Jose Bautista, Jeff Francouer, And Other American League Surprises

Over an eighth of the season is gone already. It seems like just yesterday that you were calling in sick to watch Opening Day, right? And doesn’t it seem like it was just yesterday that you were filling out your unemployment paperwork because you were fired for calling in sick to watch Opening Day? Well, that really was yesterday. You should probably put the envelope by the door so you don’t forget it again.

But the season is quickly heading into meaningful territory. Some of the flukes have already faded; some of the disappointments have already rebounded. There’s normalcy returning to the game. There are still some surprises left, though. Here are some players who have surprised, along with a reason why they could continue to surprise.

And, yes, a couple of these reasons are rooted in small samples. Of course they are. These aren’t meant to convince a non-believer -- they’re meant for you to repeat and repeat to yourself if it’s what you want to believe. Find the conclusion first, then look for evidence, that’s what I say. Life is so much less complicated that way!

 



G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Jose Bautista - Blue Jays 21 73 22 26 4 1 8 13 24 16 2 0 .356 .515 .767


Why he’s an unlikely success story:

Because he was a one-year wonder -- this generation’s Roger Maris or Brady Anderson, but with an even shorter shelf-life. He came from obscurity, had an unbelievable year, and then he was supposed to slink back into obscurity.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

People usually use BABIP as a counterpoint to the obvious. A hitter is having a season that seems a little too good? Well, his BABIP is high. A hitter is having a season that’s much worse than normal? Well, his BABIP is low. Simple.

But sometimes it doesn’t fit. Bautista had a monster year last year ... and his BABIP was criminally low -- .233, the third-lowest among all qualifying hitters in baseball. It didn’t make sense, so it was mentioned only in passing. Because the suggestion was if he was unlucky last year, then he could be even better this year. And that couldn’t be. He was too good last year to improve. I mean, if he did improve, what could that possibly look like?

This. This is what Jose Bautista looks like with a BABIP above the league average. Don’t make eye contact.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
  Eric Chavez - Yankees 12 23 4 8 2 0 0 3 3 2 0 0 .348 .423 .435


Why he’s an unlikely success story:

His bones are made of the outer shells of an Oreo, and his ligaments are made of the creamy filling. It’s a nice symmetry.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

He’s only 33! That’s still a baby in baseball terms. That’s younger than Michael Young and Paul Konerko! Alex Rodriguez and Torii Hunter! Shea Hillenbrand and Junior Spivey! Wait, forget that last pair.

Just because he’s oft-injured doesn’t mean he can’t bounce back and be healthy again. There are plenty of former All-Stars whose bodies disintegrated in their 20s only to be less fragile in their 30s. There’s Nomar G ... wait, no. There’s, uh, Edgardo Alf...

...

Alright, you know what? I’m 33. If I start thinking of 33-year-olds as decrepit shells, then I’m likely to just give up. Or buy a sports car that I don’t need. Probably a combination of the two. So I’m sticking with it. He’s 33. That’s about four years younger than you might guess, and at one point he was blessed with some serious talent. It’s not insane to think there’s some of it still left in those crispy chocolate bones.

Of course, even Randy Johnson could hit .348 over a 23-at-bat stretch, so hold off on those All-Star write-in votes for now.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Brennan Boesch - Tigers 23 76 15 26 8 0 1 13 11 12 2 1 .342 .422 .487


Why he’s an unlikely success story:

As a 23-year-old in high-A, he was a right fielder hitting like a middle infielder. He hit .249/.310/.379 with a poor K/BB ratio at a level he was too old for. Twenty-four months later, he was getting votes for Rookie of the Year. Now he’s started the year like he shared a straw with Tony Gwynn’s peak.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

The strikeouts. In the minors, he struck out three times more than he walked. He was the very definition of a modern minor leaguer type, of value organizational, but never one to get much hype. But now he’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, and that K/BB ratio of 12/10 in 86 plate appearances is quite nice. He’s not going to hit .340, but if his power numbers return to where they should be, he’ll be a fine corner outfielder.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
  Jeff Francoeur - Royals 23 91 15 30 7 1 5 19 7 16 3 0 .330 .370 .593


Why he’s an unlikely success story:

He’s become a bit of a punching bag for the plate-discipline fetishists -- a cautionary tale of natural talent gone to waste because his parents didn’t read "The Hidden Game of Baseball" to him at night. And when he crossed the River Styx of his career to join the Royals, you hoped that his agent had put a couple of coins over his eyes.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

It’s really, really, really rare to come into the majors at the age of 21 and do what Francoeur did. There’s good reason to be cynical about any success he has considering his hitting approach, but there’s some serious latent talent somewhere in there. He was rushed -- one of the rare times that you can question the Atlanta development factory -- and maybe, just maybe, he’s figured it out. He’s only 27, after all.

Probably not. But he could! If you squint and forget about those first 1500 at-bats.

Still, this this best part of the early season -- trying to find the order in the chaos. At the end of the year, one of those players up there will have continued his early-season success. Maybe those reasons up there will be why. Maybe they won’t. But one season’s Jose Bautista just might be the next season’s ... Jose Bautista. It’s things like that that make baseball so danged fun.

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