Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap – April 30th

Photo Credit: Getty Images via Daylife

Record This Week: 3-3

All is no longer right in this world. Down is up, up is down and the Orioles are at the top of the AL East. Of course I’m kidding as thus far the Jays have only played 23 games, which is only 14% of the the 162 game season.

They sure didn’t build on their success from last weekend in which they swept the Kansas City Royals in a 4 game series, but in a long season every team has slumps. This week the Jays relatively poor play resulted in a finish at 4th place in the AL East, but with one hot week they could be right back at the top.

Granted that week likely won’t be this upcoming week as the Jays have a 3 game series with the Rangers at home and then a grueling 4 game series in Anaheim against the Angels. However the point still holds true. The Jays are only 2 games behind the Orioles in first and a half a game behind the Yankees for the second wild card spot.

Not that it needs to be taken too much into account though, if the Jays go winless in the next week, its not something that you want to see, but so what. Over the course of a full season the true talent level of this team will shine through and I think they’ll be pretty darn good. If you’re patient enough to sit through an entire baseball game you should be patient enough to wait for the outcome of the 162 game MLB season. Winning is nice, but patience is key.

#StillFreeSnider?
If you follow the Blue Jays online community on Twitter (And really why wouldn’t you be), you may or may not have noticed something, the lack of #FreeSnider tweets. That partially has to do that with the fact that Snider left Thursday’s AAA game after jamming his wrist while trying to catch a ball in left field, but it could also be the fact that over the past week Eric Thames has been absolutely mashing. After this week Eric Thames is now the second best hitter on the Jays according to wOBA (that’s excluding Jeff Mathis and his 18 plate appearances) and also is second on the team in OBP.

Of course again this is a very small sample size, but Thames has looked good, well offensively at least. During the series against the Orioles in which the Blue Jays amassed 3 runs in 3 games, Thames seemed to be the sole bright spot. He had two home runs (one off of his glove) and led the Jays in WPA or Win Probability added during that series.

However the one thing I fail to understand in all of this is the sort of anti-Colby-esque mindset that has been put around Eric Thames. When Colby has played well there has been dozens of tweets along the lines of “where the haters at now?” or “Colby don’t look so bad anymore” as statistics based Jays fans make their proclamation to those who doubted Colby last year that Colby is in fact a good player. On the flipside of things when Thames has played well it has been the statistical community who is shut up by his production.

Don’t get me wrong its nice to see Thames hitting well and the Jays getting good production out of left field, but I keep the mindset that as long as Snider is fully healthy (which he isn’t at the present moment) he should be the one in the majors. The reason being that for one despite being the second best hitter on the team according to wOBA, Thames still has a negative WAR. Why? Because he has been terrible defensively, which has resulted in a -5.0 UZR.

I’m not going to go into all of the many details on the matter of who should be up with the Jays and why, as I did that pretty extensively back when Snider was demoted, but I’ll say one thing. That is that the Jays gave Snider a very short leash in 2011 and to be honest, despite Eric Thames’ sudden offensive power surge *cough* .354 BABIP *cough*, I’d hope they do the same with Thames in 2012. When he’s hitting he can stay, but when he should be on the first plane back to AAA. Viva Las Vegas.

Where Oh Where has Bautista Gone
Last year on this day Jose Bautista had 1.312 OPS, a .366 BA and he led the league in practically every offensive category. This year so far he has had a .670 OPS and a .187 BA and has been one of the Jays’ worst hitters.

At first glance that looks really bad and you probably either A. Spazzed out at your computer screen or B. Shrugged it off as just small sample size. Both sides may seem like plausible reactions, but the answer lies in between.

If you look beyond just the raw offensive numbers, Bautista hasn’t really been as bad as he’s seemed. His walk rate is below his gaudy 2011 numbers, but also above the 2010 numbers.  That walk rate is to go along with a career best 11.6% K rate. The encouraging thing about those numbers is that walk and strikeout rates are generally statistics that normalize quickly, meaning they can be taken in to context in smaller sample sizes.

Beyond that most of Bautista’s plate discipline numbers have stayed relatively the same as well, meaning he hasn’t necessarily “seen the ball” any worse than he had last season. However one thing worth noting is that Bautista’s O-Swing% has jumped up 5% showing that despite him making contact with roughly the same amount of pitches and getting roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone, Bautista has been swinging more at pitches outside the zone.

Because Bautista is swinging at more pitches outside the zone and therefore making contact with more pitches outside the zone, in some ways it explains why numbers like his slugging percentage or isolated power have been so low.

It is true that he is still making contact with pitches, but the contact isn’t necessarily good contact. Rather than hitting sweet homeruns he is hitting more weak grounders to the shortstop. This is shown through Bautista’s batted ball data, which includes a drop in both LD% and FB% in order to facilitate an increase in GB%. Ground balls often aren’t a good thing and especially not a good thing for a player who is considered a power hitter.

Though as with all that has happened so far in this season it still is small sample size and it shouldn’t be taken as the end all be all luck stat, but Jose Bautista has had a ridiculous .179 BABIP. That number being almost .100 points below his career average.

So then Bautista may not be performing to the level he did last year, but it would be very hard to expect that from him. His approach seems to have changed slightly at the plate, but he also gotten extremely unlucky. He is regressing and he is getting older, there’s no way he is this bad, give it time, have patience.