In 1987, George Bell hit 47 home runs and smacked 134 RBI en route to the American League MVP Award. To this day, he is the only Toronto Blue Jay to accomplish the feat.
26 years is a long time for a franchise. Since Bell won the award, the Blue Jays have seen two World Series championships, followed by 19 consecutive years without a postseason game. Although hopes surrounding the 2013 edition of the Blue Jays are as high as they have been since the early 1990s, do they have a player on their roster that can compete for the ultra-competitive AL MVP award?
Though riddled with talent up and down their lineup, Jose Bautista currently stands as the Blue Jays favorite to win MVP. He is going to have some stiff competition from Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, but Bautista deserves some recognition as well.
In the past 10 years, 19 out of the 20 winners have been position players, with the lone exception being Justin Verlander in 2011. Assuming this trend continues, that means the award is more likely to come from somewhere in the field and not from the recently renovated Toronto pitching staff.
However, this is by no means a guarantee, as pitchers can, and do, win the prestigious award. It’s merely an extremely small weight tipping the scale in Bautista’s favor.
In 2010, Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs and recorded 124 RBI by the season’s end. The power he displayed was certainly strong enough to warrant MVP consideration, but great seasons by Hamilton, Cabrera and Robinson Cano relegated him to fourth in MVP voting.
The following year, in 2011, Bautista silenced the critics who thought he was a one-year wonder by hitting 43 home runs, but he saw his RBI total drop to 103. Although there are a number of reasons for the decline, the biggest one was that he did not have a good enough team to support him.
Opposing pitchers knew how good he was and pitched accordingly. He was not sneaking up on anyone, and the rest of the team was not good enough to capitalize. Bautista finished third in MVP voting and was named to his second All-Star game.
In 2012, he was surrounded by a better cast of players, but fell victim to the injury bug that plagued the Blue Jays last year.
By all accounts, Bautista is healthy and ready to compete in 2013, but with one major difference: He now has the right set of players around him that will allow him to turn a good team into a great team.
With the likes of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera hitting ahead of him in the order, his home runs are less likely to be solo shots and more likely to rack up multiple runs for the Blue Jays. His RBI total will increase, and his MVP stock will rise as well.
With Edwin Encarnacion batting behind him, teams will have no choice but to pitch to Bautista. This will allow him to exercise the increasing patience he has developed at the plate.
From 2009 to 2011, Bautista increased his walks per game from 0.49 to 0.62 to 0.88. His batting average jumped form .235 to .260 to .302, and his OBP rose from .349 to .378 to .447.
Incremental increases across the board are an unlikely trend to break, especially when receiving more support from teammates.
But winning an MVP award is not just about putting up the best statistics. Although it may sometimes seem that way, the MVP award was originally designed to recognize the “most important and useful player to his club and to the league."
In order to win the award, Jose Bautista will need to play great baseball all year. We can quote stats until we're blue in the face, but the bottom line is that the Blue Jays need to win a lot of games if Jose Bautista is going to win MVP.
The argument could be made that, in 2010, Bautista had a stronger season than the eventual MVP winner, Josh Hamilton. Bautista had 22 more home runs and 24 more RBI than Hamilton, as well as 57 more walks.
Two things impaired Bautista’s chances of winning the most. First, his .260 average paled in comparison to Hamilton’s .359. Second, Hamilton’s Texas Rangers won 90 games and the AL West pennant, while the Blue Jays won 85 games and finished 11 games back of the division lead.
Bautista will need to carry the Blue Jays at their lowest points and be a point of consistency at their highest. He needs to show his value to his baseball team, not just his value as a player. He needs to turn losses into wins and slumps into streaks, but he is the guy to do it.
He is a veteran presence in the clubhouse and leads by example on the field every day. That is exactly the type of player that deserves to win an MVP Award, and if he can continue to dominate opposing pitchers, 2013 appears to be as good a year as any for a Blue Jay to win MVP.
Look for Jose Bautista to have an extremely strong season and cap it off with the Blue Jays’ first MVP Award since George Bell in 1987.