12/29/11 10:00 AM EST
Actions louder than words for Bautista in '11
Slugger silenced critics with strong followup to 2010 campaign
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
The 31-year-old entered this past season with a new five-year, $65 million contract and no shortage of critics who felt he was just a one-year wonder.
It didn't take long for Bautista to disprove that notion, but he's not about to take public satisfaction in the feat, even following his second consecutive season as the American League Hank Aaron Award winner.
"I didn't start the season out to prove critics wrong or to justify my salary," Bautista recently said. "I feel good that I came out here and helped my team win in the times that I did. That's what I take pride in, and not silencing critics, or any other aspect of my contract situation."
Bautista was forced to answer the questions over and over during Spring Training -- it became part of his daily ritual. Will you be able to repeat your 54 home run season from 2010? Do you feel added pressure following those gaudy numbers? Do you think you can do it again?
The Dominican native maintained his cool, and stressed the amount of home runs wouldn't dictate whether his season was a success. Then he went out and homered in his first game of the regular season.
By the end of April, Bautista was hitting .366 with nine homers, 15 RBIs and a 1.312 OPS. The strong production would continue at a feverish pace until the All-Star break. He entered the halfway point leading the Major Leagues in almost every major offensive category, with a .334 average, 31 homers and 65 RBIs.
By that time, the whispers of doubt had completely disappeared. No longer were people doubting Bautista's abilities -- instead, they were debating whether he was the best player in baseball. It was quite a dramatic change to occur in less than a year, but Toronto's slugger still hasn't changed his stance from the spring.
"I don't put on a uniform that says 'Blue Jays' on the front on a daily basis to garner personal accolades," Bautista said. "That's not what I'm about, even though they're nice, even though it's nice to be recognized by the league and the writers, it's not what I go out on the field every day for.
"What I try to do is help my team win as many games as possible, and I felt like I did that this year."
Injuries eventually began to take their toll on the Toronto slugger. Bautista's nagging neck injury kept him out of normal workout routines for most of the second half.
A sprained ankle suffered in the first game after the All-Star break also played a factor and the second half numbers dipped. Bautista hit .257 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs during the final 65 games of the year.
The ailments could have been used as an excuse, but Bautista declined to go down that road. He blamed his second-half woes on a lack of patience at the plate.
Bautista spent the majority of the season being pitched around by opposing teams. He led the Majors with 132 walks, and the frustration of not being able to hit in key situations eventually got to the competitive slugger. It's the one element from his game in 2011 that he regrets.
"The only reason my second half wasn't as strong as my first is that I went away from my game plan and started chasing pitches out of the zone," Bautista said. "At times, it became frustrating that I kept getting walked, and I wanted to make things happen in certain situations, when I probably should have just remained patient and maybe taken a few more walks.
"The only thing that lacked in the second half was the consistency with being patient, and I'm going to keep working on that. I don't expect to be perfect for the entire year -- that's probably the hardest thing to do in baseball -- and I look forward to next year, helping the team win games and working on that consistency."
Despite the so-called struggles, Bautista finished the year with a .302 average, 103 RBIs and an MLB-leading 43 home runs.
Bautista also led the AL in slugging percentage (.608) and OPS (1.056) in 149 games. He's the first player since Mark McGwire (1996-99) to lead the Majors in homers for consecutive seasons, and his walks were the most since Barry Bonds also drew 132 in 2007.
When it was all said and done, Bautista's season was arguably even more impressive than 2010. The home runs dipped from 54 to 43, but his average went up 42 points; his on-base percentage, by 69 points.
The strikeouts were down and the total number of hits were up -- all of this despite playing in 12 fewer games than he did the previous year.
Now the focus shifts to 2012 and attempting to get the Blue Jays back into the postseason for the first time since 1993. Bautista will be a big part of those efforts and is using the offseason to prepare for another 162-game grind.
"I let my body recover for about six weeks and then I got back into the gym," Bautista said. "I'm trying to build up some of that strength and gain some of that weight I lost during the year because of that neck injury -- I couldn't really work out for most of the year and I lost about 15 pounds. But I'm back in great shape.
"I'll start doing baseball-related activities after New Year's, and I'm going to work on the same things that I do every year. Trying to get my body in shape, for the most part I'll get the baseball specific work done in Spring Training."
Once Bautista arrives in Florida, the questions likely will take on a much different tone. Instead of, "Will he be able to do it again?" the questions likely will shift to "What does Bautista have in store for an encore?"