By most indications, it appears that bat flip aficionado Jose Bautista will be returning to Toronto for the 2017 season, if not for longer after that. At 36, Bautista entered free agency hoping to score a massive payday. But like former teammate Edwin Encarnacion, he did not find the market to be as lucrative as he may have expected. Knowing that the current qualifying offer system is set to change this year may have scared potential suitors away, but in any case, the Bautista signing looks like a bargain.
By his standards, Bautista had a down year in 2016. He played 116 games, putting up an .817 OPS, with poorly rated defense in right field. However, he is just one year removed from a 2015 season which saw him hit 40 home runs and keeping his OPS over .900 for the second straight year. He has always been a dead pull hitter, something that did not change in 2016. But his hard hit rate was actually higher than ever. As usual, his plate discipline was nothing short of exemplary, as he had the third lowest O-Swing% among qualified hitters.
Considering the relatively small amount of real estate in right field at Yankee Stadium, it is easy to argue that the Yankees were too hasty in signing Matt Holliday. Holliday is set to DH with the Yankees, but his signing makes it impossible to move someone like Aaron Judge to the DH slot. If they had waited, they may have been able to pounce on Bautista for a team-friendly deal. Even if his batting average continues to plummet, Bautista’s tremendous walk rate would keep his OBP at a high level. Combined with his power from the right side, he adds a significant amount of offensive production to whatever lineup he is in.
However, incoming Holliday is also a great bounce back candidate. Like Bautista, he was hampered by injuries in 2016. Also like Bautista, his hard hit rate was in line with his glory years. His .782 OPS over 110 games was certainly a disappointment, but he did not have the luxury of DH-ing, as Bautista did 26 times last year.
In 2016, Holliday struggled to get the ball in the air, with an abysmal line drive rate of 14.1%. However, he has taken notice of the excessive number of grounders he hit last season, and is actively working to correct the issue. In an interview with the New York Post, Holliday said that a mechanical flaw in his hips caused him to fail to lift the ball. As a result, he had an extremely low .253 BABIP, despite hitting the ball as hard as ever.
Bautista may be a safer bet by virtue of his ability to draw walks alone. But he also would have cost the Yankees the 16th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. Steamer Projections have Holliday putting up an .828 OPS, with Bautista at .847. Going by the projections, he will not be so much better than Holliday that he justifies forfeiting a draft pick.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.