Look at Jose Bautista’s 2009 stat-line (or anywhere before then), and you’ll find a semi-decent middle infielder whose acceptable production was marred by a 25% strikeout rate.
Fast forward to 2010, and you have yourself the MLB’s biggest home run hitter. The guy hit 54 home runs after his previous high was 16. That is fairly unbelievable. Let’s leave steroids out of this discussion, because it ruins the point of the post, and, quite frankly, Bautista’s a pretty small guy anyway.
I have to admit I was skeptical at Bautista’s success. How could a decent utility man possibly turn into the home run masher he became overnight and sustain it? Yet here he is again, leading the AL with nine homers already, and once again, mashing the Yanks. It sure does seem that he steps up his already incredible performance when he plays the Yanks.
Bautista also cut down 5% on that K-Rate from his career norms of about 25% to around 20% both last year and this year.
But what I think is the most remarkable number on Bautista’s stat page is his ISO (isolated power for you rookies out there). Last year he maintained a .357 ISO for an entire season, and this year he’s off to a blazing start with a .423 (!!).
So how does he do it? The guy crushes fastballs. Last year, he was worth a Pujolsian 36.7 runs above average on fastballs, or 2.62 above average per hundred thrown. That’s an absurdly high number. Yet the same guy was worth way fewer runs on breaking balls, and he was actually worth negative runs on changeups. It makes me think his strategy is (granted, in a way over-simplified version) to get up there looking fastball, because he knows he can hit it. When he gets his fastball out over the plate, he puts it in left field. Unfortunately, he’s able to do that quite often.
So how do you beat him? Throw him breaking balls for strikes, changeups that look like fastballs until they break at the last minute and come in much more slowly, and challenge him with put-away fastballs up out of the strike zone. I’m no pitching coach, and of course, it’s just one man’s opinion, but it seems that nothing has really worked yet against this guy, so there’s my two cents.