Monday, May 2, 2011


Tomorrow, while the Blue Jay team golfs and suns themselves...or whatever it is millionaires do in Florida in May...back in this country we will by all reports be witnessing an overhaul of our parliament. While I could give a shit about politics in general - my leanings would be somewhere between libertarian and anarchist, though not very ideologically grounded either way - I have spent about 98% of my life swimming through a sea of Orange, and I'm curious to see how giving my acquaintances/friends/family a political say I honestly thought they'd never see will actually work out.

Of course, the main reason this election has captured the imagination, for someone so disinterested in the system as myself, is that the Orange surge follows such a traditional baseball storyline. See: Colorado Rockies, circa September 2007. Underdog comes from nowhere to take down eternal incumbent (or incumbent opposition, in this case - just as it was the Wildcard and not the West that was won on this day): everyone goes apeshit for awhile, then the Cinderella run ends either with a win or a loss and everything goes back to normal.
Now...if I delve any further into this line of thinking it will no doubt devolve into some meandering search for unity in my ideology as I question if it is really possible to affiliate oneself with a baseball team run by a cold corporation but not our democratically elected governing body...initiating system crash, end of blog, end of fanhood, baseball suicide. That's some dangerous emotional ground.

So let's not go there. Instead, I want to move onto another vote that should be coming down tomorrow, if it hasn't already: Jose Bautista's Player of the Month Award for April. Jose could have cleared space on his mantle for it before this current road trip, and his numbers have only become more eye-popping since he left Toronto.

Bautista is beginning to scare me. I'm starting to worry he's never going to stop getting better. First, he puts up a .944 OPS in Sept 2009. Then he follows up a .903 OPS spread over the entire '10 first half with a ridiculous 1.099 mark in the second. Flip the calendar to '11 and a month into the season it's over 1.3. That's ridiculous. Put another way, if he can keep it up that high for an entire season? It'll be the sixth-best season of all time by that metric, behind a few of Ruth and Bonds' peak seasons. If you use BBRef's WAR instead, prorating Joey's 2.7 WAR over 156 games gives me the number 17.55, which would be several wins ahead of Ruth's 1923 season at the top of the list.
If he keeps this up, Bautista won't just be a great hitter, he'd be in the conversation for the best hitter of all time. Hey, remember when we wanted to non-tender him because $2.4M was too much for a bench player?

(For the record, I wasn't one of the ones who wanted rid of Bautista prior to last year - easy to say now, but it's true. At the time, I thought much the same that I think now about Eddy's roster spot - nothing wrong with seeing if he can develop a bit as a hitter and build up some trade value.)

The Fall has to be coming. I mean, there's no way he's this good - is there? Is there?

In a way, we've seen this tune play out before, if on the flip side of the plate. When Roy Halladay went to Single-A in 2001, he was 24 and not 28, but the purpose of the demotion was to try a mechanical adjustment. Halladay came back up, put up some decent September numbers, then had a great 2002 and won his Cy Young Award in 2003. But the fact that Mel Queen rotated Doc's arm six inches clockwise didn't magically create a Hall of Fame starter out of the ashes of a shellshocked 23-year-old. Halladay took that arm angle and did what you will with it - pitched to contact, pitched to non-contact, added pitches, subtracted pitches, murdered babies, whatever. He reinvented himself as cyborg, and calmly took on all comers until he finally became acknowledged as the best in the world at his craft.

Likewise, quickening his load did not transform Jose Bautista from Edwin Encarnacion into a right-handed Barry Bonds overnight. What's it's pretty clear it did do, though, was give Bautista room to change his entire approach at the plate. Subjectively, as observer, it seems that what the best pitchers and the best hitters do - or the best at any athletic endeavor, really - is control the game. When you throw a pitch to a Manny, you're throwing it over his plate. When you stand in against a Rivera, you're swinging at his pitch. With a great eye and a power stroke, the new Jose has managed to create his own hitting environment - one where the onus is on the pitcher to get him out, rather than the other way around. On the one hand this is pretty obvious, on the other I'm parroting every stock quote of every colour analyst in history, but I think this much is true: greatness can often be measured in psychological dominance. And Bautista has now got that in spades.

I think back to Alex Gonzalez, the first. Gonzo was a disappointment in a lot of ways (well, for us male fans at least), but he was a useful player; anecdotally, he played terrific defense, and he had a little bit of pop for a shortstop. But he never learned to lay off the high fastball that was neither a strike nor hittable, and so his career OBP barely scraped .300. Because Jose can get to every pitch - and because he doesn't chase madly - he forces the pitcher to a) come at me, bro or b) run and hide. And as evidenced by 28 walks against just 16 strikeouts (who is this guy, Joe DiMaggio?) a lot more pitchers are running than coming.
(Pic is Danny Bautista, a random Spanish politician. Not socialist, sadly. And not that Danny Bautista.)

So anyway, speaking of elections, can we get this beast an All Star start this year? I'm talking to you, @BallotsBautista.

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