Have Pitchers Adjusted to Jose Bautista?

With 54 home runs in all, Jose Bautista has hit at least 11 home runs in May, July, August, and September. He is crushing fastballs in particular, with 2.63 fastball runs above average according to his pitch type values. He is doing a lot of damage against sliders and curveballs as well, both of which pitches he was below average at hitting in previous years. Say what you want about Bautista’s sudden power surge this season as he’s on his way to age 30, but his spectacular increase in wSL/C and wCB/C tells me that he has learned how to hit breaking balls better this season, which at least contributes to the increase in power in some form.

But how have pitchers responded to Bautista as the season went on? Let’s first take a look at a few of Bautista’s plate discipline and pitch outcome statistics broken down by month in 2010. (Edit: Note that I am using MLBAM data, so the following season stats are estimated differently from the ones on Bautista’s FanGraphs page, which are from BIS data.):

Since this is broken down by month, we’ll have to remember that the sample size is small, so don’t take these numbers too literally. Still, July may very well have been Bautista’s best month because of these stats. He made contact on 37.1% of all pitches, the most for any month in 2010, partly due to swinging the bat the highest percentage of the time as well. He was able to put the ball in play 20% of the time and rarely whiffed. He batted an MVP-like .347/.418/.765 in July compared to a .262/.381/.625 for the season. In the next table, let’s take a look at how pitchers have adjusted by the month in the location of their pitches, broken down by pitch type as well:

The first column shows first strike percentage by month, which has been up and down through out the the season. These don’t correlate directly with his slugging percentage though, especially when you compare April with July. However, Zone% decreased from 55.8% in April to 49.7% in August. Pitchers are throwing many fewer fastballs in the zone, in particular in September, compared to earlier in the season. Some of the other pitch types have decreased in Zone% but increased again later in the season, so I am not sure what is going here. Again, sample size is probably an issue, as Bautista has not seen more than 100 pitches of each non-fastball pitch type in any given month.

Still, it’s telling that the F-Strike% and Zone% of all pitches in September is much lower than it was in April.

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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.

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