Jose Bautista is back. After a horrendous April which saw him post just a .185/.298/.333 line, the Jays’ star has surged. He’s following up a .257/.342/.552 May with a a .258/.413/.774 June, including an absurd 10 home runs in 18 games.
Bautista’s resurgence has come with a return to what elevated him to the game’s premier power hitter back in 2010: get the ball in the air often and with authority.
Bautista’s power surge in 2010 was accomplished in large part by rarely hitting the ball on the ground. After having ground ball rates over 40% every season of his career, Bautista only hit 31.1% of his balls in play on the ground in 2010. 2011 saw a jump up to 36.9% but still far below his former career norms.
By getting the ball in the air so much often, Bautista has harnessed his raw power. Much as his batted ball rates help explain his performance on a seasonal level, a look at the progression of his rates so far this year helps explain his early struggles and recent successes. Observe:
Bautista’s June has seen more and more balls in the air, corresponding directly with his hottest stretch of the season so far. That’s nothing new for Bautista. Observe, the same batted ball graph over the past three seasons as well as a wOBA graph:
Compare the progression of the blue fly ball line with the wOBA line in the following chart. The correlation is obvious, and his current surge is reminiscent of his best power-hitting days of 2010.
With a lot of hitters, it’s natural to use stuff like line drive rates to see if they’re going well. With some, it’s tempting to see if they’re driving the ball to the opposite field.
Bautista’s approach doesn’t work this way. He’s not a “pure hitter.” He opens the hips and tries to crush the ball. For so many who don’t have the kind of raw power he owns, this approach wouldn’t work. But Bautista’s pull power is so good that it doesn’t matter that he eschews the opposite field. His home run spray charts almost exclusively cover left field; he doesn’t need to cover right field to produce.
It takes tremendous ability to make an approach like Bautista’s work. 119 home runs since 2010 have proven he has more than enough power. Now that he’s getting the ball in the air again, we’re seeing the same insane numbers we’ve marveled at the past two seasons.