Jose Bautista: The greatest Blue Jay since Carter touched 'em all
Fiery slugger helped flip Toronto's baseball fortunes
It's the Blue Jays' most indelible moment since the back-to-back World Series years.
2015 elimination game vs. Texas. Score tied 3-3 in the seventh. 1-1 count, runners on first and third.
The patented leg kick. The powerful swing. The bat flip. The explosion.
As Jose Bautista nears the end of his Jays tenure — and it's increasingly unlikely the aging slugger will re-sign with Toronto — the question of his legacy flips to the forefront. It's a foregone conclusion that his name will be raised to the Rogers Centre's Level of Excellence.
In fact, there is a strong case to be made that Bautista is the greatest Blue Jay since the franchise won consecutive championships in 1992 and '93.
From 2010-2015, Bautista appeared in six consecutive all-star games, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four times (including two top-five placements) and won three Silver Slugger awards.
He twice led the American League in home runs, and he twice led the AL in walks. Power and patience was Bautista's MO. He lulled pitchers to sleep with his precise command of the strike zone, then unloaded when the count was in his favour.
It's impossible to remember Bautista without his antics. His enemies included the umpires, the Atlanta Braves, the Baltimore Orioles and Darren O'Day, the Rangers and Dyson and Rougned Odor... even Goose Gossage.
Bautista's fiery nature only endeared the Dominican outfielder to Jays fans further. Other teams despised playing against him — Orioles GM Dan Duquette said this summer that "Jose is a villain in Baltimore and I'm not going to go tell our fans that we're courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they're not going to be happy."
And he always made sure he had the last laugh. Odor punches him in the face? The Jays sweep the Rangers in the ALDS. O'Day strikes him out in a big spot? Bautista homers off him the next day. Orioles reliever Jason Garcia throws behind him? The next pitch is gone.
Bautista held grudges, to be sure. It's part of what made him so fun to watch. And it's part of the reason he's the best Blue Jay since Joe Carter touched 'em all in '93.
Take a deep breath, then take this in: Amongst Blue Jays, all-time, Bautista ranks fifth in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, third in on-base-plus-slugging, second in walks, third in runs, third in RBIs and fifth in games played.
Those are lofty numbers. On Wednesday, the Blue Jays became the first AL team in 2017 to pass three million in attendance for the season. They did that despite being long eliminated from serious playoff contention. Two straight post-season appearances featuring Bautista are the reason for that.
And in case you needed more convincing that Canada loved Bautista, he became the first and only Blue Jay to lead baseball in all-star voting in 2011, garnering over seven million votes. That's more than the current population of the Greater Toronto Area.
There are two other players who could be argued as the greatest post-1993 Blue Jays: Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay.
(Note: Roberto Alomar's time with Toronto lasted until 1995. The only Jay enshrined in Cooperstown, he is likely the best player in franchise history, but doesn't apply for this exercise because he's best remembered as part of the World Series teams.)
Remember Bautista's all-time ranks? Well, Delgado is ahead of him in every single one. Putting everything else aside, Delgado is the best offensive Blue Jay of this era. And it definitely wasn't Delgado's fault that he never appeared in the post-season, given the lack of talent surrounding him.
Still, offence doesn't tell you the whole picture. Before hurting it a couple years ago, Bautista's right arm was a weapon in right field. Delgado didn't offer much defensively at first base. In fact, he provided negative value in the field every season with the Jays except one — when he was merely replacement level.
Over 11 seasons with Toronto, Delgado accrued 36.8 Wins Above Replacement. Bautista, in nine seasons and 197 fewer games to date, is at 35.9 WAR. But before his disastrous 2017 campaign, where he has cost the Jays 1.8 wins with his negative WAR, Bautista was ahead of Delgado.
Delgado had the longevity and the offence, but Bautista was close behind, and he had the moments.
Meanwhile, Halladay posted 48.1 WAR in his Toronto tenure. He's the only one of the three with a real shot at the hall of fame. He's also the only one to win a major award: the Cy Young (in 2003 with Toronto and again in 2010 with Philadelphia). If his playoff no-hitter for the Phillies came as a member of the Blue Jays, this wouldn't be a conversation, but Halladay's Toronto teams never made the post-season.
It's a shame Halladay and Delgado never got the chance to create their own version of the bat-flip moment for the Blue Jays. Both were incredible playoff performers after leaving Toronto. But they didn't.
And when Bautista's regular-season stats are coupled with his post-season clutchness, it becomes clear: he's the greatest Blue Jay of his time.