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Jose Bautista and 6 Other Unexpected Hitting Performances in May

Earlier today I wrote about seven pitchers who had unexpectedly wonderfully productive months of May. Now, I want to look at seven hitters who had similarly unexpected months of May themselves for one reason or another. Some of these players had their most productive offensive month in years, some are defensive minded players doing better on offense than they ever have before, and some may just be coming into their own as a hitter.

Jose Bautista – .317/.412./644, 181 wRC+, 9 HR, 21 RBI

In April, the Blue Jays had a record of 8-17 and were essentially left for dead. Earlier in the month of April, the Blue Jays had started off 2-10, and Grant Brisbee of SB Nation wrote about their playoff chances based on history. At that point, the chances are minuscule to why would you even ask? Part of the reason the Blue Jays were struggling so mightily was that their star slugger Jose Bautista just wasn’t hitting. In April Bautista hit .178/.309/.244 with a 56 wRC+ and just 1 single HR. But just when the Bautista and the Blue Jays were left for dead, they surged for an 18-10 month and Bautista smashed a line of .317/.412/.644 for a 181 wRC+ and 9 HR. May Bautista is the Bautista we are used to seeing. This was the man that the Blue Jays took a chance on for $18.5 million this season and 2 options after that ($17 million mutual option for 2018, and a $20 million vesting option for 2019). Of course, Bautista was not the only Blue Jay to rebound in May, as Devon Travis went from a miserable 1 wRC+ in April to a 171 wRC+ in May and a 95 overall on the season. Going forward for Bautista, I think we will see much more of May out of him than the April version. The Blue Jays are a talented team, and Bautista will be one of the main pieces leading the charge.

Justin Bour – .344/.427/.729, 201 wRC+, 11 HR, 21 RBI

In Justin Bour’s four seasons in the majors with the Miami Marlins, he has shown an above average ability to get on base and big time power. Although he has shown these, he hasn’t played enough games for his power to really shine through in his stats. Bour’s career high in home runs is 23 when he played 129 games in 2015. So far in 2017, Bour is hitting .287/.366/.575 with 15 HR in 52 games. A big part of that was his powerful May, hitting .344/.427/.729 with a 201 wRC+ and 11 HR. With his 201 wRC+, Bour was third in the MLB for the month behind only Mike Trout (222 wRC+) and Carlos Correa (206 wRC+). By the way that Bour has been hitting in 2017, it seems as though he will crush his career high in HR, and maybe be able to pass the amount before August rolls around at this pace. The Marlins are building a scary strong offensive core with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and now Justin Bour. If they had any pitching they would really be something.

Brett Gardner – .327/.400/.673, 185 wRC+, 9 HR, 21 RBI

Through 4/30, Brett Gardner was hitting .205/.318/.329 with 2 HR and 4 RBI. In the month of May, Gardner has more than doubled his 80 wRC+ while hitting over four times as many HR and driving in over five times the batters from April. Gardner’s May was so good in fact, that it is the highest offensive output of any month in his career by wRC+, just edging out his June of 2015 where he hit .351/.411 .622 with a 182 wRC+, 5 HR, and 18 RBI. Gardner has never been known for his bat, but more for his defensive abilities while hitting at a slightly above average level. It’s certainly possible May was just a hot month and that Gardner could be going back to normal, but by 6/2 Garner has  11 HR, with a career high of 17 back in 2014. Not only that but his 140 wRC+ on the season would easily best his career high of 112 set in both 2010 and 2014. There may be a change in his hitting philosophy leading to this outbreak in offense, hitting the ball on the ground 8% less than his career average and hitting line drives and fly balls at a combined 7.5% higher. Time will tell if this change is for real, but it’s certainly a noticeable change.

Zack Cozart – .344/.420/.594, 165 wRC+, 6 HR, 18 RBI

About a month ago, I wrote that you should sell on Zack Cozart’s hot start. After all, Cozart was never really a good hitter. From 2011 – 2016 he hit .246/.289/.385 with an 80 wRC+. Steamer only had him hitting for just over a .700 OPS for the rest of the year. What did he end up doing in May? He only hit for a 165 wRC+ and 6 HR. To be fair to, he did hit .012 points lower in batting average, .024 points lower in on-base percentage, and .002 points lower in slugging percentage than the previous month. Soooooo, I suppose I was right to say he would do worse! But actually being serious, Cozart has done almost nothing different from April to May except start hitting home runs, going from 1 in April to 6 hit in May. I still don’t believe Cozart is really this type of hitter, but he certainly made me look foolish last month.

Chris Taylor – .322/.430/.511 159 wRC+, 4 HR, 14 RBI

Around a year ago, Chris Taylor was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal with the Seattle Mariners for former first round pitching prospect Zach Lee. In 2016 Taylor didn’t do much hitting. In his MLB career, he had never done much hitting. In 2017 something seems to have clicked for Taylor, and he’s hitting a career-best .317/.414/.525 and 157 wRC+ in 140 plate appearances. Oddly enough, he is doing this with a fly ball percentage 7% lower than his career average. What has been happening instead is that Taylor has gone from a career 15.4 soft hit % to a 6.1% this season. Taylor has been squaring up the ball better than before, and that is evident by his 159 wRC+ in May. It’s hard to imagine this will continue for someone believed to be a light hitting utility middle infielder, but he has kept hitting and keeps getting opportunities. With Joc Pederson on the DL, Chris Taylor has even played a little CF to get his bat into the lineup. Again, it is unlikely the Dodgers have found their next Justin Turner, but Taylor is starting to make a believer out of a lot of Dodger fans right now.

Logan Morrison – .253/.358/.626 151 wRC+, 10 HR, 22 RBI

At this point in his career, Logan Morrison seemed like a journeyman veteran and someone who would never really catch on again as a starter outside of a dire situation. In almost 3,000 plate appearances, Morrison has a wRC+ of 107 and has been a defensive liability. This year, though, Morrison has really tapped into this power. For the season he is hitting .249/.355/.554 with 15 HR. The bulk of the home runs were hit with his 10 in May, but overall his season has been going quite well. Logan may be another case of fewer ground balls (44% career, 38.5% 2017) and putting the ball in the air more (36.5% career, 45.5% 2017). He’s also hitting for over 10% more hard contact this year than his career. Much like Justin Bour, Morrison is sitting at 15 HR on the season with a career high of 23. Both players are in a good position to not only set their career highs but far surpass them with a chance at 30 HR. To really show how good this season has been for Morrison, his career high in fWAR is 1.0, and his career fWAR before the season was 2.3 overall. On the afternoon of 6/2, he is sitting at 1.8 fWAR. Logan Morrison might have saved his career at 29 years old.

Joe Mauer – .346/.442/.531 165 wRC+, 3 HR, 11 RBI

Joe Mauer is a former MVP winner and easily one of the top two catchers of this generation, either first or second depending on how you feel about Buster Posey. The Twins wanted to try to make sure Mauer was able to stick around for a long time and be productive, so they moved him to 1B by the 2014 season and has not played catcher since. Sadly, this is right when Mauer’s decline started and has not had a wRC+ over 105 or a slugging percentage over .400 since. It’s been a pretty rough go of things for Mauer and the Twins since then. Mauer is someone that not a lot of people seem to talk about anymore, and it’s due mostly to a lack of production. But something amazing happened in May of 2017 for him. Joe Mauer hit for a 165 wRC+ in 95 plate appearances, which is the highest of any month with more than 3 plate appearances since the start of the 2014 season. His next highest before this since 2014 was a 158 wRC+ last August. Before that, it was a 139 wRC+ in March/April of 2016. While this may just be a blip on the radar for someone past their wonderfully productive prime, it would be awfully fun to watch a career revival from Joe.

 

Bobby Down, Baseline Times MLB Contributor