ARLINGTON, Texas – Jose Bautista has been asked the question before, and delivered the same answer before.
Does the Toronto Blue Jays slugger think he’s the MVP of the American League?
"Well, of course I do," he replied. "If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be a person that liked myself a lot. But there’s a lot of people that had great years, and they’re also very worthy of getting the award. There are a lot of things that go into it. It’s not only about production and numbers, so I’m just grateful to be considered and I’ve got my fingers crossed."
The genuine and honest response drew a "that’s what I’m talking about right there" from fellow Hank Aaron Award winner Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, as both shared a dais with commissioner Bud Selig in accepting their honours Monday night.
Whether or not Bautista’s tremendous season will be recognized with the MVP – to be announced in mid-November – a second straight Hank Aaron Award as his league’s best hitter underlines his emergence into the game’s elite after an unforeseen 54-homer breakout during 2010.
The star right-fielder posted a batting line of .302/.447/.608 with 43 homers, 103 RBIs, 105 runs and 132 walks in 2011, while Kemp led the National League with 39 homers and 126 RBIs, narrowly missing the triple crown by finishing third with a .324 batting average.
Kemp, in tough for the MVP against Milwaukee sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, shares the same outlook on his candidacy as Bautista.
"We work hard in the off-season to be the best," said Kemp. "I know Jose, our work ethic is pretty strenuous. To work as hard as we did, you want to be the best. And to win MVP is something you dream of as a kid, being the best. If I win it, I’m definitely going to be happy.
"But if I don’t, that means I’ve got to work harder to win it next year."
Bautista’s place in the MVP race is uncertain given how winners are traditionally chosen from playoff contenders, which the 81-81 Blue Jays were not. He finished fourth in 2010 and it’s unclear where he’ll fit in to a field that includes Curtis Granderson of the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox and wildcard Justin Verlander of the Tigers.
Either way, what Bautista does for an encore will be closely watched in 2012. By pushing up his batting average and on-base percentage the 31-year-old shored up one of the few knocks on him from 2010, that he was somewhat all-or-nothing at the plate.
One issue he struggled with at times in 2011 was expanding the zone while hitting with runners in scoring position, posting a .245 mark with five homers and 50 RBIs in those situations.
But that’s also a product of how the batters around him fared, as pitchers often worked around him to take their chances with someone else.
Improvement on both fronts may help the Blue Jays get where they and Bautista want to go – the post-season.
"I definitely wish I was one of those guys that is getting dressed right now and be able to step on the field here in a little bit," Bautista said in reference to the Rangers and Cardinals in Game 5 of the World Series. "It just gives me something to work for next year and try to help my team again."
Winners of the Hank Aaron Award are chosen based on the results of a fan vote and a selection committee of Hall of Famers named by Aaron. Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Joe Morgan, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Robin Yount all took part this year.