Bautista on pace to join elite company

Bautista is on an historic home run pace, averaging a homer once every 7.7 at bats. (Jack...

Bautista is on an historic home run pace, averaging a homer once every 7.7 at bats. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

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, Last Updated: 4:23 PM ET

TORONTO -- For the first time since the club was doing parades down Yonge Street, the Toronto Blue Jays traveled to the Bronx equipped with the biggest star in the series -- Jose Bautista.

No disrespect to the New York Yankees' star-studded infield from first-to- third, but as the times are changing, so is Bautista's stature among the game's elite. He's proven himself for long enough -- since September 2009 to be exact -- and this year, there isn't a single player in the game having a better or more impactful season.

While we might not be more than two full months into a 162-game schedule, Bautista is having a much better season than last year -- when he went on a seemingly out-of-nowhere 54 home run outburst -- and would take home the American League MVP hardware if the season were cut short today. He's no longer a journeyman with eye-popping power; Bautista is a superstar.

A telling sign that Bautista has made his mark on the league came when he was booed by a baseball-intelligent fanbase every time he stepped to the plate over the three-game set in the Bronx -- for simply being a good player. In many circles, that is the ultimate compliment. And Bautista wasted little time in proving the New York faithful correct by going yard off Bartolo Colon in the first at bat he saw during the series.

There is a big difference in what Bautista did last year and what he is doing this season. He was a power-hitter in its truest form in 2010, leading the majors in home runs while batting .260. And accompanying his average was a fourth-place finish for Toronto, which gave Bautista really no chance to test Josh Hamilton for the AL MVP award. To start off the 2011 campaign, Bautista has corrected that modest .260 average into a .342 mark, while launching eight more home runs than he had after this many games (41) last season.

Bautista is on an historic home run pace, averaging a homer once every 7.7 at bats. Only two players -- Barry Bonds (2001) and Mark McGwire (1998) -- have had a HR/AB ratio under eight for a single-season in the history of the game. Not Babe Ruth, not Sammy Sosa, not Roger Maris. Bonds and McGwire, that's it. And while their home run records must be taken with a grain of salt based on their alleged and admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs, the same cannot be said for Bautista.

Perhaps the more skeptical critics will have a hard time believing that Bautista is on an iconic home run pace without the assistance of performance- enhancing drugs after everything we've learned over the past decade, but just because he wasn't a household name until fewer than 365 days ago, doesn't prove guilt. Bautista is being tested, is passing, and has no prior link to anything involving banned substances. As such, he deserves the benefit of the doubt and could single-handedly make the long-ball something to cheer about again.

While the norm might be for players to emerge in their early-to-mid 20s, and not at 29 like Bautista did last season, there is no prerequisite or textbook indicating as much. Bautista may have hit his prime later than most, but he was also given his first chance to play full-time later in his career than most stars. And a year after he was given his first chance to fully prove himself in the big leagues, he's now the face of the franchise of a Blue Jays team that is only getting better, while their star player miraculously does the same.

Bautista is the major league leader in home runs (19), runs scored (39) walks (41), on-base percentage (.492), slugging percentage (.795), total bases (116) and walk to strikeout ratio (1.71), while among the top-five in batting average (.342) and extra-base hits (27) entering play Thursday. His major league leading 1.287 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is off the charts and has him creeping into rare territory if he can keep up the pace. Only three different players have had an OPS of 1.287 or higher in a single-season -- Bonds, Ruth, and Ted Williams.

And for those who don't want to accept Bonds' 73-home run mark in 2001 as the single-season record, then that means what Sosa and McGwire did in 1998 is not the number to watch either. If Bautista is chasing Maris' 61 home run total from 1961, than it might be time to start paying a little more attention to what he's doing right now. Maris had 12 homers heading into the month of June before he went on a home run brigade for the rest of the season. It will be a tall order for Bautista to keep up this pace regardless of how easy he has made things look, but for now, he's a least given the world of baseball something to talk about.

Whether it's Toronto, New York or any other city throughout the United States, Bautista is likely to be the biggest star and storyline as he makes his rounds across the continent in search of 60 and beyond.


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