Fantasy Baseball

Takeaways/What to do with Jose Bautista?

As I hinted at last week, fantasy owners and experts at-large hate to be wrong.  Even when they are wrong, they dig in to try to find the reason that they were wrong.  One of the things our podcast has been wrong on so far is Jose Bautista.  We were staunch supporters of Bautista as his ADP sat in a range, which we deemed ridiculous.  If you bought Jose Bautista based upon our advice, you are probably wondering what to do with him…  Sell low?  Hold?  Outright drop?

Before we address what to do with him, let’s take a look at what is happening with Bautista to get an accurate sense of the player that he is at the moment.  With two homers and a .169/.296/.254 triple-slash, the results have been awful.  There are two key drivers of these results, one is an increased strikeout rate (30.3%, up 10.4% from 2016 and 12% from his career average) and the other is batted ball luck – in the areas of BABIP (.240, career .266) and HR/FB (5.1%, career 16.4%).

With respect to the strikeout rate, this was the big risk with Bautista.  The swinging strike rate is up (10.5%, 7.2% in 2016) and the contact rate is way down (71.4%, 80.1% in 2016).  Most troubling, Bautista is missing more inside (80.9% zone contact, 88.7% in 2016) and outside the zone (51.3%, 60.4% in 2016).  The lack of contact outside the zone is actually a five-year trend – 74.7% in 2013, 71.8% in 2014, 67.8% in 2015, 60.4% in 2016, 51.3% in 2017.

Bautista has also seen his fastball struggles repeat – last year, he was a negative against the pitch for the first time since he made adjustments and moved to Toronto.  It appears that the concerns regarding Bautista’s bat speed were warranted and the not just the result of injury.

It is not all bad news though.  Bautista has definitely been unlucky with his batted balls.  His HR/FB rate of 5.1% is the lowest of his career and he’s still hitting 50.6% flyballs with a 41.6% pull rate (down, but still sufficient to generate more power than he’s shown), plus there is evidence that the pull rate is rebounding over the last two weeks.  Bautista has not only traded some groundballs for flyballs, but also line drives – 22.1% line drive percentage, which is the highest of his career.  His IFFB% has not swelled well beyond its norm so he probably deserves better than his .240 BABIP.

At 36, it’s fair to wonder whether Bautista simply has lost his bat speed and is done as premier power hitter.  Without an injury underlying this profile, I must admit there is a good chance of that.  Honestly, and this is entirely speculative, the reason why I would suggest an injury could be at-play was his work in the World Baseball Classic, which was excellent in a small sample.

So what do you do with Bautista, who could be finished as a premier power hitter barring injury?  It is important to draw the distinction between “premier power hitter” and “useful fantasy option.”  Right now, Bautista is neither, but with his understanding of the strike zone, I have little doubt that there will be stretches where he is hot and smacks multiple homers in a week.  Couple that with the “name value,” even if you are determined to sell, it might be best to staple Bautista to the bench until the hot streak comes and then sell.

As for the therapeutic drop, I would not advise it.  I am certain that if you work the trade market, you will find a buyer – someone willing to gamble that Bautista is just struggling with an unannounced injury and will turn it around.  I know I am still willing to take that gamble because I am a fantasy owner and I believed Jose Bautista would be good – and I can’t just admit that I am wrong.

Other takeaways…

-I mentioned Yonder Alonso as a player to watch or pick up a couple of weeks ago and he’s continued his hot hitting.  Alonso is currently sitting at 9 HRs with a .298/.374/.638 triple-slash.  I took the dive early on Alonso in a deep dynasty league and made the add this weekend in my limited keeper/redraft.  Alonso has seen his ownership skyrocket (up to 41% Y!), but that number still looks low.  I’m betting that he performs at a .275 25 HR pace ROS (which would be 20 bombs from here on out) if the current skills hold even if with due regression to the results.

-The hits keep on coming on the pitching landscape – James Paxton (forearm strain) and Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer – from which baseball fans everywhere wish him a speedy recovery).  According to Yahoo!, 14 of their top 50 ranked starting pitchers are currently on the disabled list.  Premium pitching appears to be a scarce commodity, but I would avoid falling into the trap of overpaying for an arm.  I know I am repeating myself, but names under 55% owned that could provide you with some help: Eduardo Rodriguez (54%), Jharel Cotton (47%), Kendall Graveman (46%), Trevor Cahill ❤ (42%), Chase Anderson (42%), Alex Wood (39%), Charlie Morton (37%), Patrick Corbin (34%), Jesse Hahn (21%), J.C. Ramirez (21%), Mike Montgomery (11%), and Nate Karns (9%).

-A player drafted in the Jose Bautista range that I am supremely confident will bounce back is Jackie Bradley Jr.  He has been dreadful through 57 ABs – 1 HR, 1 SB .175/.250/.263.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with his profile.  He has steady strikeout-walk numbers year-over-year and is making plenty of hard contact (37.2%).  This is simply small sample plus injury plus a hot fourth OF (Chris Young).  This will pass.

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