Toronto Blue Jays: What’s going on with Jose Bautista?

Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista is not looking like himself, but is he done or just underperforming?

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The 2017 season has not been kind to Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista. After landing just an incentive-laden contract in free agency last winter, the 36-year-old is looking more and more like a shell of himself.

Bautista doesn’t look completely done, but it is looking like he is heading for a heavy decline. After this season, he could be running on borrowed time. That would be a sad case for someone who recently was one of the most feared hitters in the game.

The numbers

Before we get into Bautista’s numbers, the logistics of his current contract are important. He signed a one-year, $18 million deal to stay in Toronto back in January, but there are incentives that could keep him with the Blue Jays for another two years. The deal carries a $17 million mutual option for 2018 and a $20 million vesting option for 2019. According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the option vests if Bautista appears in a combined 300 games in 2017 and 2018.

Based on this year alone, however, it will be interesting to see if Toronto president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro is interested in picking up the option for next year. Bautista has 20 home runs and 54 RBI but is batting just .211 on the year. Given the choice between continuing to pay someone who will be 37 next season or give them a $500,000 buyout, the choice should seem easy.

Keep in mind that Bautista hit 40 home runs two years ago and posted a 5.1 WAR and is a big reason the Blue Jays were playoff contenders in 2015 and 2016. For this year to just be bad luck and to watch Bautista go play elsewhere next year and dominate once again would be a huge black eye for an organization that has worked so hard to be taken seriously again in the AL East.

The reality

This isn’t the first time that Bautista hasn’t looked like himself. The man known as Joey Bats hit just .234 in 2016 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI and missed significant time with a toe injury.

There are some interesting parallels to discuss regarding Bautista’s 2016 and 2017 seasons, particularly in BABIP. It was just .255 last year and is down to .244 this season, and Bautista’s isolated power is also down to .176 this year. Keep in mind his career BABIP is .264 and his career ISO is just .233, so a decline could be a possibility.

Bautista’s strikeout rate (K%) is also up almost four full points from last year to 23.8, and that is over five points of his career mark of 18.5. Power hitters are prone to strikeouts but Bautista is clearly heading in the wrong direction.

But Bautista has also had some bad luck. His line drive rate (LD%) may be down to 17 from 18.8 last year, but it is just 15.7 for his career.

Though Bautista has had rough luck at the plate the last couple of years, the numbers suggest he is on the decline. It’s clear that his bat speed isn’t what it used to be and while he can still hit a respectable number of home runs, his days of being one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters are coming to an end.