Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jose Bautista Is Early MVP

Can we put the "Jose Bautista's 2010 season was a fluke" stories to rest now? Yeah, you could say that. The season is early and the sample size small, but Jose Bautista is ruling the world. What offensive category do you want to look at? Jose Bautista is there. He's third in the majors in batting average. He's first in on base percentage. He's first in slugging. He's first in homers. He's first in wOBA. He's first in wRC+. And he's first in WAR. In many of those categories, nobody is even close.

Everyone focused on Bautista's homers last year. But even more of a surprise was his patience at the plate. If he didn't get his pitch, he wasn't going to swing. He walked one hundred times last year and only two of those walks were intentional. Which leads to the question of why teams pitch to him. He's only received one intentional pass this year. But the point is, Bautista has become a terrifically selective hitter. The only knock on his season last year was his batting average of .260. That fairly mundane batting average was almost directly related to his BABIP (batting average on balls in play). His BABIP last year was an amazingly low .238. This year, his balls in play are finding the ground and the batting average has responded accordingly. He is also hitting more line drives this year, which helps tremendously.

Jose Bautista has played 31 games so far and already has 13 homers. He's already walked 35 times and has struck out only 19 times. JoBau has also scored 39 runs and has driven in 23. His walk to strikeout ratio is double what it was last year. If you can believe this, his home runs to fly ball percentage is actually up from last year. Last year, 21.7 percent of his fly balls went over the fence. This year, that figure is up to 27.7 percent.

Bautista is in the perfect home ballpark for this blossoming of his career. His home/road splits last year showed his home OPS at 1.118 while his road OPS was still a respectable .879. There is still a disparity for the slugger at home. His OPS at home this year is an obscene 1.667. But his road OPS is still otherworldly at 1.091.

Last night began as a tough night for Bautista. Playing in the spacious Twins' home park, he had gone hitless in  five plate appearances with a walk. The game was still tied going into the top of the eleventh inning. Corey Patterson hit a single to start off the inning. The Twins immediately pulled Glen Perkins and replaced him with Jim Hoey. That ended up haunting Gardenhire as Bautista then hit a mammoth shot to the opposite field, only his second opposite field homer in the last two years. Both have been in Minnesota. Hoey was obviously rattled by the homer and walked the next two batters. That led to a six-run rally, all started by Bautista, and sunk the Twins. It was a typical reminder of just what Bautista can do to destroy a team in any given game.

There were debates before the season started if Bautista should play third base. The Blue Jays have struggled at that position. The Blue Jays finally decided to leave their best player in right field. It was the right decision. And not only is Bautista delivering at the plate, he's turned himself into a really good right fielder and his defensive metrics are fantastic this year. Not only is his UZR impressive, but his arm and arm accuracy rate at the top of the charts in the Fans Scouting Report. Bautista is the complete package for the Blue Jays.

This Fan doesn't blame the skeptics who believed Bautista's season last year was a fluke. The guy came out of nowhere to put together a monster season. Watching him play last year, you could just see that Bautista had figured something out and that he was as confident as any player could be. His performance when watched put to rest any kind of doubt about how good this guy was. He is even better this year. There is a lot of season left to go, but judging from what Bautista has done so far, last year looks more like the new norm than any kind of fluke. And it sure is fun to watch.

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