The comparisons to Brady Anderson and Davey Johnson grew old before the 2010 season ended. Any time a player hits far more home runs than we expect, he’ll draw those comparisons. It’s not without merit, since both of those players did have one season that stood out among the rest in terms of power. But those were different times. The 2010 season was unlike the previous few seasons for one notable reason: the lack of home runs. Yet Jose Bautista managed to completely reverse that league-wide trend.
Since a peak in 2000, home runs have dipped a bit. In 2010 we saw the most dramatic slide yet.
Even in 1996, when Anderson hit his 50, the league hit 300 more home runs than in 2010. In fact, 2010’s total is the lowest the league has experienced during a full season since 1993. That Bautista’s home-run total rose drastically while the rest of the league’s dropped off seems like a significant detail when evaluating his performance and his fresh five-year, $65 million contract.
In the wake of the signing, both David Gershman and Bill Petti of Beyond the Boxscore compared Bautista’s season to Rich Aurilia‘s 2001. The comparison makes sense on a number of levels, since Aurilia had a similar track record before his breakout. Both of their breakouts came at the same age. The caution is that Aurila crash-landed after that season and was never again worth more than 2.9 WAR. Yet I can’t put too much weight into that comparison, because of the information above. Aurilia’s breakout came at a time when major leaguers were slugging homers at record paces. Bautista’s breakout came when homers were at a 15-(full)year low.
This isn’t to say that Bautista will hit 50 home runs again. Chances are, he will not, but that’s not necessarily a reflection of him as a player. Since 1901 there have only been 42 instances of a player hitting 50 or more home runs in a season, and only 10 players have done it more than once. But the list contains few flukes. Even among the one-timers, there are more sustained successes than flukish seasons. If we’re pointing to Brady Anderson and Rich Aurilia as examples of why Bautista won’t continue to succeed, we also need to look at others who have done what he did and have produced fine numbers afterward.
There are certainly some curiosities to Bautista’s 2010 season. That’s going to happen any time a player goes from hitting around 15 home runs per season to hitting 54. But there is also evidence, starting with Bautista’s 10-homer September 2009, that suggests he might have finally found his swing at age 29. Given the context of the league-wide drop in homers, I think that Bautista’s 2010 might be more real that we might give him credit for.
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