not quite good enough in the field, over there and signing Eduardo Nunez to a multi-year deal. Few players have ever benefited more from getting to the right ballpark than Nunez. He becomes a power hitter in Fenway along with his other excellent all-around offensive skills.

Paul Kasińskimember
6 years ago
Reply to  Ben

Agreed that this thread of remembering where we were when it happened is great. These have been fun to read.
I was in school in Toronto, and the game was being shown in one of the larger campus buildings.Naturally several friends and I skipped class to go watch (as we did all postseason long). In the top half of the inning, we were incensed and yelling obscenities at the TV; in the bottom half, we gradually went from fury to giddiness to absolute euphoria when he hit it out. The room went nuts, with people hugging each other and yelling. The play itself, and the atmosphere, were so emotional and intense that I spent the rest of the evening telling everyone I saw about how José not only flipped his bat but threw his helmet against the ground. It felt that intense and the scene was so violent. His righteous, vindictive anger at overcoming what had happened in the top half of the inning perfectly matched all of our feelings.

6 years ago
Reply to  Ben

That 7th inning was completely nutso. After reading Dave’s article, I was compelled to rewatch that inning on MLB.TV to relive the absurdity. A couple of points stuck out about the Bautista home run. As he rounded second base, you can see a stream of something, possibly popcorn, rain down in front of the camera. As he rounded third, the vibrations in the stadium were so intense that the camera shook wildly as it focused in on Cole Hamels in the dugout.

For a hilarious take on that inning, I recommend reading the “Flipping Out” article written by Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur that can be found on the NBC Sports site.

Brian Reinhartmember
6 years ago
Reply to  ruprecht25

Curious MLB TV subscriber here, what’s the easiest way to navigate to and watch a game from a previous season? Do you need to do it on rather than on your TV?

6 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

I watch MLB.TV on both my PC and via Apple TV. Using Apple TV v4, there is a calendar feature that makes it easy to navigate to the desired date. Here is the relevant text from the website, “Selecting the date at the top of the page opens up the full monthly calendar of games. Selecting either arrow next to that date will navigate to the previous or next day’s games. In the calendar view, these arrows will enable navigation to the schedule for the previous or next month.” Here is the link:

Using the PC version is even easier. Today’s games can be seen here:

Just replace the date at the end of the URL with your desired date and you’re set. Apparently games played before the 2015 season are no longer archived.