On the surface, Jose Bautista has had a pretty unremarkable 2015.
Overall, he has produced to a 138 wRC+, or almost 40% above the league average position player. This is right in line with what he did in 2012 and 2013, though short of last season (159 wRC+) and his massive years in 2010 and 2011. Of course, he's had to deal with injuries that likely affected his production. So, all in all, pretty normal.
Drilling down, this is mostly true of individual components. At 15.5%, his walk rate is almost perfectly in line with his 2010-14 average of 15.8%. The same is true of his strikeout rate of 15.3% (versus 16.0%). His isolated power is down a little at .272, compared to .288, but still largely in line.
But there is one component not in line, and that's his BABIP. At .224, it's almost 40 points below his 2010-14 of .265. Which in turn is already about 30 or 35 points below league average, because Bautista is a fly ball hitter and when fly balls don't leave the park they tend to find gloves at very high rates. Since BABIP affects just under 65% of his plate appearances, this is the major reason that his production is down this year.
Where things get really interesting though is in looking at his monthly splits this year for BABIP:
In May, he actually had a really good BABIP, and not surprisingly it was his best month production wise. But in each of the other three months, his BABIP has been under .200, well below both his longer term average and league average. These splits alone are quite anomalous, even given how much BABIP tends to flucuate in small samples.
But what is incredible is that in each of those months, despite such an abysmal BABIP, his overall offensive production has been above average. This really speaks to Bautista's amazing and broad skill set: because he excels at drawing walks and hitting for power while being also being good at avoiding strikeouts, he can avoid having his production tank when he doesn't get balls to fall in.
I figured this had to be pretty rare, so I checked to see how often other players have done it this year. And I was right. Among qualified player-months (roughly 75+ PA) in 2015, there's only a handful of others:
Luis Valbuena also came close in April, with a 0.203 BABIP and 108 wRC+. Unsurprisingly, the formula is usually a spike in power with decent or better plate discipline. But it's pretty incredible that there's only been seven of these type of player-months in 2015, and Bautista accounts for almost half of them.
I decided to look back further, back to Bautista's breakout season in 2010. Predictably, Bautista has three more such months: September 2010, June 2012, and April 2013. He also had a couple other with a BABIP below .200, but where he didn't quite make it to 100 wRC+. So in total, since the beginning of 2010, he's had six months of under .200 BABIP but over 100 wRC+ of his 31 qualified months, or just under 20%.
Across MLB in that same time, there's only been 20 other such months in over 6,000 qualified player-months, or 0.33% months. Only three players - Teixeira, Carlos Santana, and Edwin Encarnacion - have even done it multiple times, each only twice. It's truly incredible how often Bautista has done this relative to the league.
Perhaps the disparity is best illustrated graphically:
If this were merely trivial, it would be nothing more than a curious fact and this would be the end. But I want to underscore the importance of what this means. In July, the average of all qualified players with a BABIP of .250 or under was 71 wRC+ compared to a 145 wRC+ for players with a BABIP of 0.350 or higher despite almost identical K and BB rates and only slightly lower power (~0.020 ISO). Simply, when players don't have balls falling in on the ~70% of plate appearances where balls are put in play, their production tanks.
Bautista sits in the heart of the order, where a player slumping can squander a lot of men on base. But even when balls aren't falling in for Bautista, he's still usually able to remain quite productive. He doesn't become a black hole in the line-up, because of how exceptional he is at the ~35% (for him) of plate appearances where the ball is not put in play.
These days, it's astonishingly easy to overlook Bautista and take him for granted. After all, Josh Donaldson is a Blue Jay. Troy Tulowitski is a Blue Jay. David Price is a Blue Jay. Russell Martin is a Blue Jay. Heck, even ageless wonder LaTroy Hawkins is a Blue Jay. But at the centre of all that is very special hitter who is having a very unique season.