As I write this Monday night, the Blue Jays are in a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is Jose Reyes is heading to the DL but the good is that Jose Bautista is back in the lineup at least as the designated hitter, after missing five games with a bad shoulder. Although they ended up losing to Boston in the ninth, at least they scored a few and looked like they might win, something absent in the weekend series against Tampa Bay. It goes to my point that Bautista, if not necessarily the 2014 MVP, is all in all, the Most Valuable Player to his team in baseball.
I’ve made the point here before that last year his numbers were remarkably similar to Mike Trout’s- almost the same number of home runs, RBI, batting average a few points lower but on-base about the same due to taking more walks. It’s no knock on Trout- he’s a talented young player and it seems like, at 23, the sky’s the limit for him – but rather, a comment on how when it comes to awards time , Bautista is unfairly ignored.
I got to thinking, how much does “Joey Bats” add to the team’s offense? So bear with me here, I’m going to throw out quite a few numbers. I started by asking, how many runs he directly provides. Well, looking at 2014, he scored 101 runs and produced 103 RBI. Since he hit 35 homers, this means he drove in 68 other runs (not including the runs he scored himself from those four-baggers) for a total of 169 “runs generated.” Ergo, it would seem like he added 169 runs to the total for the team. But, hold on, I’m sure you’re thinking, if he wasn’t playing, someone else would have been in his place in the lineup, and they would have scored some runs as well.
This in mind, I tried to estimate how many runs he generated compared to an average replacement outfielder. To do that, in my semi-scientific manner, I looked at all the other AL teams and took the stats of their second-best outfielder last year for comparison’s sake, to have an idea of what an “average” outfielder would provide. Looking at the numbers of the likes of Rajai Davis, Lorenzo Cain, Dustin Ackley and Nick Markakis, the average “runs generated” was about 96 (Brett Gardner of the Yankees was highest of the group, at 128). Since Bautista had 169, this means he added about 73 runs to the the team. Impressive, but incomplete.
Bautista and his 100+ walks had a lofty .403 on base percentage, far better than the league average of .316. Over the course of the season, this represented him being on base (via hits, walks or being hit by pitch) some 58 times more than an average player would have been. This would account for some of those extra runs he scored, but ignores the benefit of having innings extended. Some of those extra 58 trips to the base paths would have been a third out. By preventing the final out of the inning, he gave more batters a chance to get to the plate and ultimately drive in more. If about a third of the additional batters got to base as well, there’s another 19 or so base runners, which translates to probably 8 more runs scored.
Seventy-three runs generated, plus eight more created by extending an inning longer… conservatively, #19 tacked on about 81 runs to the Blue Jays total last year by being in the lineup. To try to determine the number of wins that added is tricky, but I gave it a shot.
Finding an exact number is impossible; if in one game he “generated” two runs for the Blue Jays, it might have meant a win if the final score was 4-3; the same two runs in a 9-3 loss would be meaningless in the win column. However, over the course of the season, the team scored 723, and allowed 686 runs- a difference of +37. As we know, they won 83, lost 79, so if 37 extra runs equalled just four wins more than losses, one might think that it took about 9 additional runs to add one win to the total. Which would still mean Jose B provided about 9 wins with his bat directly. However, the 9 runs/win was high; most teams with similar run differentials did better in the standings. For instance, division leader Baltimore scored 705, allowed (a surprisingly low) 593, for a difference of +112 runs. They won 96, lost 66, for 30 wins over. Dividing that gets a figure of about 3.8 runs/extra win. The Red Sox on the other hand scored 634 while giving up 715, a differential of -81. They went 71-91, or 20 wins below, meaning a difference of about -4 runs for every loss. On the whole, most teams in the American League seemed to benefit about one win for every 4 more runs scored than allowed. Bottom line- conservatively, Bautista won about 20 games with his bat alone. As disappointing as the season was, it’s reasonable to guesstimate that without his bat in the lineup, the Jays would have twenty fewer wins to show and would have been a last place club. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the runs he saves with the slick fielding in right field.
As impressive as that is, I think it still underestimates his worth to the team. Bautista adds an intangible to the Jays. He has presence. He’s a “name”. When CNN News did a piece on the start of the baseball season for their student news network, of all the players available to interview, it was Toronto’s #19 that they talked to for the clip. He intimidates opposing pitchers into messing up to other batters. He somehow makes his teammates believe they can do anything, hit anything. The deflation of the others hitters is obvious when he’s hurt, as we saw this past week. Even though Bautista had started the season in a significant slump, the Jays were still hitting .261 and had scored 84 runs over the first 14 games- an average of 6 runs per game. Over the five that Bautista was missing, (of which they won only one), they hit a lowly .207 and scored 16 runs, or 3.2 per game. Take an uncharacteristically cold-batted Jose Bautista out of the game and see the runs drop by almost half.
Two things are obvious from that. One, the Blue Jays need to handle their star like a Faberge egg. Two, arguably there are better players in the game right now, but none are more valuable to their team than Jose Bautista.