Jose Bautista never expected to become a prolific home run hitter.
It just seems that whenever he makes contact, the ball has this funny tendency to sail over fences.
Entering last night’s game in the Bronx, Toronto’s Bautista was pounding one homer in every 9.7 at-bats since 2010. Quite a jump from 29.7, which was his rate from 2004 to 2009.
“It’s more of the timing of everything,” the major-league leader in homers said before crushing his 19th jack in a 7-3 win over the Yankees. “I start way earlier and I’ve been talking about that for the last two years. It has created a night and day difference because I can get myself to that good hitting position consistently - see the ball better and attack the ball before it gets too deep in the strike zone and those good hitting counts, it’s no joke.
“You can look up historically when people are hitting 2-0, 3-1 counts batting average and power production is way better than 0-2 or behind in the count."
The numbers certainly tell the story. After facing those counts, Bautista is hitting .435 with 17 home runs and 37 RBIs since the start of last season.
Also telling the story is the difference in Bautista’s on-base percentage from last year. It currently sits at .500 after being .378 and that is the by-product of improved patience.
“I haven’t really changed much,” said Bautista, who also leads the majors with 45 walks “It’s just that I’m more patient and that’s allowing me to get more walks and also get into more hitting counts, and that has led to a higher batting average.”
And a higher OPS. His whopping 1,316 OPS is .214 points higher than the next best figure belonging to ex-Yankee and current Cardinal Lance Berkman. Bautista also leads the majors in runs scored (39), total bases (115) and extra-base hits (88).
He's not the only surging slugger in this series.
The Yankees' Curtis Granderson has hit 30 home runs since August 14, six fewer than Bautista in that span. He is the third Yankee to reach 16 home runs in the first 45 games (Tino Martinez 1997 and Alex Rodriguez 2005 and 2007), leading to the chatter about being a power hitter.
“I’m not that type of guy, if it happens – great,” said Granderson, who is on pace for 54 long balls after never having more than 30 in a season. “It’s not something I try to do. I don’t put myself in a category like Bautista or a Ryan Howard or an Alex Rodriguez, except for the fact we’re all baseball players.”
Manager Joe Girardi, though, clearly sees the similarities.
“Bautista you saw a whole year of the same thing and now you’ve seen two months of it,” Girardi said. “Curtis, it’s been the past four months, but it was two months one year and maybe people forget. It’s not glaring how many home runs he hit last year, but then you look at his two months this year and you say, wow, he’s got a lot at this point. It’s two guys that have made adjustments and have become big power hitters.”
So now the AL home run race presently comes down to two well-adjusted outfielders in the AL East.
“After you hit a certain amount of home runs, you can’t help it and people are going to give you all that treatment,” Bautista said. “Whether that means they’re going to change the way they pitch to you or not, then that’s different but he is a power hitter and he might as well embrace it as soon as possible.”