Fantasy Baseball: Jose Bautista Is Being Undervalued
There's no doubt Jose Bautista's 2016 season is one he'd like to forget. Between injuring his knee, missing major parts of the season, and a decrease in his power numbers, last year was the worst season of his career since he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008.
It's the reason -- along with his age -- Joey Bats couldn't find a lucrative free agent deal this offseason and why he decided to re-sign with the Toronto Blue Jays for one year at $18 million. It's also the reason his current FantasyPros Average Draft Position is 88th overall, 23rd among outfielders. In a 12-team league, that would mean he's getting drafted somewhere in the 8th round.
But is a Bautista renaissance coming in 2017? Is the 36-year-old ready to bounce back and re-establish himself as one of the great monster mashers of the game? And if so, shouldn't his ADP start coming down?
All you have to do is watch his performance so far this spring to see why the old Bautista -- rather than an old Bautista -- is going to make his return in 2017. Here he is blasting a long opposite-field home run against the New York Yankees when he was still in Blue Jays' camp earlier this month.
#PorSiTeLoPerdiste: @JoeyBats19 se hace sentir en el #EntrenamientoPrimaveral. ðŸ’ªðŸ‘Š #LasMayores #MLB https://t.co/nlcHk7Mlia pic.twitter.com/66YbysWZ9X
â€” LasMayores (@LasMayores) March 4, 2017
Over the last few weeks, Bautista has been making noise with his Dominican Republic boys at the World Baseball Classic. Here he is, straight-up murdering one of the poor seats in the left-field stands.
.@JoeyBats19's HR was all the insurance the defending champs would need to notch their 1st W of the #WBC2017! âš¾ ðŸ‡©ðŸ‡´âš¾ pic.twitter.com/WzVKAKf9Oj
â€” MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) March 10, 2017
That one went 403 feet. That'll play.
And while, for fantasy purposes, we really only care about his bat, his defense so far this spring is showing he is feeling better physically, too.
These are not the signs of a man in rapid decline. These are the signs of a man cheesed off about hitting a meager 22 home runs in 2016, with a batting average of .234 and a slugging percentage of .452 -- all career lows since 2009.
The worry heading into this season was whether Bautista's lackluster 2016 numbers were the result of a freakish knee injury that occurred when his cleats got stuck in the magical carpet of the Rogers Centre, or if it was truly because he was hurtling toward his late-30s. If this spring is to be believed, it ain't the age.
He actually cleared up that worry last season, raking down the stretch and proving his knee ailment was a thing of the past. Bautista started to look like his old self over the season's final two months, slashing 255/.381/.467 in that span. He ended the year with a career-best 41% hard-hit rate, and his hard-hit rate in the second-half was a pristine 44.9%. He also maintained a 16.8% walk rate last year, his highest since 2011.
Despite projections around the industry, including ours, being pretty conservative on his 2017 output, he's still a nice value at his current cost. In our numberFire projections, Bautista is ranked as the 32nd outfielder with an nF fantasy score of 2.84. Some of the outfielders that ranked ahead of him include Lorenzo Cain, Jose Ramirez, Gregory Polanco and Khristopher Davis.
Joey Bats probably should be taken before all of those guys. We project him to hit .244 with an .844 OPS, 30 dingers, 91 RBI's and 82 runs scored in 590 plate appearances. No, he's not going to steal any bags for you, but the power should return. If he gets back to his old territory -- he averaged 38 jacks, 105 runs and 109 RBI's in his two seasons prior to last year -- he'll be a massive steal.
The eighth round is far too late for Bautista to be selected in a 12-team fantasy draft, especially in a weaker-than-normal outfield class. He should be going at least a round sooner, perhaps two, and he's certainly someone to target in your season-long drafts this month.