Even since Jose Bautista aggravated his shoulder attempting to throw out Delmon Young in April of 2015, his once-powerful throwing arm has rarely impacted games.
Bautista has recorded fewer assists in recent seasons and advanced numbers at FanGraphs reinforce the notion that he’s not throwing as effectively as he once did. Side-arm flips to the infield became more common than the rockets he once unleashed from right field.
But in Sunday’s WBC game between the Dominican Republic and Colombia, Bautista made a strong, accurate throw home to nab Oscar Mercado and send the game to extra innings. Suddenly, there’s reason to wonder: could Bautista’s arm be improving? And if so, what would that mean for the Toronto Blue Jays?
Bautista’s throw was clocked at 88.4 m.p.h.—harder than all but two throws he made in 2016–and still hit his target. He said after the game that he could have thrown the ball harder if he’d sacrificed some accuracy.
“It wasn’t the strongest, but I purposely just tried to make an accurate one instead of a strong one because I felt like I was close enough that if I just got a quick release, and made an accurate throw, we were going to have a chance,” Bautista said.
Before the Blue Jays re-signed Bautista to a one-year deal that guarantees him $18.5 million, they were impressed by his physical condition, including his throwing arm.
“We actually spent some time with him this off-season and saw him working out,” GM Ross Atkins said after Bautista re-signed. “(We were) seeing things that were extremely encouraging. He’s a great athlete, he takes good care of himself. I would expect him to be a defender that we can rely on.”
“Our physical of him was like the physical of a player in his early career. There was nothing significant, nothing substantial,” Atkins added. “We have a lot of confidence that he’s in a very good position physically.”
Recent history suggests Bautista will have to continue picking his spots when it comes to maxing out his arm. But if Sunday’s throw offers any indication, he seems better-equipped to limit opponents on the bases in 2017.