Jose Bautista extended his major league lead in homers on Friday night with a pair off of A. J. Burnett. Bautista now has 18 homers and has driven in 45 runs. His slugging percentage before the game was sitting at .584, so he has to be over .600 now. Bautista has hit homers fairly regularly in his career, but nothing ever like this. The Fan was watching the game and the second homer he hit was on a high and inside 94 MPH heater. Bautista was lightning quick as he turn on it and sent it high into the third deck in left field at the SkyDome (nope, sorry...not going to call it the Rogers Centre). The thing about all of this is that it doesn't feel like a fluke and the stats don't look like a fluke. He's within his career norms in every other way (except his OBP is up). Some guys are late bloomers and at 30 years of age, Bautista just might be one of them.
Bautista was drafted by the Pirates ten years ago in the 20th round. So he's beaten a lot of odds in his life. First, his talent got him out of Santo Domingo. Then he was a low draft pick who rose quickly through the minors. Then he played for four different teams in 2004 (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Kansas City - the four worst teams in the majors that year). It was one of those Rule V situations where the Orioles claimed him, didn't keep him on the roster, the Bay Rays (then the Devil Rays [shiver]) picked him up, sold him to the Royals who traded him to the Mets who traded him to the Pirates, his original team. Whew! That must have been a lot of fun for a 24 year old guy.
His first real playing time was 2006 for the Pirates when he got 400 at bats and hit 16 homers. He only hit .235 though. The one thing weird about 2006 was that he was hit by 16 pitches. Ouch! In 2007, he hit 15 homers in 532 at bats but his average went up to .254. He hit 15 more homers in 2008 combined for the Pirates and the Blue Jays to which he was traded in August of that year. But his averaged dipped again to .238. He only got into 117 games with the Blue Jays last year and managed only a .235 batting average. But his 13 homers and 40 walks in that short amount of time gave him an OBP of .349, easily the best of his career. It also pushed him over 100 in OPS+ for the first time ever too.
Then this year, he has exploded. He still doesn't hit for average (.254 entering Friday), but his OBP is a solid .370. Before this year, Bautista averaged a homer every 29 at bats. This year, he homers once every 10.7 at bats. Obviously that is Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth territory and he isn't going to keep that up. But it wouldn't be surprising for him to hit 35. The Fan seems to remember a story about him where his hitting coach simplified his approach and took a lot of the movement out of his set up and swing. It's very possible that a long time flaw was detected and this is the real Bautista.
What is obvious is that Jose Bautista has become a lot of fun to watch and it will be very interesting to see how he does the rest of the year. This Fan hopes he keeps raking.