Jose Bautista’s First Quarter

I was tempted to start this post “the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista…” I’m still not sure who this blog’s audience is, but I would like to think that, whoever you are, you know who Jose Bautista is by now. If you last read about baseball after the 2009 season, you may know Bautista as a fairly anonymous third baseman who just finished his first season with the Jays after shuttling around various organizations’ major- and minor league clubs, a strong September earning him virtually all of the 1.3 wins above replacement he’s tallied in his six-year major league career. If you paid attention last year, you probably know that Bautista hit a league-leading 54 home runs, earning 6.9 fWAR despite some ugly defense at third base, and that he finished fourth in the MVP voting.

If you’ve been paying any attention this year, you don’t need me to introduce baseball’s best hitter with any kind of descriptor. He’s Jose F***ing Bautista. He’s Barry Bonds with a human-sized head. Babe Ruth facing modern pitching. Ted Williams with more power. He’s the guy trying to make my generation forget about Albert Pujols. You may be thinking aren’t we getting a little to excited about this guy after a quarter of a season? Let’s take a look at just how good has Bautista been this spring.

Through 39 games, he’s hitting .353/.503/.827. That’s a higher batting average than Pete Rose’s best season (.347), a higher OBP than Ty Cobb’s best season (.486), and a higher slugging percentage than Lou Gehrig’s best season (.765). He’s hit 19 home runs, more than Honus Wagner, Rod Carew, or Tony Gwynn ever hit in an entire season. He’s even stolen five bases, no earth-shattering accomplishment, but more than Ted Williams ever swiped in a year.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Bautista’s defense since moving to right field has been well above average. His Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games is 14.4, which is better than Ichiro Suzuki’s career UZR/150 (11.9). His 3.5 Fielding Runs Above Average are better than any season Ken Griffey put together after 1997.

According to fangraphs, all of this adds up to 4.6 WAR, 53% higher than runner-up Howie Kendrick and almost double NL leader Joey Votto’s 2.5 WAR. This means that, with a replacement-level player in Bautista’s place, the Blue Jays would have won 4.6 fewer games in the first seven weeks of this season than they have. Rather than 24-23, 1.5 games out of first place in the AL East, without Bautista they would be alone in the basement with a worse record than any AL team except the Twins. Need a little context for those 4.6 WAR?

-After Bautista, the most valuable player on the Blue Jays this season has been Yunel Escobar. Escobar has played in 45 games, and has been worth 1.0 WAR. The most valuable non-Bautista player on the Blue Jays last year was Vernon Wells. He accumulated 3.9 WAR over 157 games.

-Ryan Howard won an MVP award in 2006 with 6.2 WAR. His second best season was 2009, when he finished second in the MVP voting. He was worth 4.6 WAR in 160 games that year. That’s the exact same value Bautista has provided in less than a quarter as many games in 2011.

-Billy Butler was the Royals’ most valuable position player in 2010. He was worth 2.8 WAR in 158 games. Melky Cabrera has been the second most-valuable Royal in 2011. He’s been worth 3.6 WAR in his career. That’s 759 games.

-Since he plays in New York, there’s a good chance Nick Swisher will be the starting right fielder on the AL All-Star team, while Bautista goes in as a reserve (they’re in an AL park this year, so fans vote on a starting DH, which excludes Bautista from that spot). 2010 was the best season of Swisher’s career. He was worth 4.2 WAR in 150 games.

-The DH who will most likely start the All-Star game, David Ortiz, has accumulated 6.0 WAR since 2008. That’s 449 games. And that’s not all Ortiz’s ineptitude- has driven in over 300 runs in that span.

-Another candidate to start the All-Star game as the AL’s DH is Michael Young. Young has won a gold glove at shortstop, accumulated 200 hits in a season five times, and batted over .300 in six full seasons. His best full-season WAR? 4.6.

-Future Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero hasn’t been worth 4.6 WAR in a full season since 2005. He’s been worth a total of 3.3 WAR in his last 195 games.

-In 2010, the Yankees spent a total of $120,825,000 to get 3.8 WAR from Alex Rodriguez, 3.3 WAR from Mark Teixeira, 2.8 WAR from Derek Jeter, 2.0 WAR from Jorge Posada, 1.7 WAR from Mariano Rivera, and 1.3 WAR from AJ Burnett. That’s just over $8 million per win from a very good group of players. Bautista’s salary this season (not just for the first 39 games): $8 million.

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