No player on the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays has had more words spoken or written about him than Jose Bautista. The most surprising offensive performance in all of baseball will do that for a player. Breaking down Bautista's 2010 campaign isn't easier or harder than any other player that saw regular playing time throughout the year. Figuring out how such a player could have such a season is much more of a daunting task.
The only reason anyone believes that Bautista hit 54 home runs and had a .422 wOBA is becuase, well, he did and there's sufficient evidence to support it. The best way to explain a player with 59 home runs in 2038 career plate appearances hitting 54 in his next 683 might be to say it's unexplainable and leave it at that. You could also write an incredible in-depth analysis that explores every minutia of Bautista's career and test every theory about the ability to hit home runs against it. Problem is both acts could likely lead to the same conclusion.
What follows is an attempt to shoot down the middle of the two above options and take a look at some of the other forgotten parts of Bautista's season. Besides the obvious one, Bautista set several career high marks in 2010. A career .244 hitter at the completion of this season, Bautista hit a career high .260, besting his previous mark of .254 in his only other full season back in 2007 with the Pirates.
He was able to do so despite a .233 BABIP, easily his lowest career mark(besides his .190 in 11 games in 2005). Even when trying not to discuss his homers, it has to be mentioned here because there's no way he hits .260 with a .233 BABIP without a bunch of home runs. The poor BABIP probably had a lot to do with just a 14.4 percent line drive rate, career low 31 percent ground ball rate and a whopping 54.5 percent fly ball rate, easily a career high. Worth mentioning here, the 21.7 percent of his fly balls that went for homers was the highest in the AL and way above his 13.8 percent career mark.
The second biggest value adding portion of Bautista's offensive goodness was his 14.6 percent walk rate, again a career high and third best in the AL. The walks were less of a surprise than the homers were, Bautista had put up 11.1, 9.4 and 13.9 percent marks in the past three seasons before 2010. His .378 on-base percentage soared above the league average of .325.
Bautista showed some defensive flexibility spending 45 games at third and 113 in right field. UZR wasn't particularly impressed with his defense at either spot, but he has received high praise for his cannon of an arm in right field. UZR agrees about the arm, rating him at 6.2 outfield arm runs above average in 2010.
For just the second time in his career Bautista enjoyed significant playing time, getting into 161 games and making 683 trips to the plate. He had previously topped 140 games and 600 plate appearances just once in 2007. The playing time and excellent production gave Bautista a 6.9 WAR season, trumping the collective 1.8 WAR compiled in the rest of his career and 2009's 1.9 as well.
Bautista had a season for the ages and, more than likely, a season that will go down as the best of his career. It's not often a player breaks out at age twenty-nine in the way he did. He'll be thirty next season and his production will be watched closely by more than a few people.
Luckily, for the Blue Jays they can bring him back next season on his last year of arbitration eligibility and not have to make a multi-year commitment. He'll be in line for a decent raise from last year's 2.4 million, but the Jays won't have to decide where his true talent lies right away. If he reverts to his career norms or somewhere in between and enters free agency the Jays won't be stuck paying for 2010 beyond 2011.
That he regresses, at least somewhat, is almost a guarantee. It's been mentioned that a new swing had a lot to do with the home runs. It's also been kicked around that Bautista used some bad stuff to hit the homers as well. The latter isn't a fair accusation as Bautista has never been suspected or caught with anything, ever.
But the speculation, however unwarranted, can't be helped to try and explain the unexplainable. The steroid issue aside, Bautista's season was a reminder about what makes the game as great as it is. You never what your going to see and even when you see it, you don't always believe it.