The legacy of Jose Bautista is one that fans of the Toronto Blue Jays should look back on fondly should he indeed depart via free agency.
Much of the talk surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays continues to be focused on the future of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Many feel as though one of the two will be back, and it likely is not Joey Bats. There are numerous arguments for this line of thinking, which we’ll get into, but they all add up to the likely departure of one of Toronto’s most prolific hitters and personalities.
Our William Wilson argued that the legacy Jose Bautista leaves behind is complicated; that it is full of just as many negatives as positives. Will argues that perhaps it is not a terrible thing if the club doesn’t bring back the former homerun king.
What follows is an argument that, should he depart, Jose Bautista will leave behind a simple legacy- one that deserves recognition on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.
After being obtained via trade in 2008, Jose Bautista looked to be just another footnote in the history books…if that. But, something happened. Then manager and hitting coach, Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy saw something in Bautista’s swing that they liked. With some tweaking, Bautista came on strong in the last part of the 2009 season, hitting 10 home runs in the month of September. He would keep that pace going in 2010 when he hit 54 home runs to lead the league. He led the league the following year with 43 in arguably his best season at the plate. He was worth 8.1 WAR that year!
This power surge turned into an extended period where Bautista was one of the most feared hitters in the game that most baseball fans around North America knew nothing about. Because he played in Toronto, and the team was spinning its tires, Bautista would not get the spotlight that his performance would normally command.
Yet, over the last 7 years, all he’s done is climb the Blue Jays’ leader board. Currently, he sits in second place on the club’s all time list with 265 homers. He is 5th with 701 RBI. The fact is that he climbed this list in a short period of time is perhaps why we often have to be reminded of just how good he’s been. You would expect franchise leaders to have been with the organization for many years. Bautista hasn’t, really.
Now, William points out that, while he has achieved a lot in a Blue Jays uniform, Bautista is a player in decline. That is especially true when it comes to his defense. And, there is something to be said for that. It’s true. If his -8 DRS and -9.3 UZR/150 aren’t enough to convince you, the eye test certainly would. He has not looked great out there. If he presents value to a club, it will be with his bat. His overall numbers have declined in 2016. But, there is reason to remain positive about him as a hitter.
If you check Fangraphs, you see a guy who has become more selective at the plate. He swings at slightly fewer pitches and far fewer outside the zone than he did in 2011. He’s actually making much more contact on pitches in the zone than he did that year, too. Now, his walk rate is down and his K rate is up from that season. All of this suggests that, perhaps, Jose has fallen victim to relying on that eye of his.
Even if that isn’t true, we can’t discount the fact that he was injured for a lot of this season. He played in just 116 games thanks to a bout of “turf toe”. Will suggests that he’s missed significant time in 3 of the last 6 years. But, we should acknowledge that 2014 and 2015 saw him play 155 and 153 games respectively. He has had some odd injuries like a torn tendon sheath in his wrist as well as this season’s malady. But, it would be inaccurate to paint him as an injury prone player who we should worry about as he ages. Age takes us all, but we can’t say that Bautista’s injuries compound the problem.
But, this isn’t about his performance, really. It is about his legacy. Will points out the issues regarding Jose’s personality. He cites the ‘shaking in his boots’ comments ahead of Game 5 of the ALCS as a moment where Bautista showed his colours to be less than desirable. Given how the game turned out, the comments just look silly. As well, you can go back to Spring Training and take his contract comments about ‘hometown discounts’ as a sign of his arrogance. His Bat Flip was the source of much ire this season. Heck, his arguing of balls and strikes are certainly annoying.
But, let’s stop for a second before we vilify him. All of these examples can be explained by passion. That might sound like a cop out, but can we really judge an individual on how they handle their emotions? If I had hit that home run in the ALDS, I would have been worse than Joe Carter hopping around the bases. I would have stopped to hug every Ranger I passed on the basepaths. As for his comments, can we really be surprised that he would say things like that when media ask him specific questions? At this point, we know what to ask him to get a certain type of response.
In all honesty, complaining about strike zone and contracts alike, come down to the fact that Jose Bautista has never been given the respect he deserves. Yes, his first contract was very respectful, but he was doubted when that was signed. Only Anthopoulos actually believed he was worth it. He’s been having to prove himself from the beginning. And, when he tries to assert himself, he becomes the target of even more negativity. It is so ridiculous to tell him to shut up and play the game. He has been and he hasn’t been given the credit he deserves.
That is why Jose Bautista’s legacy is not that complicated. He’s earned his place on the Level of Excellence for what he has done in a Blue Jays uniform. You could argue that George Bell telling people to kiss his purple butt is way worse than anything Bautista has said. All he’s done is mash his way into the Toronto Blue Jays record books, given us reason to cheer, provided us with iconic moments and asked for a little respect around the league. That’s not complicated at all.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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