Anthony Castrovince rewrites Jose Bautista’s history

9 Comments

It’s a nice tale that MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince spins about Jose Bautista, and a lot of it is even true.  However, Castrovince is way guilty of overstating his case in this piece and Bautista’s story is good enough that it doesn’t need the exaggeration.

Castrovince’s piece suggests in multiple spots that the Pirates never gave Jose Bautista a chance.  Maybe they didn’t give him the right coaching, but opportunity wasn’t the problem.

There was the year the Pirates optioned him out in spring camp — not to
Triple-A but Double-A — then called him up in September and gave him
just seven starts in a month.

That year was 2005.  Bautista had just spent all of the 2004 season wasting away on major league benches because of his status as a Rule 5 pick.   Double-A was absolutely where he belonged, considering that he hit .242 with four homers in 195 at-bats for high-A Lynchburg in 2003 and then got just 88 at-bats in the majors in 2004.

Bautista hit .280/.359/.490 with 24 homers in Double-A (and a little bit of Triple-A) that year.  Also, Castrovince makes it sound like he was glued to the bench during the final month of the season.  He only got seven starts in September because Triple-A Indianapolis went to the International League playoffs and, as a result, he wasn’t called up until Sept. 16.

There was the year the Bucs had him back up a retirement-ready Joe Randa, and
another year they had him platoon with an equally retirement-ready Doug
Mientkiewicz.

No, there wasn’t.   Bautista opened 2006 in Triple-A and was called up to replace an injured Randa on May 7 despite hitting an underwhelming .277/.370/.426 with two homers in 119 at-bats.   From that point on, he started 101 and played in 117 of the Pirates’ 129 games, hitting .235/.335/.420.   He was no one’s backup, though he did move all over the field.

In 2007, Bautista was an everyday player.  He hit a respectable .254/.339/.414 in 532 at-bats.  That he only played in 142 games was a result of a couple of injuries.

2008 was the year Bautista was platooned with Mientkiewicz.  That lasted about a week.  It probably was a foolish move by the Pirates, but Bautista got off to an awful start both offensively and defensively, committing a rash of errors in April.  Bautista still started 79 and played in 99 of the Pirates’ 108 games before Andy LaRoche was acquired at the end of July.  That was what took him out of the team’s plans.  He was sent down two weeks later and traded to the Blue Jays a week afterwards.

Playing time and preparation led to Bautista’s ascension. In 2009, it was then-manager Cito Gaston who finally gave him the former and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy who helped hammer home the finer points of the latter. Working with Murphy, Bautista initiated a timing mechanism that starts his leg kick sooner and helps him explode on the ball.

In 2009, Bautista had 404 plate appearances, fewer than he had in 2006, 2007 or 2008.

Look, one can take issue Pirates coaching and I’ll certainly agree with it.  Bautista himself and the Blue Jays both deserve plenty of credit for what’s become of the player.

But to write that the Pirates didn’t give Bautista a chance is simply a lie.  He had 1,520 plate appearances in 400 games with the team and batted .241/.329/.403.  He averaged a homer every 31 at-bats.  He could always hit left-handers, but he was a major liability against right-handers in both 2006 and 2008, only putting together a solid showing against them in 2007.

And once the Pirates acquired LaRoche and installed him at third base, they did right by Bautista, shipping him to the Blue Jays three weeks later.

The people associated with the club back then, at least the ones not responsible for teaching Bautista to hit, deserve better than this.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.