Jose Bautista Is Raging Against the Dying of the Light

BRADENTON, Fla. – Jose Bautista has always played with an edge.

He has often defied expectations since his age-29 breakout with the Toronto Blue Jays.

So on Wednesday, after a World Baseball Classic tune-up game for the Dominican Republic against the Pirates — the organization with whom he began his career and a club towards which he still bears some resentment — I asked Bautista outside of the visiting clubhouse at LECOM Park if his edge has heightened this spring. His doubters have grown in number as he nears the twilight of his career, and I was curious to learn how the 36-year-old plans to continue to defy odds.

A spring earlier, Bautista was reportedly seeking a six-year, $150 million contract extension. This offseason, coming off a down year, an injury-plagued year, he settled for a one-year deal with an option in his first test of free agency. That he did not have more of a market had to bruise Bautista’s ego. The market spoke to the doubts of the industry about an aging star in an era when every team uses some sort of aging model to guide decision making.

While I visited the topic of Bautista and the defiance aging curves back in January, I wanted to speak to the man himself and and better understand why he believes he a good bet to age more gracefully.

ZiPS is forecasting a modest bounceback, a 132 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR season in 117 games. PECOTA predicts a three-win campaign and .255/.374/.498 slash line in 2017, but suspects he’ll fall off to become a 1.4-win player in 2018.

Should we expect Bautista to beat those forecasts, though? Should we toss away our aging models in deference to the 21st-century athlete, as innovative Pirates trainer Todd Tomcyzk has suggested?

As David Epstein notes recently in piece for the New York Times, our champions have become older. Tom Brady just won a Super Bowl at age 39. Serena Williams won a 23rd Grand Slam singles title at 35 in the Australian Open. Michael Phelps was still a dominant swimmer at 31, an age when Olympic athletes are generally thought to be in decline.

Writes Epstein:

Here’s the thing: We actually shouldn’t be so surprised. When athletes train consistently, recover smartly and get a little lucky, there’s no physiological reason their bodies should fall off a cliff in their 30s.

[…]

I was spending a lot of time talking about aging athletes with Michael Joyner, a physiologist at the Mayo Clinic, and we were both struck by the coverage of Olympic athletes beyond their 20s. You’d have thought Phelps needed a walker to get poolside, not that he would win enough gold to forge a breastplate.

[…]

I called Dean Kriellaars, physiologist to Cirque du Soleil. He has decades of data on acrobats and gymnasts (some are former Olympians) who have performed thousands of physically rigorous shows. They wear biometric vests that track their activity, and their aging defies common medical wisdom.

Does Bautista believe he, too, can defy aging curves? He has suggested he can in the past. While he wasn’t quite so bold to proclaim he will be a star-level player into his 40s, he did say Wednesday that science and training can and will perhaps allow athletes to better extend their peaks.

“I can’t predict the future, but I can tell you the average human life span now is better, longer, healthier than it was 50 years ago,” Bautista said. “I feel like your body has gauges with blood work and different medical assessments to see what is moving, what is not, what is inhibitive. I believe you can develop a system to work on it and improve it.”

Bautista can’t predict the future, but he is doing everything he can to shape his own.

To maintain better playing condition, Bautista said he takes weekly Functional Movement Screenings and Selective Functional Movement Assessments, which are >designed to “identify dysfunctional movement patterns and asymmetries within the body.”

In essence, Bautista is trying to better understand what parts of his body are fatigued and how he can more quickly recover. He wants to understand what should be strengthened and what should not. He said that, early in his career in Toronto, he became interested in some of the practices employed by the team’s training staff. About five years ago, he started shaping his own program.

“I do assessments once a week just to make sure I am balanced, to make sure I am stable, to make sure I am strong in different areas in my body that might be lagging behind,” Bautista said. “Your body doesn’t improve the same all over. Sometimes your right leg might improve more than the left one. By staying on top of it, by assessing often, you can have more balance gains and feel better after games, you don’t feel as sore. I show up feeling better the next day.”

Bautista said he also has a DARI exam done once a week, a test which claims to map the “entire musculoskeletal system” in less than 10 minutes. Other teams use DARI or similar tests. The Pirates suggest their players voluntarily take daily Omegawave readings, a test that measures the body’s cardiac and central nervous systems, and energy supply.

Bautista engages in eye testing and exercise that he thinks might help his reaction time. And it is eyesight that is perhaps the biggest prohibitive factor in allowing a major-league hitter to continue to beat age aging curves. Epstein said that, after age 29, “visual acuity starts deteriorating” and that baseball players have more predictable patterns.

Bautista also has his blood drawn and analyzed regularly, mostly to guide dietary decisions.

“It’s just more for diet stuff that starts trending in the wrong direction when you get older,” Bautista said. “I’m just trying to make sure I am staying where I am and not getting worse because it can affect how you perform.”

Bautista, as you can see, has become quite particular about what food and drink he places in his body:

For those of you who wonder what i eat these days…disclaimer: I eat REAL food. Beakfast(not pictured): -Steel cut oats (gluten free) with berries, sweet almonds, cinnamon and nutmeg -5 hard boiled egg whites -Green Juice (apples, carrots, ginger, oranges and kale) -Blueberry Green Tea Top(dinner): -Boiled Yuca root with onions -Sauteed okra -Ground turkey with peppers -Avocado -Chamomile, Passionflower, Spearmint Rooibos Tea Bottom(Lunch): -Rice (gluten free) -Red kidney beans -Grilled chicken with onions -Avocado -Orange,Ginger, Mint Herbal Tea With snacks and shakes between the 3 meals all thanks to @miguelchefnyc simply the BEST! "Full tummy, Happy heart" ?????? ———– Para los que se preguntan los que yo como a diario en esta epoca….aviso: aqui se come comida de VERDAD. Desayuno (no aparece en foto): -Avena sin gluten con frutas, almendras, canela y nuez moscada. -5 huevos sancochados (solo las claras) -Jugo Verde (manzanas, naranjas, jengibre , kale y zanahorias) -Te verde con arandano (blueberry) Arriba (cena): -Yuca hervida con cebolla y ajo -Pechuga de pavo molida con ajies -Molondron al sarten -Aguacate -Te rojo de menta, pasionaria y manzanilla Abajo(almuerzo): -Arroz sin gluten con habichuelas rojas -Pechuga a la plancha con cebollas -Aguacate -Te de hierbas de naranja, jengibre y menta Con meriendas y batidas entre las comidas, todo gracias a @miguelchefnyc simplemente el MEJOR "Barriga llena, corazon contento" ??????

A post shared by Jose Bautista (@joeybats19) on

He’s already beaten aging models, too, having produced 27.4 WAR in his age-30 to -35 seasons. What we don’t know is if he’ll continue to defy them. We do know he was a bit unlucky last season.

We also know his underlying skills — his ability to produce elite-level exit velocity — remained intact last season, though his barrels per batted ball were reduced significantly.

Jose Bautista’s Statcast readings
Season Avg. exit velocity Avg. exit velocity on FB and LD Barrels/Batted Ball Event
2015 93.6 mph (6th) 95.7 mph (t28th) 16.8% (9th)
2016 92.6 mph (19th) 96.5 mph (19th) 8.8% (104th)
SOURCE: Statcast via BaseballSavant.com (rankings among hitters with 100 batted balls)

Does he feel he was unlucky?

“I wasn’t lucky in the healthy department, I can tell you that,” Bautista said. “It does not happen often that you jump against a fence and there is a cement thing that just bends your toe backwards. You don’t get your cleat caught in the turf a lot, either. But it happens.”

How motivated is Bautista to prove all the doubters and aging models wrong in 2017?

“I’m always motivated the same way. I try to give the best of me every day. That’s why I am so hard on myself,” Bautista said. “I think a lot of people misunderstand my passion. I am so hard on myself because of what I expect out of me. I know at times it might look like… whatever.”

Bautista is a perfectionist. He is smart. He is curious. He is an early test case to understand how the 21st- century professional baseball player might age. Bautista has proven those wrong who have doubted him in the past. And since Bautista is recovering as smartly as any baseball player in the game, with a little more health luck in 2017, perhaps he’s a good bet to again beat expectations.

What we know is Bautista will not go quietly into the twilight of his career.





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

newest oldest most voted
RoodyPooUS
Member
RoodyPooUS

Good for him. Everyone thinks he is a dbag and while he probably is, you can’t deny he takes his job seriously and I would want him on my team.

JDX
Member
JDX

I’d love to be Bautista’s personal trainer. “Jose, I have a new assessment you need to try. It will measure the decrease in the drag of your forearm hair you’ll realize by shaving your arms, so you’re aware of how much velocity and torque you were missing during your swing. It’s only $975!”