Jose Bautista's Shrinking Wheelhouse

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Bautista can absolutely destroy pitches in his wheelhouse, but is that wheelhouse shrinking with age?

Blue Jays fans don't like to admit this, but the fact of the matter is that Jose Bautista is in decline. There is a famous cliché that states, "Father Time is undefeated" and, despite the presence of players like David Ortiz, it's probably the most apt cliché in the game. To be fair to Bautista, Father Time isn't bludgeoning him the way he is some players, this year Paul Konerko comes to mind, but he is wearing him down in what looks to be a long hard scrap over the next few years. Bautista is still well worth his contract and a very valuable All-Star caliber player. However, the days of Jose as a home run champion or legitimate MVP candidate are almost certainly over. In his last two seasons Bautista has been worth 7.2 WAR over 210 games when his WAR in 2011 alone was 7.7 in 149 games. Jose turns 33 in less than two month so it's not surprising that age is taking its toll on the Blue Jays right fielder. He's starting to get injuries that young men rarely get, like injuries to his back and hips, and he's already had wrist problems in the past. He's getting older, he's getting more injuries and he's getting worse (to be fair from a pretty unbelievable starting point) but how exactly is this manifesting itself? The chart below shows some of Bautista's key offensive statistics since his breakout in 2010:

Year

Games Missed

BB%

K%

BABIP

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

2010

1

14.6%

17 %

.233

.357

.260

.378

.617

2011

13

20.2%

16.9%

.309

.306

.302

.447

.608

2012

70

14.8%

15.8%

.215

.286

.241

.358

.527

2013

10 (and counting)

13.1%

15.9%

.259

.239

.259

.358

.498

Depending on how his current injury plays out, 2012 may look like an outlier and the perception about him getting less durable might be a bit blown out of proportional by current events. Additionally, his strikeout and walk rates are fairly steady, except for his explosion in walks in 2011. His 13.1% walk rate this year is a slight downturn but not a massive one and his strikeout rate has gone slightly down even in a climate where strikeouts are more common than ever. The thing that truly stands out here is a decline in power. It would have been very hard to maintain the .357 ISO he posted in 2010, Babe Ruth's career ISO was .348, but it has come down significantly over the last 4 years. Here's how Bautista has ranked league wide in ISO since his 2010 breakout:

Year

League Rank in ISO

Distance from League Leader/Size of League Lead

2010

1st

.060 above 2nd place

2011

1st

.016 above 2nd place

2012

4th

.032 behind

2013

13th

.144 behind

His distance behind the league leader this year is somewhat distorted by Chris Davis putting up an otherworldly .383 ISO but I think the overall picture is clear. If we've established that Bautista is declining with age and that diminishing power is the primary source of said decline then where do we go from there? In theory this information in and of itself is valuable but it's not a very profound or descriptive analysis.

The next step is to try and find a specific aspect of Bautista's power that is falling by the wayside. Diving into some Brooks Baseball I did some investigative work as to where Jose's power comes from and where it might be leaving him. It's no secret that Bautista likes to turn on pitches and as a result he punishes anything he's thrown on the inner half, but historically that hasn't been the only source of his power. When he emerged as an elite slugger in 2010 Bautista was crushing pitches on both sides of the plate. However, as we take a little virtual tour of his seasons since then we see that his ability to hit outside pitches with authority has been on the downswing. This looks to be the largest culprit in his overall power decline since his rise to prominence. The effect is especially noticeable when it comes to the hard stuff (as defined by Brooks Baseball so fastballs, cutters and sinkers). For the purposes of this article I will define an "outside pitch" as one on the outside section of the plate and in this case just to the right of that section offside. Don't worry I will be providing you with Brooks Baseball's trademark pretty pictures but below each I will put "ISO on outside pitches" which is me mashing the numbers for those six sections into one easily digestible number. We'll start in when the magic happened in 2010:

ISO on outside pitches: .245

Compared to way he crushed pitches middle-in this doesn't seem that impressive, but .245 is an excellent ISO, better than his 2013 total. When we look at the results against hard pitches we see even more success on the outside.

ISO on outside "Hard" pitches: .295

It's no surprise that Bautista creates more extra bases on hard pitches but it's interesting that he is able to do some on outside fastballs when so much of his power is pull power. This could be demonstarting his superlative bat speed that allows him to pull pitches most hitters have to take the other way. Speaking of superlative next stop on Bautista's power tour is 2011:

ISO on outside pitches: .329

2011 was a bad year to throw Jose Bautista anything in the strike zone. I'm not 100% sure that we appreciated the brilliance enough while it was transpiring and it could be a long time before the Blue Jays see an offensive season like it again. Now for just the hard stuff:

ISO on outside "Hard" pitches: .333

There isn't really an appreciable difference here as Bautista is still demonstrating the ability to crush that outside fastball/sinker/cutter. The drop-off emerges come 2012:

ISO on outside pitches: .224

It should be noted that the coloration on this picture is heavily distorted. Because there is one section where Jose posts a 3.000 ISO in a tiny sample the rest of the sections are registered as "cold" by comparison which makes the visual jarring and misleading. It's OK Brooks Baseball, I still love you. The point is that you have to look at the numbers to get anything out of this one and what we discover is a decline in ISO on outside pitches, but not a precipitous one. However, when we look at the hard stuff that's there's a little more of an effect:

ISO on outside "Hard" pitches: .200

Considering Bautista's ISO marks on outside hard stuff the previous two years were .295 and .333 respectively .200 doesn't look fantastic. It is still good in the scheme of things but I think it is indicative of the trend we see come to fruition in 2013:

ISO on outside pitches: .112

This is a massive decline from the previous year into well below average territory. It's safe to say that this is the biggest reason for Bautista's decline in power this year. Given his rise in groundballs I would guess that he is rolling over more of these outside pitches and grounding them to short and 3rd base. It's not a whole lot worse against hard pitches but it's definitely not better:

ISO on outside "Hard" pitches: .096

There's basically no scenario where you expect to see an ISO number linked to Jose Bautista with a 0 in front of it but there you go.

In the first two years Bautista showed great power against outside pitches and was especially effective against fastballs whereas in the last two his numbers have gone down and been worse against fastballs in that location. This year has been the outlier to such a degree that I think it's likely he bounces back to an extent but his time of dominating the outside half of the plate is probably over. If you wanted to attach a narrative to it you might say that his bat has slowed such that he can't yank that outside pitch for power anymore but I'd rather present the information than make that kind of blanket statement. Jose Bautista is still one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, but it looks like he is getting less dangerous by the year. His breakout was so unlikely that it took on a mystical quality but his decline appears to be a predictable gentle slope that seems somehow inappropriate to the story of his career. Jose Bautista has a couple of good right hooks left in him, but at the end of the day Father Time is undefeated.

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