Is Jose Bautista the Best Player in Baseball?

Or, more accurately, is Jose Bautista the best player who doesn’t get the media coverage he deserves?  Or maybe the best bargain in Baseball?

Well in this bloggers opinion, the answers are maybe, yes, and very yes.  Jose Bautista, if he continues to have the season he’s having, would be the best hitter (and therefore the best player, because hitters are just worth much more than pitchers), in baseball, he still doesn’t get the media coverage he deserves (it took a three home run game over the weekend for me to hear more than one note about him), and he’s already a huge bargain, as he’s “only” being paid $13 million per year.  As Dave Cameron at Fangraphs points out, over the last 365 days, Jose Bautista has played in 156 games, and through 673 Plate Appearances, has hit .292/.421/.708, with 33 doubles, 2 triples, and 63 Home Runs.  Read that again.  63 Home runs.  That’s in the middle of “The Year of the Pitcher” and the beginning of “The Year of the Pitcher 2.0”.  In a year where the numbers of hitters dropped everywhere, Bautista put up video game-type numbers.  Over that same year, Albert Pujols hit 41 Home Runs, good for second place on the list.  His torrid start so far has basically put an end to all of the “last year was a fluke” type commentators, but I think his numbers are so good that the rest of us have trouble saying that he’ll continue to do this.  But nearly everyone was saying that even if he regresses to a 30 Home Run type hitter, he’d still be a bargain on a 13 Million per year contract.  There was just a loud crowd that thought he might turn back into the journeyman hitter he was before last year.

But just to point out how absolutely ridiculous this start to his season is, let me point out that he has hit 16 Home Runs so far this year.  The Minnesota Twins as a team have 18 Home Runs this year, and the Seattle Mariners as a team have 21.  Bautista hit 5 Home Runs in Minnesota over the weekend (which is a park where Home Runs go to die), and the Twins as a team have hit six Home Runs there all season.  The other odd quirk that Cameron pointed out was the % of pitches seen inside the strike zone.  He’s seeing only 34.5% percent, which is the lowest in the league.  That means that pitchers are making efforts to pitch around him.  

The biggest difference with Bautista this year compared to last is the Batting Average and On Base Percentage.  This year, he’s hitting .368 through 32 games, and his OBP is .520.  That means that when he comes up to bat, he makes an out 48% of the time.  To compare, an average Major League hitter will make an out in the mid-60 percentage.   Both of those numbers will drop as the season goes on, because his BABiP (Batting Average on Balls in Play, a statistic that calculates a players batting average every time he puts the ball in play.  It basically calculates “luck”.  Players who are getting lucky, such as hitting ground balls that just get past Infielders, or hit fly balls that go just over the head of an Outfielder, will have high BABiPs.  Players who are unlucky will be hitting the ball hard, hitting line-drive type balls, that just find their ways into the gloves of Infielders, will have low BABiPs.) is .329, while last year his BABiP was .233, and his career rate is .272.  If we assume that his BABiP will trend down near his career norm, then his Batting Average will drop with it.  There’s also a large difference in his Home Run/Fly Ball rate, and that will also likely trend downwards to last years level.

Basically, all those advanced statistics say that Jose Bautista is a damn good hitter, and that while his average will likely decrease as the season goes on (This is true for everyone who starts off hot, that’s just the nature of hitting) he will remain a damn good hitter.  And more importantly, in a new era where pitchers routinely have no-hitters going into the 7th inning, Bautista will continue to hit Home Runs.  So while I can’t quite call him the best hitter just yet (Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, and Lance Berkman still have to remain in the conversation), he’s doing his best to make it an easy choice for me and everyone else.

Do you think Jose Bautista is the best player in Baseball?  Have someone else in mind?  Leave a comment and tell me what you think!

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