PNC PARK – Jose Bautista returned over the weekend. You might know he once played in Pittsburgh. You might be aware that he was from a fringy everyday player with the Pirates who became a four-time All-Star with the Blue Jays, a player who has averaged 38 home runs per season since 2010. It will not go down as Neal Huntington’s finest moment but could anyone have foreseen what happened with Bautista? Unlikely. I think even the Blue Jays initially batted Bautista lead-off.
Still, we love to try to learn from history in this e-space and is there anything to be gleaned from Bautista’s trade to the Blue Jays?
Perhaps it’s this: the power of a changing of scenery is underrated and not properly appreciated. And since it’s difficult to quantify it probably is inherently undervalued. The opinion is not just mine it’s what a scout told me when discussing Ike Davis’ acquisition by the Pirates. I doubt there is a better example in the modern game than Bautista.
It’s extremely unlikely Jose Bautista becomes Jose Bautista with the Pirates. For starters, he would have never met Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, who had Bautista develop the leg kick as a timing mechanism so he could more quickly get in a hitting position to attack the baseball. Bautista hit 10 homers in Sept. 2009. He hit 54 homers in 2010. And if it wasn’t for the trade, the wake-up call of being demoted then traded before roster expanded in 2008, perhaps Bautista would not have been as open to instruction.
Bautista noted the Blue Jays’ pull-heavy philosophy was an excellent match for his skill set.
“Different instruction from different coaches. Obviously after 2009, a year after I left here, my situation had gotten to the point where I was making too much money to be a back-up guy. It was either really take a pay cut or do something to change,” Bautista said. “I’m not saying that’s what did not allow me to develop here, because I really feel like I’m a coachable player, but I was more open to some of the suggestions because of that. Sometimes when you don’t see the results right away you abandon the plan. I didn’t have a choice in Toronto. It was either stick to it or get washed out.”
Bautista’s story is in part about a really smart, really talented hitter working hard, but it’s also about the right place at the right time.
Not every player is going to become Bautista with a new home. But new voices, new scenery can be impactful for players. Perhaps clubs are too patient with struggling players. Just look at A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano with the Pirates. Perhaps both parties – player and club – would be better served with quicker separations in certain cases. Perhaps Davis can fulfill his potential out of New York, surrounded by new voices, new scenery and less media scrutiny. The Pirates are hoping that is the case.
What could have been in a Pittsburgh jersey? Probably not
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. Interesting to hear Clint Hurdle discuss Starling Marte’s long-term home in the lineup on Sunday. It sounded as if Hurdle does not see Marte as a long-term lead-off hitter. (Marte was again out of the lead-off spot batting fifth on Sunday)
“I know where I’ve liked him all along, I’m not going to share it with you,” Hurdle said.
Josh Harrison led off for a second straight game Sunday.
8. Speaking of lineup construction, Joey Votto told BucsDugout’s David Manel something interesting on his theory of lineup protection. Votto believes it’s more important to have lineup protection in front of, and not behind, a team’s best hitter. This makes sense as you’re less likely to pitch around a player with runners on base. It’s more reason to find some better table-setters to put ahead of Andrew McCutchen.
7. Neal Walker batted second again on Sunday and I think it’s nearly the ideal spot for Walker. Walker had three hits on Friday and night and scored twice on McCutchen RBI hits. McCutchen should be a 100-RBI performer.
6. Jeff Locke will start today’s game. Locke has demonstrated some skill growth since the second half of last season, but as his ability to miss bats has improved his performance has declined, which has perplexed Pirates’ management.
Said Huntington on Sunday: “That’s the one thing that is challenging about Jeff is that his indicators were stronger in the second half (of last season) than the first half but obviously the results were not. The breaking ball has continued to get stronger. He’s been 90-94 with the fastball. He’s been able to move it around.”
Huntington said Lock has been 90-94 mph with his fastball and has showed an improved curveball with the change remaining a work in progress. Eventually Locke’s performance should match his true skillset. He’s not what he was in the first half of 2013 but he’s not a 5.04 ERA Triple-A pitcher either.
5. Jordy Mercer said he is working through timing issues at the plate. What’s strange about his struggles is he is not pressing, he’s not swinging wildly at balls out of the zone, he’s simply not driving the ball. So perhaps his two-run seventh inning double on Friday was a much welcomed sight.
4. The BABIP gods might beginning to smile on the Pirates…. 17 hits on Saturday night.
3. If you’re wondering where Austin Meadows is, he is still dealing with a tight hamstring, and he’s yet to make is 2014 debut.
2. Beyond Polanco’s hot start, most of the Pirates’ top prospects are off to less-than-stellar starts, including Tyler Glasnow’s two-inning, seven-walk effort last week.
1. The Pirates can’t afford both for Edinson Volquez and Liriano to revert to their less-than-stellar forms in 2014.
HE SAID IT
Bautista is still bitter about his final days with the Pirates:
“It was a relief for me (to be traded) because I knew what the (Pirates’) outlook and perspective was about me here at that time … it was not a good outlook,” said Bautista, a 20th-round pick by the Pirates in 2000. “To send me down three weeks before rosters expanded (in 2008) it was a borderline low blow. Pretty much the message is sent by making that move.
“I did not have a future here. Going anywhere else would have been better than staying here.”
STAT OF THE WEEK: 38
Number of runners the Pirates left on base during a 30-hour, three-day period during Thursday’s doubleheader in Baltimore and in their first game back home on Friday.
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK:
The Fargo series on FX is worth a watch.