Double Play: Trying to explain Bautista's success

Daan De Kerpel,
8/28/2010 2:39:21 AM
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The surprising season of Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista continued on Friday night when he clubbed his major-league-leading 42nd home run off of Justin Verlander.

There's been a lot made out of an article earlier in the week about Bautista's output and whether performance-enhancing drugs could be behind what has been an incredible season.

Without getting into too much, as there is no proof or any other reason to suspect anything along those lines, I thought I would try to figure out why Bautista is having the season he's having.

Sitting in the TSN newsroom and asking a bunch of guys whose job it is to watch sports seemed to be a decent place to start.  While some people pointed to the 'he changed his batting stance' philosophy, there was another undercurrent of thought, and it's one that I agree with - though you might not at first.

What if Bautista is 'fluking' his way through a season?

I know it sounds crazy at first, and I'm willing to accept that fluke might not be the correct choice of words.  What about a term like 'career year' or the more trendy 'outlier season?'

There are a lot of players in the past that have produced campaigns that have far exceeded their career norms - and for this argument, I'll use players from more recent times, doing my best to avoid any 'Steroid Era' players.

The first guy that always jumps to my mind is a former Blue Jay who excelled as a member of the White Sox - Esteban Loaiza.

Loaiza is a career 126-114 pitcher who spent the vast majority of his career as a starter.  His lifetime ERA is a rather ho-hum 4.65.  In a career that spanned 14 years, he only posted a sub-3.60 ERA once and in that season, he also nearly doubled his season-high win total.

In 2003, Loaiza went an impressive 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA.  He started in 34 games, led the league in strikeouts with 207 and was second in Cy Young voting to then-Blue Jay Roy Halladay.  The year after, his numbers went right back to where they were in 2002.

You can wind the clock to last season and look at Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett's effort.  Bartlett was always a decent hitter with limited power that could steal 20+ bases.

In 2009, he hit .320 with 14 home runs and 30 stolen bases.  His previous career high in home runs was five, and steals was 23.

While he's spent time on the disabled list this season, it should be noted that Bartlett has never played more than 140 games in each of the last four-seasons.  With that said, this season, in 105 games played he's batting .250 with three home runs and 10 stolen bases.

He's basically gone back to his 2007 and 2008 expectations.

From a former Minnesota Twin to a current one, how about catcher Joe Mauer?

I know it will seem like nit-picking in a way, and I realize that he's playing in a new stadium, but out of the blue in 2009, Mauer hit 28 home runs, which more than doubled his career high of 13 from 2006.  Mauer is a three-time batting champion, so he's a great hitter for average, but his 28 home runs look out of place with his career numbers (so far at least).

The 'Outlier' season can also go the other way.  

In 2003, White Sox slugger Paul Konerko had a horrible season.  He was coming off a season where he hit .304 with 27 home runs and 104 RBI. But that year, he hit .234 for the season with a meager 18 home runs.  I know he missed time that year, but his numbers were still ugly.  The two seasons after, he clubbed 41 and 40 home runs respectively.

Mike Lowell, who is a career .279 hitter, hit .236 in 2005 and looked finished.  He was a must-take for the Boston Red Sox in the Josh Beckett trade, and he managed to post numbers in 2006 that were very similar to 2004. 

It should be noted that two years after his down-year, Lowell had his good 'Outlier' season in 2007, when he hit .324 with 21 home runs and 120 RBI.

Jays fans need to look no further than the current years of Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, neither of whom is hitting nearly as well as they did in 2009, which is an understatement, as Hill is hitting .209, while Lind is batting .232.  I know that Hill was hurt this season, but to me, their seasons show me that sometimes there are factors that harder to explain.  

Things happen during the season that sometimes can't be controlled - injuries, family issues, superstitions, momentum or whatever. 

At the end of the day, players - like people - can have great days or bad days, months and even seasons.   

As odd as it may be, looking at the numbers shows me that sometimes crazy-good things happen to people, and with all due respect to Charlie Bucket, right now Jose Bautista seems to be holding the golden ticket.


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