Friday, October 1, 2010

The sudden rise of Jose Bautista

Jose Bautista had to spin out of
the way of a Jose Mijares pitch
in the ninth inning Thursday.
Bautista homered later in the at-bat.
Jose Bautista hit his 53rd and 54th home runs of the season Thursday night.

There is little in his history to foreshadow this. He will turn 30 in a couple of weeks, and entering the season had 59 career homers in 1,753 at-bats, or about one dinger every 30 times up. This season, it's almost one homer every 10 times up.

He was regarded in his minor league days as a decent power prospect, but nothing like this. In a weird 2004 season, he pinballed through baseball's dreg organizations — Pittsburgh to Baltimore to Tampa Bay to the Mets to Kansas City and back to Pittsburgh — in a complex series of transactions rooted in the Rule 5 draft. Everybody had a shot at him, and ultimately nobody thought he was worth the roster space.

When he finally stuck in the majors, it was as a multi-position quasi-platoon player.  He was considered too flawed (specifically being strike-out prone) to play every day.

Until now.

Bautista's explanation for his emergence: a technical change in his swing late last season, when he bopped 10 homers in September. Another factor may be that Toronto manager Cito Gaston stopped shuffling him in and out of the lineup and, to a lesser degree, from position to position.

Yet another factor: Improved plate discipline. Entering this season,  it took him more than nine plate appearances to draw a walk; this year, less than seven.

Yeah, I know. I haven't raised the steroid specter. I won't. Baseball history is filled with fluke seasons and sudden emergences; I need more reason to accuse somebody of unethical practice than a better-than-expected season.

I doubt Bautista's a good bet to replicate his magic 2010 season next year. But I tip my Twins cap to him for what he's accomplished. There has to be room in the game for the unexpected and the inexplicable.


  1. If Jose Bautista was hitting all these home runs without drawing close to 100 walks, then I might be suspicious. But he has 99 walks, and I believe only 2-3 of them are intentional. His improved discipline at the plate certainly has helped, and maybe sometimes hitters just start seeing the ball much better for one reason or another.

  2. Looks like his career year... He will parlay this into several years of multi million dollar incomes.