It’s been another tough week for the Toronto Blue Jays. Central to the Jays early season struggles is an offence that continues to perform in fits and starts. The Blue Jays offence has been limited to scoring one run three times since last Sunday (granted two of those games were started by Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Archer). Currently, the offence sits a lowly 26th in runs scored, on-base (.297) and slugging (.373) percentage. Justin Smoak’s barreled balls and Steve Pearce’s three home run week be damned.
With Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson on the disabled list, some of the team’s offensive struggles are related to bench players like Ryan Goins and Chris Coghlan being exposed to everyday at bats. But some of the Blue Jays more established and relied upon offensive players have struggled as well. One of these players is Jose Bautista, our hitter of the week.
Overall, Jose Bautista has struggled at the plate this season, slashing .180/.306/.270 with 2 home runs. Not great. This week, however, there have been signs of life. In 26 plate appearances, Bautista hit .240/.321/.440 with three extra base hits.
Has Jose turned a corner? Hopefully. A closer look at his swing data indicates there may still be adjustments needed before he reverts to the Jose Bautista of years past.
The rate at which Jose Bautista is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone(O-Swing%) has remained relatively stable. Where there has been a change is in the number of pitches Bautista is swinging at inside the strike zone. This season, Bautista is swinging at 54.1% of pitches inside the strike zone (Z-Swing%), compared to 60.5% in his stellar 2015 and a career mark of 58%.
|% of Pitches Swung at Outside the Strike Zone||
% of Pitches Swung at Inside the Strike Zone
When he does swing, Bautista appears to be whiffing on more pitches both in and outside the zone. While the average major leaguer makes contact with 87% of pitches in the strike zone (Z-Contact%), Bautista is only making contact at a rate of 80.3% this season. For pitches outside the zone (O-Contact%), the major league average is 66%, 16% higher than Bautista’s 50%. Bautista’s numbers are also down from his own career norms, which are in line with the major league average. It’s possible that age or injuries have left Bautista with the bat on his shoulder more often and swinging through pitches he would normally hit.
Outside the Strike zone Contact%
Inside the Strike Zone Contact%
After 134 plate appearances this season, it’s entirely possible that Bautista’s lost ability to make contact is more slump than recession of his skills. Something similar happened last season with Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo’s declining contact rates had some concerned his offensive struggles were irreversible. This of course proved untrue and Tulo rebounded to have a solid season at the plate in 2016. Here’s hoping that Jose’s early season struggles are just that, and not the sign of a more worrisome trend moving forward.