In his first six years in the big leagues, Joey Bats was a below-average outfielder, hitting .238 with 91 OPS+ (100 is league average).
In his first five years in the big leagues, Tyler Naquin was a below-average outfielder, hitting .274 with 100 OPS+.
See where I’m going with this?Embed from Getty Images
After the first month of 2010 (24 games), the 29-year-old Bautista had four home runs and a batting average of .213. There was still nothing about which to get particularly excited.
After seven games in 2021, 29-year-old Naquin has five home runs with .318 AVG and 1.444 OPS.
In the remaining five months of 2010, Bautista became the most dangerous hitter in the game. He finished the year with 54 homers – a total only surpassed once since (Giancarlo Stanton in 2017).
Bautista enjoyed five straight All-Star seasons, averaging 45 homers, 112 runs and 115 RBI per 162 games. He posted 156 OPS+ over those 600 plate appearances. It is truly incredible to reflect on his transformation.
The Dominican native bounced around from the Pirates to Orioles to Devil Rays and back to the Pirates, before two disappointing campaigns with the Blue Jays. Let’s be honest, no-one thought that the scuffling outfielder would become a stud in his early 30s.
After the first week of 2021, Naquin is the hottest player in MLB. The whole baseballing world is sceptical about whether it is legitimate, but why shouldn’t he become one of the most feared hitters in the game?
As well as the power and his batting eye, one of Bautista’s skills was his ability to take a walk, but it wasn’t always like this. In his scuffling years, he still struck out twice as many times as he walked.
Patience at the plate is not a virtue possessed by Naquin, as demonstrated by his 63 walks to 269 strikeouts, but maybe that is changing. In the ridiculously small sample size of 2021, Naquin has already walked four times to six strikeouts.
We don’t have batted-ball data for Bautista, but it’s difficult to imagine that it was significantly better than Naquin’s.
In conclusion, it is unlikely that Naquin’s red-hot start is the sign of a transformed hitter, but don’t disregard the outside possibility that this is the start of something very, very special.
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