Jose Bautista is ineffable, unexplainable, incomprehensible, and just downright hard to put into words. The greatest homerun hitter, and the most feared hitter in baseball right now has come completely out of nowhere. At the ripe old age of 29, Jose finally discovered his knack for hitting the longball, and he’s gone from a minor league player to be named later trade bait, and is now being compared to the all time best homerun hitters. Within our generation, no player who didn’t use performance enhancing drugs has come anywhere close to these numbers.
Not that we’re accusing him. Steroids have become the easy answer for things. “So and so had a resurgent season” “oh, he must be back on the roids.” It’s the first thing people claim and it’s the easiest answer. But lets be honest, there’s a very good reason for that. Coming off a decade of McGwires, Sosas, and Bonds’, steroids pretty much have been the biggest reason for impressive numbers. On the surface, people have legitimate reasons for doubting this, and after how baseball handled the steroid era, you can hardly blame people.
Last year, Bautista hit 54 homeruns. There is a select list of players who have hit 50 or more homeruns; it’s been done 41 times in history, and several times by select few legendary hitters. On one hand you see legendary names like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. On the other, you see names like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzales, Alex Rodriguez, and other names that have been linked to steroids in one way or another. You also have some players like Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, Cecil Fielder, George Foster, etc who were all accomplished power hitters for most of their careers. Nowhere do you see a name like Jose Bautista – a career journeyman who bounced back and forth between AAA and the big leagues and one season discovered how to hit homeruns like Babe Ruth. Again, let me be clear; I am not accusing Jose Bautista of juicing. I am just showing how unique of a case he is throughout the 160 year history of baseball.
The biggest thing people have a hard time with is Bautista’s age. He’s 30 years old, and all of a sudden he’s a superstar and tearing down the league like Barry Bonds at the height of his steroid career. When players turn 27 or so, they expect to improve on their careers, boost their stats, and be very accomplished players. When Jose Bautista turned 27, he had a .238 average and 15 homeruns. Prior to 2010, at no point in the Major leagues had he hit more than 16 homeruns, and he’d only hit more than 20 once in AA as a 24 year old. Now, just a few seasons later, he’s batting .370 and on pace for 60 homeruns. At a point in their careers when most players see a slight upward trend of their prime, Jose Bautista has taken that to a ridiculous level. .370 is 120 points above his career average (.250, 8 seasons, 769 games) and 16 homeruns through this point of the season ranks within the top 10 all time. His current OPS of 1.365 is ironically laughable, it is just so incredible. Once again, this does not mean he is on steroids, this is just showing the absolute historical importance of what we are witnessing.
Keep in mind, Jose Bautista is doing this in the post steroid era of baseball. Although I’m not there to collect the specimen samples myself, I understand it that eventually everybody gets tested. Players are still being caught, so at least we know to some level the testing is working. Jose Bautista has not failed a test; therefore we can’t still assume that he’s on steroids. The evidence just is not there. Furthermore, he’s a player who hasn’t really gotten gigantic. Barry Bonds looked like he was juicing and his head grew 3 hat sizes. Mark McGwire had forearms the size of an adult’s neck. Jose Bautista weighs in a 6 feet, 195 pounds. In terms of MLB players, that’s actually on the smaller size. Lastly, Jose Bautista used to be a career journeyman struggling to keep his job in the MLB. Logically, why would he wait until he was pushing 30 before he finally used them? Wouldn’t he have been using them to secure himself an MLB starting role much sooner?
In Jose’s defense as a hitter, he’s just a guy with a different approach. In the day and age of guys working the count and trying to increase pitch counts, Jose just goes up hacking and looking for a pitch to hit out of the ball park. He’s not even looking for just a pitch to drive, he’s a guy that’s swinging with everything he has every time. When he hits it, it goes a long long way. This has been helped by former manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murpy, both of whom preach aggressive approaches. According to MLB radio, rather than worry about strike out totals, Murphy preaches swinging hard at pitches and trying to make something big happen. Go big or go home, so to speak. Last year, the Jays were a potent offensive team, at the top of the AL in homeruns.
The next thing to watch for with Jose will just be how the rest of his career finishes out. Even Jays fans were leery of the contract he signed over the offseason, but this year he’s been even better. He still is 30, and he’s still only in his second or third season as a starter in the MLB, so it’s difficult to tell when this might wear out and he returns back to normal. But in the meantime, Jose looks like the real deal, and his production seems to be here to stay. Until he flunks a drug test, nobody will be able to truthfully call him a roider – despite what our instincts have been honed to believe by the last decade. Still, Jose should take it as an accomplishment. Every night, he seems to be doing what NL MVP Barry Bonds had to inject into his body at great personal risk in order to beat. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself. Rather than getting annoyed at people citing a list of PED related acronyms, maybe everybody should just realize that’s how awesome these numbers really are, and why that would seem like a logical answer. Still, for such a unique case as this is, I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues to be a tough sell for fans. But until proven otherwise, Jose Bautista really is just that good.