- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista and his balky right shoulder returned to the lineup Monday night at Fenway Park, and while he was not able to create much offense as the designated hitter for his team in a 6-5 loss, he at least avoided the disabled list.
My interest in Bautista in one league is so great that I told his owner to pretty much name his price for the first-round pick, but I was rebuffed. You see, the Bautista owner knows all too well that nobody finishes a season with a .094 BABIP. This is about the most obvious buy-low guy around.
Bautista, who walked and struck out twice in four plate appearances Monday -- his first after five missed games -- should return to right field later in the week, and there remains little concern that his .140 batting average is going to remain a problem for long. Bautista is still taking walks. His isolated power is outstanding. And while not everyone with a criminally low batting average on balls in play sees that figure normalize to career levels, he’s clearly been unlucky. Last season, he hit .677 on line drives and .277 on fly balls. This year, it’s .364 and .125. I’m not the least bit concerned.
For perspective on BABIP, the lowest full-season marks among qualified hitters in 2014 were by older, slower, pull-hitting New York Yankees Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira, at .231 and .233, respectively. In 2013, no-hit second baseman Darwin Barney and "three true outcomes" second baseman Dan Uggla were the only regulars to finish with a BABIP on the wrong side of .247. It’s barely three weeks into this season, and little has been decided at this point, but I cannot recall a sub-.100 BABIP in my days analyzing baseball heading into May. That’s really low.
Anyway, I saw Bautista’s at-bats Monday, and this doesn’t seem to be a long-term issue. He knows which pitches to swing at. He knows which pitches he can drive, and unlike plenty of players today, he’s able to drive them. Let’s talk about another number that looks way out of place: Bautista is hitless this season against left-handed pitching. Last year, he hit .345 off lefties with a 1.079 OPS. Please, if the Bautista owner in your league isn’t paying attention, go get him.
By the way, Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley enters Tuesday with a BABIP of .096. He’s not quite the same as Bautista, in that he doesn’t bring the same degree of statistical reliability or upside, but Utley and his short swing blasted several long drives to the warning track in St. Louis that were caught, and he seems on the verge of doubling his batting average. Bautista and Utley are followed in low-BABIP infamy by Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, Teixeira, Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta, Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, Houston Astros infielder Luis Valbuena, Seattle Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison and Yankees middle infielder Stephen Drew, with Pittsburgh Pirates slumping outfielder Andrew McCutchen 11th. Are all these fellows buy-low options? Well, to some degree they are. But I don’t have much interest in Drew, Iannetta and Morrison. Anyway, except for Teixeira, whose current batting average might stick, you can count on the others to raise their respective marks. McCutchen clearly seems hampered by a bad knee, but that’s for another blog entry altogether. Get Bautista and Encarnacion now. The power remains. And when the luck changes, you’ll be pleased.
Injury report: Monday was a darker day than most for injuries, and that was after the St. Louis Cardinals made the Adam Wainwright Achilles’ injury official. Good guy Brandon McCarthy of the Los Angeles Dodgers is also done until next year, as his UCL is torn and Tommy John surgery is needed. I’d like to see what Dodgers right-hander Joe Wieland could do with 25 starts. Perhaps we’ll see. … Colorado Rockies closer Adam Ottavino was said to be healthy when he saved Saturday’s win, but now he’s on the DL with triceps inflammation. Ottavino has pitched so well, and he could resume closing in a few weeks. For now, John Axford is the obvious fill-in, though with a sketchy past that isn’t to be relied on for security. … Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey hadn’t looked right in his first few outings, with a 3 mph drop in fastball velocity, and now he’s out with an elbow ligament sprain. In 10- and 12-team formats, I’d just move on from Bailey. … And late Monday night came word that Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes was placed on the DL with a cracked rib, something that should have been dealt with more than a week ago. Reyes is hitting .250, and his owners should have been well aware he wasn’t playing all 162. Let’s hope this is a short DL stint. Ryan Goins and Jonathan Diaz will handle shortstop but aren’t legit replacements in 10-team formats. Wilmer Flores, Odubel Herrera, Yunel Escobar and Chris Owings are, in that order.
AL report: Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez has the look of a future ace, with nasty movement on his pitches, but he still struggles with command. Sanchez is dangerous to own in shallow leagues at this point. … Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval homered and knocked in three runs Monday for the second consecutive day. That erases his first few weeks of struggling. Sandoval was removed from the game with neck pain after a diving catch but should remain owned. … I’d like to report that all will be well with Cleveland Indians right-hander Corey Kluber, but he’s been way too hittable his past two outings, including Monday. Kluber’s ERA is 4.24. He could use better defense behind him, and perhaps Triple-A shortstop Francisco Lindor is the answer, but I’d still buy low on Kluber if his owner is concerned. … Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson stole his first three bases of the young season Monday, including third base twice. He’s fast. Dyson offers nothing else, but another 25 steals wouldn’t be a surprise. … Astros outfielder George Springer also stole three bases, and offers top-20 overall upside. He will hit. Trade for him if you can.
NL report: The bubble burst quickly for Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who entered play leading the majors with a 0.70 WHIP. Then he allowed six hits and five walks to the Reds while netting seven outs, and his WHIP rose to 1.12. It’s still good, but all the command he showed in his first three outings was gone. Try to stick with Nelson for another outing or two and hope the good version returns. … Interesting line for Reds third baseman Todd Frazier. He batted officially one time but drew three walks, stole two bases and scored three runs. Bless him. … Atlanta Braves corner infielder Kelly Johnson homered Monday one day after hitting cleanup. The Braves have playing time available in left field and at third base, so Johnson is worth a look if you need power, though to the detriment of your batting average. … Miami Marlins right-hander Jarred Cosart couldn’t have done much more Monday, permitting just two hits in eight shutout innings, but closer Steve Cishek struggled and lost the game. I don’t think Cishek lost the ninth-inning role, but setup man A.J. Ramos has looked great so far. Cosart is underrated, by the way.
Eric Karabell analyzes unlucky hitters due for some fortuitous BABIP changes