Breakout Impossible: Don’t Compare Jose Bautista to Others

Jose Bautista came out of nowhere two-and-a-half seasons ago and hit 54 home runs at the age of 29. At a time when most players’ careers are declining, Bautista’s taking off. In fact, his ┬ábreakout has been completely unprecedented for someone his age.

Since the start of the 2010 season, Bautista has accumulated more than 18 WAR. In the history of baseball, only 38 hitters* have reached that kind of production during their age-29 to age-31 seasons. The most amazing part of Bautista’s statistical climb is how it was totally unpredicted.

In his three previous seasons before Bautista reached his 54-home-run year, he accumulated just a bit more than 3 WAR. To put that into perspective, of the 38 players who had 18 or more WAR from age 29 to age 31, here are the lowest WAR totals for players from their age-26 to age-28 seasons:

Name WAR
Jose Bautista 3.3
Ryne Sandberg 9.7
Jason Giambi 10.0
John Olerud 10.0
Roy Campanella 11.1
Joe Torre 12.6
Nellie Fox 13.2
Brian Giles 13.4
Craig Biggio 13.5
Sammy Sosa 13.5

The next-lowest player, Ryne Sandberg, had a WAR total almost three-times that of Bautista’s. The 38 batters averaged just less than 19 WAR for those three seasons.

Besides the WAR totals, Bautista’s home run totals also are unprecedented. In his age-29 to age-31 seasons, he’s hit 124 home runs. Only eight other players have ever reach that home run total during the same age range. They are:

Name HRs (Ages 29-31) HRs (Ages 26-28)
Alex Rodriguez 137 140
Albert Belle 127 124
Albert Pujols 126 118
Sammy Sosa 179 112
Jim Thome 138 103
Mike Schmidt 124 97
David Ortiz 136 92
Ted Kluszewski 131 69
Jose Bautista 124 43

Ted Kluszewski was the closest to having a breakout similar to Bautista’s, but he was still averaging more than 20 home runs per season before his breakout. Bautista, on the other hand, was closer to 14 home runs per season. This group of players is rather small, so I decided to expand the list out to include all the players who hit 110 home runs from ages 29 to 31** (29 players). Here are the 10 sluggers with the lowest home run totals from their age-26 to age-28 seasons:

Name HRs
Jose Bautista 43
Carlos Pena 46
Roy Sievers 57
Ted Kluszewski 69
Brian Giles 72
Vinny Castilla 75
Jason Giambi 80
Frank Robinson 89
Jeff Bagwell 91
David Ortiz 92

More players, like Carlos Pena and Roy Sievers, are at the lower end of the spectrum. But Bautista still has the lowest home run total.

It’s pretty obvious that Bautista’s breakout is unique. He was close to being a replacement-level player in the three years before became the game’s best home-run hitter. And it has been a great breakout. In fact, it’s so extraordinary that any other offensive surge that a hitter experiences shouldn’t be compared to Bautista’s.

*Joe Morgan, Willie Mays, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Jason Giambi, Jeff Bagwell, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Brooks Robinson, Rod Carew, Eddie Mathews, Chase Utley, Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson, Albert Pujols, Willie McCovey, Mickey Mantle,Roberto Clemente, Gary Carter, Carlos Beltran, Carl Yastrzemski, Roy Campanella, Craig Biggio, Ken Boyer, Brian Giles, Harmon Killebrew, Todd Helton, Richie Ashburn, Sammy Sosa, Ryne Sandberg, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre, Pete Rose, John Olerud, Nellie Fox

**Alex Rodriguez, Albert Belle, Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Mike Schmidt, David Ortiz, Ted Kluszewski, Jose Bautista, Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, Dale Murphy, Alfonso Soriano, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Mark Teixeira, Willie McCovey, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Robinson, Jason Giambi, Vinny Castilla, Brian Giles, Roy Sievers, Carlos Pena

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Josh A

Kluszewski’s breakout looks a lot more like Bautista’s if you start when he was 28 instead of 29. If you do that, he hit 54 HR in his age 25-27 seasons and then 136 in his 28-30. For WAR, he put up 6.4 in his 25-27, and then 19.6 in his 28-30.
Basically he went from averaging 18 HR and 2.1 WAR to averaging 45 HR and 6.5 WAR.


exactly and while almost nobody can be compared 1-1 to Bautista there are plenty of guys from Michael Morse to Jason Werth who become very good MLB players at 26-27+


But that should be expected. That is when the players are entering their peak, so it is logical that is also when some end up breaking out. The big difference with Bautista, is that he was on the downside of his peak when he broke out, which is what is so incredible about it.


You wouldn’t really expect many more guys to break out in their 27 year old season than in their 28 or 29 year old seasons. The difference between a 26, 27, 28 and 29 year old player on a standard aging curve is not very substantial at all.


Strictly defining a peak by age is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. We know a guy will peak somewhere between 26-32, but assuming everyone will peak at exactly the same age is ludicrous.