Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14

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  breakout 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

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