Jose Bautista’s Counter-Shift

One of the remaining great unknowns is finding a reasonable way to evaluate the performances of coaches. With managers, we have only so much of the picture. It’s the same with hitting coaches and pitching coaches, and while sometimes we can credit a pitching coach for helping a guy learn a new pitch or smooth out his mechanics, hitting coaches are even more of a mystery. It would appear that teams haven’t even figured out who is and isn’t a worthwhile hitting coach, yet while their overall value isn’t known, one thing we can do is focus on individual cases. A team’s hitting coach won’t have the same effect on every hitter. In Toronto, one hitting coach has had a significant effect on one hitter.

Before the year, the Blue Jays added Kevin Seitzer, and one of Seitzer’s messages was stressing the importance of using the whole field. Seitzer came into a situation featuring Jose Bautista, who blossomed into a star by becoming an extreme pull power hitter. This season, Bautista has performed at a level well above what he did the previous two seasons. He’s back to what he was at his peak, yet he’s gotten there by following a different sort of path.

To review: between 2010-2013, there were 287 qualified position players. Bautista ranked fourth in wRC+, yet 12th-worst in BABIP. This season, out of 174 qualified position players, Bautista ranks fourth in wRC+, and when it comes to BABIP, he’s in the upper third. On its own, that’s interesting, but it could be noise. You have to dig deeper to confirm the presence of a signal.

Brendan Kennedy actually just wrote about this. I’m just going to put more numbers to it. Proof that Bautista’s a little different:

With opposing teams using the infield shift against him more and more, Jose Bautista says he is being “less stubborn and hard-headed” this season, adjusting his approach to hit balls to the opposite field.
[...]
He said he made the change after talking with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who was hired this off-season and arrived in Toronto preaching the gospel of hitting to all fields.

Bautista would run a low BABIP in part because he was focusing on fly balls, but also in part because he hit the ball most of the time to the left. So defenses responded to that, as Bautista became one of those righties who got shifted. The most oft-recommended way to beat the shift is to bunt, but it doesn’t work the same for righties as it does for lefties. Bautista’s working to beat the shift not by bunting, but by swinging and hitting the ball toward the area left vacant.

Here’s a pretty important chart:

bautistaballsinplay

When Jose Bautista became Jose Bautista, he started yanking the ball a lot more often. He consistently hit more than half of his balls in play toward left field. This year, his pull rate is down from over 52% to under 44%, and his opposite-field rate is up from 18% to over 25%. Bautista says he’s made a conscious adjustment, and the numbers demonstrate as much, unmistakably.

Last season, 400 players hit at least 100 balls fair. Bautista ranked 14th in pull rate, and 379th in opposite-field rate. This season, 215 players have hit at least 100 balls fair. Bautista ranks 79th in pull rate, and 110th in opposite-field rate. Of the 199 players to have hit at least 100 balls fair in both 2013 and 2014, Bautista’s got the ninth-biggest pull-rate drop. All the pull power is still there — Bautista is still lethal as half of the Bautista/Edwin Encarnacion tandem — but sometimes, now, Bautista’s willing to try to do something else.

A drop in pull rate isn’t always a good thing. One of the biggest drops belongs to Domonic Brown, and he’s been a disaster. But unlike Brown, Bautista isn’t missing his power, as he’s hitting the ball toward right on purpose.

How about a couple examples? Here’s one from early May, and one from later May.

bautistashift

BautistaShiftHit.gif.opt

bautistashift2

BautistaShiftHit2.gif.opt

What’s unclear is how much of this Bautista can do on the fly, and whether he has to prepare to go the other way beforehand. I don’t know if he can make his decision when the pitch is on its way. But there’s no arguing with the overall results of his process to date — he’s taken advantage of mistake pitches, and he’s also taken advantage of specific defensive alignments. As one of the best hitters in baseball, we can conclude that Bautista has tremendous bat control. Blessed with tremendous bat control, it shouldn’t be a shock that Bautista’s finding success toward right field.

Here’s what Bautista’s done going the other way:

Year(s) Average BABIP wRC+ LD% GB%
2010-2013 0.233 0.212 55 12% 21%
2014 0.419 0.405 182 21% 28%

Before, a third of his balls hit toward right were liners or grounders. This year, he’s at half, as more of those balls in play are intentional. So his success has skyrocketed. Among players with sufficient balls hit the other way this season, Bautista ranks 13th out of 84 in wRC+. In the past, even when he went the other way, he wasn’t good. Presumably, this is because he was trying to not go the other way. Now it’s a goal of his, and the results are following, because extreme defensive shifts leave open an extreme amount of space, and one doesn’t even need to hit the ball that well to take advantage.

What Bautista’s been before is a power hitter with limited success on fair balls that didn’t leave the yard. Now he’s a power hitter more able to spread the ball around, and while teams might continue to shift him as they’ve done, he’ll probably only continue to poke singles and doubles into the space when he’s able. I should note that, perhaps as an additional consequence, Bautista is running a career-low foul rate, and a career-high in-play rate. That might be unrelated, or that might be the result of Bautista looking to go wherever a given pitch might take him. In the past, he’s blamed emphasis on spraying the ball around for his foul balls, but he’s a different hitter now than he was before his Blue Jay days. He’s an elite hitter now, and an even better hitter in 2014 than he was in 2013.

Jose Bautista didn’t need Kevin Seitzer to be good. Jose Bautista was already really good. But with the help of Kevin Seitzer, Jose Bautista has started to do something he hadn’t done, and he’s returned to the uppermost tier of offensive nightmares. Not everyone is going to be able to defeat an extreme defensive shift. But then, not anyone is Jose Bautista.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


53 Responses to “Jose Bautista’s Counter-Shift”

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  1. Toronto says:

    I love you, Jose Bautista.

    +53 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Fly boy says:

    I am so happy I have Jose Bautista on my fantasy team.

    -25 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Radivel says:

    With all the deserved EE love going on, one must remember that for the month of May, Bautista has a higher average, OBP and more walks. As an added bonus, he’s stopped getting so ornery at the stupid/blind umps all the time, too. Bautista is the central figure to an amazing offense, and deserves all the credit he gets and more.

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  4. tz says:

    Lesson:

    If the Royals decide a guy shouldn’t be their hitting coach, snap him up.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • John C says:

      I think a good rule of thumb for any MLB organization looking to be successful would be to study the Royals carefully, and then do exactly the opposite of whatever the Royals would do in a given situation.

      +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Jon L. says:

    Any chance Seitzer is available for a chat with Mark Teixeira?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Ryan says:

    Jose was also a 25th man on the roster and has had to bat in every spot in the line up and therefore has been asked to hit behind the runner and lay down bunts. Bat control is probably a skill he’s had to work on in those cases and something that’s stayed with him as he’s developed into a superstar which should make going the other way easier for him.

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  7. BMac says:

    It should be noted that Jose no longer NEEDS to hit a home run to be effective. Just getting on base in front of Encarnacion is a great idea. Thus, going the other way rather than fouling off pitches until you got one you like is perfectly valid.

    I wonder how many of those ‘other way’ hits are with two strikes?

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  8. exxrox says:

    Of note is that Jose also hit an extremely rare opposite field HR on Friday night.

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  9. everdiso says:

    Great article. Was hoping he’d start getting more attention for this. I wonder if other sluggers have the bat control to do what he’s doing.

    One thing i’ve noticed is that it seems that he’s more willing to go the opposite way the more of a pitcher’s count it is. Seems like when he’s on two strikes he’s much more willing to flick it through that shift hole. I’d love to see if this is backed up by the data or if its a figment of my imagination.

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    • exxrox says:

      He has actually stated as much. I don’t know if it’s in print anywhere, but the Royals broadcasters talked to Seitzer on the weekend and were talking about it.

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    • SucramRenrut says:

      That there is called baseball. Jose is great, but this is not a new phenomenon, it is just new for Jose and more successful because of the increase in defensive shifting.

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  10. atoms says:

    So, it sounds like Bautista’s doing what Matt Adams is trying to do, but brilliantly.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. matt says:

    Bautista for AL MVP!!

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Seitz is from my hometown (or I’m from his, technically), and made a living going the other way.

    Jose Bautista is not Kevin Seitzer and vice versa.

    The last GIF represents to me the misapplication of hitting to mall fields. It’s a prototypical Seitzer hit. A cockshot that gets lined oppo for a single.

    He inside-outs a pitch that should have been yanked into the left field seats.

    When I coach/watch, I ask myself “How would the other team feel about our actions?” If it’s something they would like or appreciate, we’re not doing it. Likewise, if I am a pitcher (and I was) what approach do I want bautista to take against me? I’d prefer him to inside-out swing a cockshot and line a single to right.

    However, if the balls he’s lining to right for hits are outer third, then good for Jose for becoming a better hitter. But, if he’s going to right continually like the last GIF, that’s not necessarily a good thing. SSS be damned.

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    • Philbert says:

      I don’t think it even qualifies as a small sample size when it’s just one example.

      “Jose Bautista has struck out in 100% of his last at bat. SSS, but…”

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        That’s why I said “if”.

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        • Philbert says:

          Fair enough. As a Jays fan, I don’t think that inside-out type swing is really indicative of what he’s done going the other way, but that’s just based on watching the game instead of looking at the numbers. If I had to guess, I would say most of his hits the other way have been on outside pitches.

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    • Jason B says:

      He tried to hit to mall fields, but they had played him perfectly. Moved away from the Ann Taylor and shaded him over slightly toward the Dress Barn. He shot one out toward the Orange Julius but the fielder came dashing in from Auntie Anne’s Pretzels to make a stellar play. Defeated (this time), Jose could only shake his head and go back to the dugout/American Girl store.

      +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. If only Hosmer and Moustakas had listened to me in 2012. They stink. Stink bad. Now this Joey Bats kid, man, he is good. Amazing what can happen when hitters follow my advice!

    Sincerely,

    Kevin Seitzer

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • So did we! says:

      We also had 5-WAR seasons. People need to listen to us immediately.

      Co-signed,
      Corey Koskie (twice!)
      Jeff Blauser (twice!)
      Jeff Cirillo (twice!)
      Randy Winn (twice!)
      Darin Erstad (8 WAR club)
      Bernard Gilkey (7 WAR club)
      Chris Hoiles (7 WAR club)
      Rich Aurilia (7 WAR club)
      Jason Bartlett
      Mark Loretta
      Brad Wilkerson
      Randy Velarde
      Dave Magadan
      Roberto Kelly
      Kevin Young
      Shane Mack
      Bip Roberts
      Bill Hall
      Scott Brosius
      John Valentin
      Jose Oquendo

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        Would not surprise me to find a lot of coaches and future managers on that list.

        But, your point is made.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B says:

          I was just taking a stroll through the recent past to see some of the more surprising 5+ WAR seasons (for hitters, I didn’t bother going through the pitchers). There were many instances of “Hey! That guy! I forgot about him!” I believe Jose Oquendo is already a coach with the Cardinals.

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        • Zesty Enterprise says:

          Dave Magadan has already been, or is, a major-league hitting coach. Master of the mostly-empty average, must have been 5WAR worth when he played 3B.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • I don't care what anyone says:

          Valentin actually led the majors with a 8+ WAR in 1995.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bip Roberts says:

        Good thing my constant bitching and moaning didn’t factor into WAR.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Trout says:

      I’ve made the 5-WAR club four times in just 2 seasons.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Max G says:

    I’m still marveling at that 9-3 putout from the other night. This is truly the year of the Blue Jay. It will be interesting to see if Bautista gets walked more now that he’s adjusted to the shift.

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    • Philbert says:

      I have a hard time seeing Bautista drawing MORE walks than he has so far this year unless Encarnacion (168 wRC+) and Lind (169 wRC+) really cool off. I can’t imagine pitchers/managers wanting to face those guys with a man on instead of just facing Bautista.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Yeah he’s walking at ~18%. Not sure he’s going to walk “more”. He doesn’t seem to be the .600 SLG guy anymore, so becoming a more balanced hitter is a decent thing.

      That would be a very interesting evolution/adaptation. Resurrects career by refusing to swing at anything not on the inner third and becoming an elite pull everything power hitter to using all of the field and covering the plate when the power has decreased some.

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      • Philbert says:

        After posting that reply, I checked the splits and realized his walk rate has been just over 12% since the beginning of May after a 25% March/April. So maybe an increased walk rate (as in a rate above what we’ve seen the last month) isn’t all that ridiculous.

        I still can’t see him getting pitched around too much, though.

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        • Jason B says:

          At least not while Lind is hitting .350 and E5 is homering twice a game.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • dougiejays says:

          Edwin was struggling in April and Bautista barely got a pitch to hit all month. When Edwin went off, pitchers were forced to come after Bautista a little more.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. MeloJ says:

    Bautista has been a lot of fun to watch this year. In april no one wanted to pitch to him, so he was patient and walked a ton. In May he was really productive and an all around complete player. Bautista is extra dangerous when he is a .300+ hitter and a serious power threat at the same time.

    He has made a few stupid base running plays this year being a tad aggressive but then like last night he took 2B while the Tigers thought they picked off Reyes and where not paying attention.

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