The Man Who Was Not Very Surprised

Virtually with each home run he hit this year, Jose Bautista surprised somebody.

I’m thinking he never managed to do so with Jeff Manto. Manto is now the minor league hitting instructor for the White Sox, the latest stop in one of baseball’s ultimate peripatetic careers: 16 minor league playing seasons, 15 minor league teams; nine major league playing seasons, nine minor league teams.
I saw Manto last on a raw Saturday afternoon in Tampa, Florida – March 3, 2007 to be exact – long enough ago that Brett Gardner was wearing uniform number 91 for the Yankees, and Manto was still the batting coach of Jim Tracy’s Pittsburgh Pirates. We got to talking about his hitters, few and far between as par of Pittsburgh’s perennial tradition, but he brightened up with the mention of one name.
“If we can get him to replicate his swing three days in a row, Jose Bautista could hit 25 homers a year,” Manto gushed. “In fact, I think he could hit 40. He is just so easily frustrated when it doesn’t go right that he blames himself and forgets what he’s learned. Or ignores it. But of all these guys I have, if you want one of them who will eventually do something special in this game, I’d pick him. I wouldn’t be very surprised.”
As the numbers have piled up for Bautista, each day I have gotten a comment, or a tweet, or an email, from somebody about how his homer explosion required a nefarious explanation. I am the first to be suspicious, but there is some data that really should be considered. Normalize Bautista’s first four full big league seasons to the 562 AB campaign he’s had this year, and you produce a line of 20 homers, 73 RBI, and a .238 average. It’s not much in comparison to 54-124-.263 he’s actually managed, but it suggests the power is hardly made out of whole cloth.
Then consider a player who finished his sixth full big league seasons with personal highs of 29 homers, 121 RBI, and a .306 mark. His name was George Foster and the next year he hit 52 homers and nobody thought there was anything amiss there, even when he stepped quickly back down to 40 blasts in 1978 and 30 in 1979.
Lastly in the cascade of numbers, there were a couple of prescient ones that nobody outside of Toronto or your nearest rotisserie league noticed. Last August, when the Blue Jays shipped Scott Rolen to the Reds, a spot in the line-up opened for Bautista. In the last 27 games of 2009, he blasted 10 homers and drove in 21 runs. That production, extrapolated to a full campaign, is 60 homers and 126 RBI.
So maybe we should be about as surprised as Jeff Manto might be: Not very.

11 Comments

George Foster’s case is quite similar to Bautista’s in that he hit 27 hrs in his first 6 seasons (1969-1974). In ’75 and ’76 he went long 23 and 29 times, respectively. But in ’77, at age 29 he had 52 homers. (He was the MVP that year.) The following season he hit 40 and then 30 in ’79. But, in the 7 subsequent seasons (his last ones) he hit a total of 147 HRs, an average of 21 per season. The spike in dingers from ’77 to ’79 can be attributed to being the expected peak years for a hitter.

But Foster hit 23 and 29 HRs before jumping to 52. Bautista seems to be on a similar path, except that, unlike Foster, the jump was dramatic: from 13 HRs in ’09 to 50+ this year. And for someone who had 59 HRs in 6 seasons–an avg of 10/yr–his jump would have been funny back in the day, but this season it’s been enough to make people suspicious.

Are you more surprised that the Braves didn’t win the NL East?

You didn’t ask me, cohenjill, but I’ll butt in anyway. heh heh
Last year the Phillies were the best NL team and this season they fielded an improved (!) version with the addition of Placido Polanco and of course Roy Halladay. Yes, injuries hit them hard but I had a feeling that if they managed to recover, the NL East would be theirs. Well, lo and behold…

Does anybody remember Steve Garvey hitting 30 home runs in 1977? Does anybody remember that he had never come close to that before? Does anybody remember WHY? When Tommy Lasorda was appointed manager at the end of the 1976 season (in my youthful foolishness, I welcomed that news as a great step beyond Walter Alston–I was so wrong), he went to Garvey and said he needed to hit for power. Garvey always had gone for hits, a .300 average, and done so. Lasorda said the team needed more sock, so Garvey adjusted his swing and his approach, and it worked. He had big forearms, but no steroids were involved.

Thanks for butting in, mantlewasarockstar, and well said. I love Keith but his predicitons in the beginning of the season bugged me. Then when the Phils’ traded Happ for Oswalt Keith thought it was a wash of a trade. Phils’ are looking to match the Cards record of 3 straight WS appearances and they seem to be on their way. Has there been another team to weather so many injuries in such a winning manner? Go Phillies!

CohenJill,
The Phillies are an impressive team. And I love watching them, much to the chagrin of my Met-loving friends. (I’m rooting for them except if they face the Giants; if that NLCS comes to pass I’ll probably sit that one out. heh heh)
My team’s WS victory last year was sweeter because they faced the best team in the NL. (Sorry.) It’s not every season that the best 2 end up battling each other at the bitter end. The Phillies made the Yankees sweat and no one in the Bronx fandom took the then WS champions for granted. Hell of a team over in Philly.
Speaking of which, the Yankees had their fair share of injuries in ’09 (including the loss of A-Rod for a month) and managed to win it all, so…

Mantleasarockstar…I hope to see a repeat of the ’09 series, except with a different conclusion. I think the only way the Phils’ get respect is if they beat the Yanks. As for injuries, I believe the Phils had 18 guys go on the DL this year, including all starters except for Ibanez and Werth. It looked devastating until players like Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro kept them in the hunt. Manuel and Amaro know what they are doing, even when the fans don’t think so, i.e., trading Cliff Lee.

Manto has an eye for sluggers. In 2002, he was the manager at Class A Lakewood in the Phillies’ system (I covered the team) and he was very high on a first baseman in his first full season: Ryan Howard. Not only did he help him in the cage, but every time I see Howard scoop a one-hop throw from across the infield, I think of Manto demonstrating the move for Howard.

CohenJill,

A repeat of the ’09 WS would probably yield a different result: my team is not as imposing as last year’s version. But I would welcome that WS in a heartbeat. As for the Phillies getting respect…if the best team in the NL 3, 4 years in a row and a burgeoning dynasty can’t get the props it deserves, I dunno what to tell you. Then again, in the last 15 years only 3 teams have won multiple WS titles (Yankees, Red Sox, Marlins) and one of them can’t get fans to come see them play! Meanwhile, elsewhere in that same state, an outstanding team on the verge of capturing their second AL East banner has to give away 20,000 tickets for the folks to show up!

Oh, and explain this to me–since you seem to be in agreement with the move–was it really worth it to get rid of Cliff Lee? I mean, if the Phillies had kept ‘em they would’ve had the greatest rotation since Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz. Actually, it would’ve been better. Cheers!

mantlewasarockstar…don’t get me wrong, I was very unhappy to see Cliff Lee go. I thought the Phils were being cheap and not aggressive in trying to get to another WS. Was it genius or luck by Amaro and Co.?… we’ll never know. Cliff Lee struggled this year a bit and was hurt for a bit. Would that have happened if he was in Philly?…another unknown. Getting Halladay, getting Oswalt and having Hamels come back to ’08 form all are important to the success of this year. I hope it continues.
Go Phils!

kLPtPX I’m not easily impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

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