Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jose Bautista Goes Ballistic

On Friday night, Jose Bautista had a bad game. While it’s not a surprise for most players to have an off day, watching Bautista put up a hat trick with three strikeouts and then get himself ejected was quite a departure from the rest of his stellar 2011 campaign. At the center of Bautista’s ejection were the balls and strikes called by home plate umpire Bill Welke, a 12-year veteran.

On the bump for the Rays opposing Bautista and throwing the offerings in question was James Shields. “Complete Game James” lived up to his nickname for the tenth time this season, along the way inciting a tirade from Bautista in which he threw a bat, helmet, shinguard, and water bottle onto the field after being ejected following his third long walk back to the dugout of the game.

One aspect of Bautista’s game that makes him so exceptional is his incredible knowledge of the strike zone. Bautista’s 20.2% walk rate is by far the highest in baseball this season, a result of his ability to be selective and lay off pitches outside the zone while crushing balls in it. So if Bautista has a gripe with Welke’s strike zone, it’s worth investigating.

Fortunately,’s Pitch F/X tool allows us to pinpoint the location of these pitches in the zone, so we can tell if Bautista truly had a beef or if the frustration of facing a locked-in James Shields simply caused the best hitter in baseball to lose his cool.

In the first inning, Bautista’s ugly night started when he struck out without taking the bat off his shoulder, watching a fastball on the outside corner for strike three. Bautista turned around to Welke after the called third strike and expressed his displeasure with the call. However, Pitch F/X suggests the pitch, labeled pitch 6 in the linked image, caught the outside corner. Looking at these graphs can get a little confusing, but the thing to remember is that they’re all from the perspective of the catcher, so a pitch on the right corner is outside to a righty like Bautista. If Pitch F/X is to be believed, score one for Welke (and Shields).

In the third, Bautista struck out swinging on three pitches, Shields finishing him off with a curveball just below the zone. Pitch F/X suggests Bautista chased strike three, but with two strikes that’s not a pitch that he can lay off. His frustration was evident as he returned to the dugout having logged his 16th multi-strikeout game of the year in only the first three frames.

The final straw for Bautista was his 7-pitch at bat that concluded with a curveball on the outside corner. Bautista swung through the pitch for his third strikeout of the evening. He walked back to the dugout, swung his bat against the wall and began to throw anything within reach onto the field, all the while jawing at Welke, who sent him to the showers in short order. Once again, Pitch F/X appears to show that Bautista’s frustration was entirely of his own (and Shields’) creation, as Welke’s strike zone remained consistent to what he’d been calling all night.

The best hitter in baseball had an off night. Bautista’s become unaccustomed to nights like his game on Friday. He’d blame Welke’s strike zone, saying his displeasure was a result of his receiving unfair treatment from the umpire. Pitch F/X tells another story, however, as Bautista’s rough day appears to simply be a consequence of yet another dominant performance from Complete Game James.

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