Jose Bautista, home run king?

Last night Jose Bautista hit his MLB-leading 17th and 18th home runs.  Bautista is on pace to not just replicate, but obliterate, last year’s 54 home run season. Not bad for a guy who, before last year, hit only 16 home runs in a season (2006).

To put that in perspective, the Brewers’ best slugger, Prince Fielder, is sitting at 10 home runs.  In fact, Fielder has only approached Bautista’s eye-popping home run total twice, in 2007 (50) and 2009 (46).

Fielder and Bautista were both slated to hit free agency after this season, but Bautista, unlike Fielder, signed what most now view as a team-friendly 5-year, $65 million extension that will keep him a Blue Jay until 2015.  Fielder is reportedly looking for a $200 million payday.

Baustita is well on his way to a historic campaign.  Through May 22, some of baseball’s top single-season sluggers put together only slightly better home run totals.  Barry Bonds, for example, hit 24 by this time in 2001; incidentally, Bonds absolutely demolished opposing pitching in mid-May of that year, knocking out 9 in the preceding days.  He would end the season, of course, with 73, topping Mark McGwire’s 70 in 1998.  McGwire had socked 21 by this time in that season.

Historic home run totals are still possible even with a slow start.  Sammy Sosa, who would go on to challenge McGwire for the season record in 1998, had hit only 9 by this time in that year.  And Roger Maris, whose record stood for 37 years, was only 7 home runs deep into his 61-run season by May 22, 1961.

Consider, though, that many of the sluggers just named are either suspected or admitted dopers, and the true significance of Bautista’s numbers becomes clear.  Bautista, simply put, is putting up historic home run totals in perhaps the most pervasive testing period in major league history.

What’s more, he’s doing it in “years of the pitcher,” when batting averages and power numbers are down all over baseball.  Yet here is Bautista, who just keeps hitting.  It should be fun to watch.

And maybe this year the MLB will deem him worthy of playing in the home run derby.

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