The Naked Truth: .360/.509/.816, 16 HR, 27 RBIs, 37 BB/20 K
Having a nice little Saturday: What more can you say about Jose Bautista? Dating back to September 2009, Bautista has been by far the best hitter in baseball, and a year and a half in, some writers have started to say that he has taken the mantel from Albert Pujols(notes) as the game's top player. Here's the crazy part: As much improvement as Bautista showed in 2010 compared — his OPS was 238 points higher, for starters, than it was in 2009 — he's better by even more this year. His 1.325 OPS is 330 points higher than last year's. He's leading the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, homers, walks, runs, and total bases. He's putting up the kind of numbers no one has seen since Barry Bonds' unearthly 2001-2004 — except Bautista's stats are more dominant. The proper comparison for Bautista isn't Bonds. It's the Babe.
You're my boy, Blue!: Though the early 2000s are hard to take seriously given what we know and/or suspect about the period, Bonds provides a good point of reference for just how frightening Bautista has been at the plate. Bautista has 37 walks in 35 games; no one has walked more than once a game in a full season since Bonds. (The first player to do it was Babe Ruth, who did it twice. Bonds did it five times and so did Ted Williams. In the history of baseball it has only happened four other times: once by Eddie Joost, Mickey Mantle, Jack Clark and Mark McGwire.) Barry was also the most recent player to finish a season with an OBP above .500, or with a SLG above .800. Ruth, whose career ended 76 years ago, was the first.
Joey Bats is so frightening to pitchers that they're throwing him fewer strikes than anyone else in baseball: just 52.7 percent of pitches thrown to Bautista are strikes, compared to a league average of 62.6. If he keeps that up the whole season, that will be the lowest total posted since Bonds in 2004. (Bonds was on another planet when it came to being pitched around, though. In 2004, just 40 percent of the pitches Bonds saw were strikes. Bonds received 120 intentional walks that year; so far in 2011, Bautista has received just three.) Bautista has been forced to develop the best plate discipline in the game. And when he does swing the bat, it goes a mile.
Basically, everything Bautista hits turns to gold, even though he hardly gets anything worth swinging at. In the offseason, I said that his breakout was my favorite thing about the 2010 season, and his stunning continued dominance remains my favorite thing about the present one. Saying that no one saw this coming understates it. There basically was a zero percent chance of this happening. Bautista is the first man in the history of baseball to be a mediocre fringe major leaguer for half a decade and then, all of a sudden, become the best player in the entire game.
It's hard to think of many comparable stories: Kurt Warner going from a grocery stock boy to a two-time MVP winner; Ben Wallace going undrafted after a Division II college career and then winning four Defensive Player of the Year awards; Albert Pujols going from an unknown 13th-round draft pick in Class A, to being perhaps the best right-handed hitter since Rogers Hornsby. Enjoy this, Toronto. You've got the best hitter in the world.
What other players are currently streaking?
Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets 1-0, 14 SV, 1 BLSV, 0.79 ERA, 22 2/3 IP, 2.59 FIP, 1.41 WHIP, 1.92 K/BB
It has been a tough year in Flushing, but the Mets have managed to stay near .500, and Rodriguez has saved 14 of the Mets' 21 victories. He's hasn't been scored upon in May, with a personal scoreless streak going back 18 2/3 innings; he hasn't blown a save since the second game of the season, and he hasn't given up a run since April 14.
He hasn't been untouchable — he's given up 14 hits and eight walks over his past 18 innings, along with an impressive but not otherworldly .215 batting average against — but he's certainly been effective. He isn't striking out as many men as he did when he was an Angel, and he's currently at the second-highest walk rate of his career, so his K/BB is just 1.92, the same as it was in 2009, when he blew seven of 42 save opportunities and posted a 3.71 ERA, the highest of his career. For now, Frankie's been getting out of all of his own messes, but he won't be able to stay scoreless forever if he continues walking a man every two innings or so.
Victor Martinez(notes), Detroit Tigers .315/.375/.519, 4 HR, 23 RBIs, 11 BB/12 K
Jim Leyland's unhappy about going to Pittsburgh tonight because it means he won't be able to rely as heavily on the bat of catcher/DH Victor Martinez. Victor isn't much of a fielder, but he's a hell of a hitter; he was AL Player of the Week last week, after having gone 11-for-19 with two homers and 11 RBI. Martinez has decent but not prodigious power; he has only once slugged over .500, and his career high in homers is 25.
But his career batting average is .300, he hits 30-40 doubles a year, and he has never struck out more than 78 times in a season. Even after a week that hot, he's not that much over his head; his BABIP is .323, just 11 points higher than his career average, and his OBP is just 6 points higher than his career average. Victor's a fine hitter having a fine season. Just like usual.
Todd Helton(notes), Colorado Rockies .323/.375/.548, 6 HR, 20 RBIs, 10 BB/14 K
He's baaaaaack. Actually, Helton is making a habit of these off-year rejuvenations. After 2005, which remains the last time that Helton hit 20 homers or slugged .500, his 2006, 2008, and 2010 seasons were disappointing in the context of his overall career; But his 2007, 2009, and now 2011 are much more in line with what you'd expect.
Most gratifying for Helton fans has been seeing the return of some of his power. Helton has six homers and 10 doubles on the season, which means that some of the doubles that were staying in the park the past few years are starting to clear the fence again. The second-place Rockies would love for Helton to keep it up, but there are bigger things at stake than a division race: if Helton can supply a couple more highly effective years, his Hall of Fame case — currently on the fringe, but not outside the realm of plausibility — would be a great deal more compelling.