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Anthony Castrovince rewrites Jose Bautista’s history

Jun 3, 2011, 6:06 PM EDT

Jose Bautista Pirates AP

It’s a nice tale that MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince spins about Jose Bautista, and a lot of it is even true.  However, Castrovince is way guilty of overstating his case in this piece and Bautista’s story is good enough that it doesn’t need the exaggeration.

Castrovince’s piece suggests in multiple spots that the Pirates never gave Jose Bautista a chance.  Maybe they didn’t give him the right coaching, but opportunity wasn’t the problem.

There was the year the Pirates optioned him out in spring camp — not to
Triple-A but Double-A — then called him up in September and gave him
just seven starts in a month.

That year was 2005.  Bautista had just spent all of the 2004 season wasting away on major league benches because of his status as a Rule 5 pick.   Double-A was absolutely where he belonged, considering that he hit .242 with four homers in 195 at-bats for high-A Lynchburg in 2003 and then got just 88 at-bats in the majors in 2004.

Bautista hit .280/.359/.490 with 24 homers in Double-A (and a little bit of Triple-A) that year.  Also, Castrovince makes it sound like he was glued to the bench during the final month of the season.  He only got seven starts in September because Triple-A Indianapolis went to the International League playoffs and, as a result, he wasn’t called up until Sept. 16.

There was the year the Bucs had him back up a retirement-ready Joe Randa, and
another year they had him platoon with an equally retirement-ready Doug
Mientkiewicz.

No, there wasn’t.   Bautista opened 2006 in Triple-A and was called up to replace an injured Randa on May 7 despite hitting an underwhelming .277/.370/.426 with two homers in 119 at-bats.   From that point on, he started 101 and played in 117 of the Pirates’ 129 games, hitting .235/.335/.420.   He was no one’s backup, though he did move all over the field.

In 2007, Bautista was an everyday player.  He hit a respectable .254/.339/.414 in 532 at-bats.  That he only played in 142 games was a result of a couple of injuries.

2008 was the year Bautista was platooned with Mientkiewicz.  That lasted about a week.  It probably was a foolish move by the Pirates, but Bautista got off to an awful start both offensively and defensively, committing a rash of errors in April.  Bautista still started 79 and played in 99 of the Pirates’ 108 games before Andy LaRoche was acquired at the end of July.  That was what took him out of the team’s plans.  He was sent down two weeks later and traded to the Blue Jays a week afterwards.

Playing time and preparation led to Bautista’s ascension. In 2009, it was then-manager Cito Gaston who finally gave him the former and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy who helped hammer home the finer points of the latter. Working with Murphy, Bautista initiated a timing mechanism that starts his leg kick sooner and helps him explode on the ball.

In 2009, Bautista had 404 plate appearances, fewer than he had in 2006, 2007 or 2008.

Look, one can take issue Pirates coaching and I’ll certainly agree with it.  Bautista himself and the Blue Jays both deserve plenty of credit for what’s become of the player.

But to write that the Pirates didn’t give Bautista a chance is simply a lie.  He had 1,520 plate appearances in 400 games with the team and batted .241/.329/.403.  He averaged a homer every 31 at-bats.  He could always hit left-handers, but he was a major liability against right-handers in both 2006 and 2008, only putting together a solid showing against them in 2007.

And once the Pirates acquired LaRoche and installed him at third base, they did right by Bautista, shipping him to the Blue Jays three weeks later.

The people associated with the club back then, at least the ones not responsible for teaching Bautista to hit, deserve better than this.

  1. shellvice - Jun 3, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    Matthew Pouliot rewrites definition of “underwhelming”:

    A .370 OBP?

    Point is, you’re reaching here. Castrovince is one of the good ones.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jun 3, 2011 at 6:46 PM

      I agree… he’s a very good writer. That’s why I clicked on the article and one of the reasons I was so disappointed. If this was a Richard Griffin piece, I wouldn’t have cared enough to bother.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 3, 2011 at 6:46 PM

      Echoing this, a .370 OBP would have put him third behind Jason Bay and Freddie Sanchez (not counting Sean Casey since he only played in 59 Games).

      • Matthew Pouliot - Jun 3, 2011 at 6:51 PM

        Yeah, it’s a fine OBP. My point was that he wasn’t exactly busting down the door for a promotion. Maybe underwhelming wasn’t the best word to use.

    • Paul Zummo - Jun 3, 2011 at 6:53 PM

      I think Pouliot’s point is that this line was underwhelming for Triple A.

  2. cur68 - Jun 3, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    Holy PR piece Batman. Is Anthony Castrovince writing for Disney? This looks like a treatment for script or something. The feel-good tale about the poor misunderstood hero who makes good in spite of the odds. I think I saw this before in Flubber.

    Mathew is right; JB had his chances to show up and play for the Pirates. The trouble was a hitting coach never looked the kid over and noticed the good hand eye coordination in spite of the lousy plate approach. The Pirates must be just kicking themselves.

    I think Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy deserves a lot of the credit here. They got his swing re-tooled to take advantage of his excellent hand eye coordination and the rest was down to JB’s hard work. And, let’s face it, Rogers Center is pretty hitter friendly.

  3. dirtyharry1971 - Jun 4, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    still waiting for someone to hand Jose a pee cup!!

    • Joe - Jun 6, 2011 at 1:09 PM

      They do test in MLB.

  4. spudchukar - Jun 4, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    What makes the Pirates look exceptionally bad here is the choice to opt for LaRoche and move Bautista. Giving up on Bautista wasn’t criminal. Giving up on Bautista for LaRoche should be a baseball misdemeanor at least.

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