The expression on David Price’s face on April 22 as he watched Jose Bautista’s latest masterpiece sail over the centre field wall is an expression echoed by MLB players and fans alike. Last season’s Cy Young award runner-up struck an expression of disbelief when he watched the ball disappear into the Rogers Centre seats as Bautista improved on his scorching pace of last season.
A career .250 hitter with only 129 home runs spanning eight major league seasons is generally not the player that instils fear in the MLB’s best pitchers, but Bautista is not your average .250 hitter. Slapping three home runs in the pitcher friendly Target Field last Sunday may have ignited a recent media frenzy, but the buzz around the Majors this year is that Bautista is back and better than ever.
As of May 17, Bautista is tied for the league lead in walks with Joey Votto, while leading the Majors in average, home runs and seemingly every outrageous sabermetric category, despite missing eight games in the young season. As the engine that makes the Jays offense go, Jose Bautista rarely sees good pitches yet he continues to turn heads as fast as he compiles mid-season MVP votes.
Since September 7 2009, Bautista is leading the MLB with 80 home runs – 28 more than the immaculate Albert Pujols and veteran Jim Thome who are tied for second. This kind of home run pace has been missing from the MLB since the pre-Mitchell Report days of chemically enhanced home runs.
Along with Bautista’s unprecedented numbers, he has quickly evolved into a strong veteran presence for the young Jays and a leader in the clubhouse. Bautista can be seen discussing mechanics and approach in the dugout with his teammates, while off the field he is a breath of fresh air for Spanish-speaking Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar. For all the forgettable moves former Jays manager J.P Ricciardi made over his tenure, flipping minor leaguer Robinson Diaz to the Pirates for Bautista is the feather in his cap.
With Bautista’s days of being a utility fielder long behind him, the Jays have found solace in their five-year $65-million contract they doled out to him in the off-season. Not only has Bautista developed into the biggest bargain in the Majors, he has also taken his game to the next level, earning him the title of the league’s most feared hitter.