The awesomeness that is Joey Bats

I spend what many might consider an inappropriate amount of time on Fangraphs. Every time even the smallest baseball stat related thought comes into my mind I immediately log onto the site to satisfy my curiosity.

One of the things I always find entertaining is the search function, and namely when multiple responses come up as I’m searching for a player. You might find only one or two results come up for a very common name. You could discover the crazy number of Latin players when you go to search, say Miguel. Or you could also find contemporary all stars share the name with far lesser known players of the recent or distant past.

It’s the latter that always intrigues me when I type in Jose Bautista. In the Major League section two names come up: a pitcher who played for the Orioles, Cubs and Giants from 1988 to 1997, and the outfielder for the Jays, who if you’re a Toronto fan and watched last night’s game, probably realize is awesome.

Jose Bautista the pitcher was nothing to write home about. He finished his career having accrued -1.0 fWAR, meaning, he was pretty damned bad by Major League Baseball standards. Only once in his career was he above replacement level, when he put up 0.9 WAR in 111.2 innings for the Cubs in 1993. In that year he actually sported an impressive 2.82 ERA, though with a 5.08 K/9 and walk and home run rates that were OK but nothing special he was probably more lucky than good that year. His 4.00 FIP suggests that was the case, though 1993 marked the best FIP of his career.

In his final season in 1997, his K/9 was almost half his ERA – 3.93 to 6.66. He called it quits after that season, perhaps one or three years too late.

Through 2008 or 2009 the Jose Bautista we have all come to know and love wasn’t doing the name much better. In 2006 and 2007 with the Pirates he managed to nearly be league average with the bat, hitting to a 96 and 97 wRC+ in those two years.

When he was traded to the Jays part way through 2008 he was a below replacement level player, much like the former pitcher of the same name. In September 2009, more than a full year after he was traded to the Jays for catcher Robinson Diaz, he hit 10 home runs and was 39 per cent better than a league average batter, putting up a 139 wRC+ in that span.

Since that time he has hit 200 home runs, got on base nearly 40 per cent of the time he comes to the plate, put up a 157 wRC+ and accrued 28 wins above replacement. With a couple more solid years he may get the coveted “best player of the decade” nod (well, next to Mike Trout). Since 2010 he’s fifth in WAR, first in home runs, and fourth in wRC+.

In a fan base that seems to overrate the heartwarming role players and underrate the true superstars, it sometimes seems we take Joey Bats for granted. He’s already the third best Jays position player by fWAR, and may take over the No. 1 spot this year. He’s done that in between 200 and 600 fewer games than his counterparts atop the list.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Orioles, Bautista trails Carlos Delgado – the benchmark for Toronto Blue Jays sluggers – by exactly 5 WAR, in exactly 600 fewer games. That’s nearly four seasons worth of games.

He’s one of the very best players in the league and one of the best to ever put on the Blue Jays uniform. And though I’m loathe to ascribe much value to the whole atmosphere/attitude/leadership aspect of things, Joey Bats brings an attitude Toronto’s other superstars never brought. As much as I loved watching Delgado, or Roy Halladay or – standard hockey reference alert – Mats Sundin, those stars didn’t have the same attitude of Bautista. They were all intense, for sure, and wanted to win, but Bautista seems to possess the perfect antidote for our Canadian inferiority complex. Where the others were quiet in their determination, accepting whatever the baseball, or hockey world said because they knew what they were all about, Bautista seems to say, “no, we’re a force. I’m one of the best players in the league, and I’m surrounded by some of the best players in the league.”

That attitude was on full display last night when he took the Baltimore Orioles’ bullshit and shoved it down their collective throats. And the fact it wasn’t the first time he’s been thrown at and come back to hit a dinger just makes it that much more awesome.

Thank you Jose, for being so completely awesome. And the other Jose Bautista thanks you too, for he will come up on Fangraphs searches for the rest of eternity thanks to an unbelievable six seasons.

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