Jose Bautista and 10 Surprise Breakout Seasons from the Last 10 Years
Jose Bautista is having one of the great surprise breakout seasons in recent memory. He has literally gone from an unknown to one of the American League's biggest stories.
But what Bautista has done in 2010 is not unprecedented. Indeed, it seems as though every year we have a player who busts out in some way and surprises us all.
Here is a look at the best 10 from the last 10 years.
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (2010)
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Check this out: This is my 2010 Toronto Blue Jays Team Preview.
You won't find Jose Bautista's name anywhere in it.
It's not like I wasn't doing my homework; prior to the 2010 season Bautista had a career .238 batting average and a career .729 OPS. His career high for home runs had been 16, and that was four years ago.
But out of nowhere he has come, becoming the first AL player in three seasons to hit 40 home runs and looking to be well on his way to 50.
Bautista's next home run will give him 43 on the season, which will be the same number he's hit in the last three years combined.
Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals (2009)
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Zack Greinke, former No. 1 pick.
Zack Greinke, head case.
Zack Greinke, suicide risk.
Zack Greinke...2009 American League Cy Young Award winner?
We all knew Greinke had talent, but we also knew Greinke had major emotional issues that he needed to deal with. And deal with them he did.
In 2009, Greinke had a tremendous season out of nowhere. He led the American League with a 2.16 ERA, a 205 ERA+, and a 1.073 WHIP. He allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings in baseball, struck out 242 batters in 229.1 innings, and won the AL Cy Young.
All for a team that went 65-97 and finished with the fourth most runs allowed per game in all of baseball.
Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians (2008)
In 2005, Cliff Lee went 18-5 and led the AL in winning percentage, but did it with good-not-great stuff. Then he struggled in 2006 and missed most of 2007. He came into 2008 hoping just to make the Cleveland Indians rotation.
He made the rotation, and he proceeded to go an impossible 22-3 with a league-leading 2.54 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, which had never been better than 2.75, ballooned up to 5.00, and he led the AL in fewest walks and fewest home runs per nine innings.
In 223.1 innings, he walked 34 batters and allowed 12 home runs.
Honorable Mention: Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley, Texas Rangers
Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2007)
We all knew Carlos Pena had power. We just didn't think he could do anything else very well.
By the time the Tampa Bay Devil Rays picked up the former hot prospect from the Texas Rangers' farm system in the spring of 2007, he'd played for five different teams and hadn't been a full-time regular for three years.
He never looked back.
In 2007, Pena hit 46 home runs with 121 RBI and 99 runs scored in only 148 games. He finished the year with a career-high 103 bases on balls, 307 total bases, and a 1.037 OPS.
Carlos Pena had truly arrived.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies
Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins (2006)
Going into the 2006 season, Justin Morneau was a four-year major leaguer who'd had some ups and some downs.
In his up year, he'd hit 19 home runs in 74 games, along with a .271 average and a .875 OPS.
In his down year, he'd hit 22 home runs in 141 games, along with a .239 average and a .741 OPS.
Given that range of possibility, there was no way anyone saw what was to come: 34 home runs, 130 RBI, 97 runs, 190 hits, a .321 batting average, and a .934 OPS.
And an AL MVP Award.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies (league-leading 58 home runs and 149 RBI in first full season)
Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs (2005)
The Chicago Cubs knew what they were getting when they acquired Derrek Lee from the Florida Marlins in 2004: a solid power hitter with good defense and an ability to get on base despite a .264 career batting average.
No one foresaw what took place in 2005.
After never scoring 100 runs in a season, Lee scored 120. After never having collected more than 168 hits, Lee led the NL with 199. After never having had more than 37 doubles, he hit 50.
Lee finished with a career-high 46 home runs and 107 RBI, won the batting title with a .335 average, led the NL in OPS and OPS+, and finished with an NL-leading 393 total bases.
He also won a Gold Glove.
Somehow, he finished third in a close NL MVP vote behind Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones.
Adrian Beltre, Los Angeles Dodgers (2004)
If there was going to be an award for a breakout season that no one saw coming, it would have to be named after Adrian Beltre.
Prior to 2004, Beltre had a career RSL of .262/.320/.428/.748; his 2003 on-base percentage had been .290.
His career high for home runs prior to 2004 was 23; RBI was 85; runs scored was 84; OPS+ was 114. He'd never collected more than 151 hits or 250 total bases.
And so one might imagine the sheer shock of Adrian Beltre's 2004 season, in which he hit a league-leading 48 home runs, scored 104 runs, and piled up 121 RBI. So, too, was it a shock that this poor hitter collected 200 hits, batted .334, and finished with a 1.017 OPS.
It was an amazing season.
Even more amazingly, Beltre's season came in a contract year, after which he signed a huge free agent deal with Seattle and proceeded to never put up similar numbers again until...wait for it...2010 in Boston, in his first season away from the Mariners.
Esteban Loaiza, Chicago White Sox (2003)
Prior to the 2003 season, Esteban Loaiza was 69-73 with a 4.88 ERA (95 ERA+) and a 1.457 WHIP.
After the end of the 2003 season, Loaiza went 36-32 with a 4.81 ERA (91 ERA+) and a 1.417 WHIP.
So imagine the shock on the South Side of Chicago when Loaiza, in his first year with the White Sox, broke out in 2003 and went 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA (159 ERA+), a 1.113 WHIP, and a league-leading 207 strikeouts.
After having allowed 18 home runs in just 151.1 innings the year before, Loaiza allowed 17 home runs in 226.1 innings.
Loaiza finished second in the AL Cy Young voting that year to his former teammate Roy Halladay and was traded away to the New York Yankees in the middle of the following season for Jose Contreras, one of the stars of the Chicago White Sox's 2005 World Series run.
Derek Lowe, Boston Red Sox (2002)
In 2000, 27-year-old Derek Lowe had led the American League in games pitched and saves, posting a 2.56 ERA.
So it was curious when, just two years later, the Red Sox decided to convert Lowe into a starter. Prior to 2002, Lowe had started just 19 games in four major league seasons.
Nevertheless, Lowe broke out big time in 2002, going 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA in 219.2 innings pitched over 32 starts. Lowe posted a 2.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio, allowed only 12 home runs, and put up a startling 0.974 WHIP (on the strength of only 166 hits allowed).
This first-time starter finished third in the AL Cy Young voting and actually got some MVP votes.
Honorable Mention: Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (2001)
As hard as it can be to remember this, there was a time when none of us had heard of Albert Pujols.
It was way back in 2001, and Mark McGwire was entering his final injury-plagued season for the Cardinals. In spring training Pujols performed well enough that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa knew that he had to create a spot for Pujols somewhere.
Pujols broke camp with the team and in his first three games went 0-for-9 while playing left field, right field, and pinch-hitting.
He wouldn't look back.
By the end of April, Pujols was hitting .370 with a 1.171 OPS and had played four positions.
By the end of May, Pujols was still hitting .351, had a 1.080 OPS, and had hit 16 home runs.
Albert played 161 games as a rookie and batted .329 with a 1.013 OPS, hit 37 home runs, amassed 130 RBI, and scored 112 runs. He also finished the season with 194 hits, 47 doubles, four triples, and 360 total bases.
By any standard, it was one of the top 10 seasons by a 21-year-old in baseball history, and all things considered it was probably in the top five.
Pujols won Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting behind Barry Bonds, who'd set the single season home run record; Sammy Sosa, who hit 64 home runs and 160 RBI; and Luis Gonzalez, who also came out of nowhere and hit 57 home runs.