Who: José Bautista, No. 19. Right fielder, occasional third baseman. Bats right, throws right. 6’0”, 195 LBS. 31 years old.
Provenance: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Drafted in the 20th round of the 2000 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Acquired by the Blue Jays on August 21, 2008 in exchange for catcher Robinson Diaz.
Tao-Approved Nickname: One Man Gang.
Contract Status: Beginning second year of a five-year, $65 million deal signed last spring. Jays hold an additional option year for 2016.
Career Stats: 885 games played for Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Toronto. .362 OBP, .481 SLG, .843 OPS. 156 homers, 438 RBI, 455 runs scored in 3376 plate appearances. Two All-Star appearances. Two Silver Sluggers. Two Hank Aaron Awards.
2011 Stats: .447 OBP, .608 SLG 1.056 OPS with 43 homers in 149 games.
Before and After: Posted an OPS+ of 91 from 2004-2009. From 2010 on, posted an OPS+ of 173.
Looking Back: A year ago, we were left wondering how José Bautista would ever follow up his 54-homer coming out party. Also, we were wondering why the Jays were planning to honour Jason Frasor because of the big number 54 on the field on Opening Day. Because we’re a bit dim sometimes, and have yet to retire our aluminum pots and pans.
What Bautista did to top it was add almost 70 points of on base percentage, and lead the league in walks, slugging, OPS and OPS+. Oh, and homers too. Again. No biggie.
For all of that achievement, Bautista became an afterthought in the Most Valuable Player discussion towards the end of last season. Baseball’s chattering class twisted itself into painful contortions in order to find arguments against his candidacy. That punditry, in an all-out effort to hold true to the sacred conventional wisdom that governs baseball’s awards season, dismissed Bautista out of hand, noting that his production “tailed off” or that he went “into the tank” after the All-Star Game. We wouldn’t classify an OPS of .893 with 12 homers in 64 games in that manner, but hey…live and let live, right?
We wouldn’t even be so impertinent as to point out that when his team needed him to fill in at third base for several weeks to rebalance the team’s defensive strengths and weaknesses, he made the shift without much fuss and vastly improved their infield defense for the month while they waited to the apparition of another star. (But more on that guy tomorrow.)
Bautista can take some comfort in a record number of All-Star votes, as he garnered almost 7.5 million ballots from fans around the world. In the space of two seasons, Bautista has evolved from a handy and perhaps underappreciated utility man into a truly transcendent star. He’s become the biggest sports star in Toronto, and one of the most recognized faces in baseball.
Looking Forward: It’s hard not to revert back to last year’s question: What next? It’s perfectly reasonable to expect some sort of regression with Bautista’s output. Given just how high he set the bar with last year’s all-around excellence, it’s hard to envision that there’s another level above that for Bautista to achieve.
It could be that the next level has less to do with personal achievements, and more to do with the success of the team. Last season’s personal development for Bautista was built on refining his game, becoming more selective at the plate and taking as many walks as the opposition was prepared to offer. If he can maintain his patience and if the lineup around him is more productive, it could lead to improvement in the most important stat of all: Team wins.
Speaking of the team, Bautista has said in the past that he believes he serves it best when he is playing right field. We wonder about this a fair bit lately, as we become more convinced that he’ll finish up his contract in Toronto playing first base. That’s not to slam his defense -- though his rocket arm helps to conceal some of his positional weaknesses – but it is more a matter of how many outfielders will begin to crowd the picture for the Jays within the next 18 months.
Bautista comes off as a proud and driven player, so could he see such a move as something that is better for the team and not a personal demotion?
2012 Expectations: We expect that Bautista will continue to produce at a level with the best players in the game. An OPS over .900 would seem reasonable, and anything above .950 would be great.
What might be interesting is how Bautista is perceived in the season’s endgame, especially if the Jays are in the mix for one of the two Wild Card positions in August or September. If he has even 90% of last season’s success while the Jays are in the postseason discussion, could he break through and achieve the individual honour of an MVP season?