TORONTO -- For an organization that’s still fairly young, relative to some of the league’s longstanding clubs, the Blue Jays have had an incredible run of stars come through Toronto over their 44 years.
Even in those lean years between playoff runs as the Blue Jays looked to find their footing again, there was typically a player worth the price of admission. Not all of those players got to enjoy a playoff run of their own with Toronto, but their peak seasons live on with a fanbase that’s always done well in honoring its alumni.
Here is a look back at the five best individual seasons in the club’s history.
Josh Donaldson, 3B -- 2015
Donaldson was the perfect fit in Toronto when then-general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired him in a blockbuster deal with the A’s. Much like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnación, with whom he joined forces to ruin pitcher’s evenings, Donaldson was a late bloomer with game-changing power. The attitude with which he played didn’t hurt, either, as those Blue Jays playoff teams were known for their rough edges and must-watch style of play.
In his incredible 2015 debut, Donaldson hit .297 with a .939 OPS, 41 home runs and 123 RBIs, earning him the American League MVP Award. Add in some great defense at third, and Donaldson truly did it all for the Blue Jays over the three healthy seasons he had, but 2015 stands above the rest. His 8.7 WAR (FanGraphs) that year represents the most valuable season by a Blue Jays hitter in the club’s history, and the only thing keeping Donaldson out of the conversation as the greatest Blue Jays player of all time is the fact that he only played in 462 games for the organization.
Other hitters might challenge Donaldson’s counting stats over a peak season, but when you factor in how well-rounded his plate approach was with his defensive value on top of that, the total package of Donaldson’s 2015 season will be hard to repeat.
José Bautista, RF -- 2011
In 2008, the Blue Jays traded a piece of Triple-A catching depth for a 27-year-old who played a few positions and hit enough to hold a back-end roster spot. That trade worked out better than anyone could have expected.
By 2010, Bautista had stepped into superstardom with 54 home runs, but it was his encore to that season that still stands as his greatest with the Blue Jays. In '11, Bautista hit .302 with a .447 on-base percentage and 1.056 OPS, walking more times (132) than he struck out (111) and hitting 43 home runs. It was a rare offensive season that landed him third in AL MVP Award voting behind only Jacoby Ellsbury and Justin Verlander.
These were still years when the Blue Jays were stuck in the middle. They went 81-81 in 2011, and neither the Marlins’ blockbuster, the Donaldson deal nor the playoff runs had rolled around quite yet, so Bautista was the main attraction in Toronto and laid much of that groundwork himself. An all-time Blue Jays great and well-deserved fan favourite, Bautista’s peak season is among the finest we’ve seen.
John Olerud, 1B -- 1993
Olerud’s 1993 season is too often overlooked because he never had the 40-plus home run totals that catch eyes, but this is one of the most fascinating seasons in the club’s history from one of the best pure hitters of his generation.
Just 24 at the time, Olerud started the season hot and didn’t cool off. The sweet-swinging lefty carried a .400 average into the month of August, as his chase for .400 became one of the biggest stories in baseball. His last day finishing a game with a .400 average was on August 2 and, despite a couple of runs at it later in the month, Olerud faded a bit down the stretch to finish the season hitting .363 with a 1.072 OPS. He had another World Series ring coming his way, too.
Olerud did manage 24 home runs and 107 RBIs that season, both career highs, along with an incredible 54 doubles. His plate approach was unmatched and, riding a hot streak like that, Olerud had to be one of the most frustrating at-bats in baseball for opposing pitchers. This season earned Olerud 8.1 WAR, impressive given that he earned little value as a first baseman. Strictly in terms of hitting, if you’re willing to argue against the home runs of Bautista and Donaldson, you can make the argument that Olerud’s season at the plate was the best in the club’s history.
Carlos Delgado, 1B -- 2000
Delgado remains one of the most underrated hitters of his era, with his 12 years in Toronto getting fully underway after the back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and ’93. Delgado never reached the postseason with the Blue Jays, but he was a dominant, middle-of-the-order bat for a decade and finished his career with 473 home runs. He combined sustained success with peak seasons in Toronto, but none was better than his 2000 campaign, when Delgado hit .344 with 41 home runs, 57 doubles, 137 RBIs and an OPS of 1.134. Delgado was named an All-Star, earned one of his three career Silver Slugger Awards and finished fourth in MVP voting behind only Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriguez.
Putting up a 7.4 WAR on the value of his bat alone, Delgado was worth the price of admission. His 2003 season rivals this one, when he posted a 1.019 OPS and finished second in American League MVP voting, but 2000 has the edge as one of the best seasons by a Blue Jays power hitter.
George Bell, LF -- 1987 (American League MVP)
Bell’s 1987 campaign ranks 25th all-time in WAR (5.3) for an individual season by a Blue Jays position player, but being the first player to win the AL MVP Award with Toronto punches his ticket to this list. Bell was sensational in '87, hitting .308 with 47 home runs and 134 RBIs as the Blue Jays won 96 games, giving him the narrow edge over the Tigers’ Alan Trammell in MVP Award voting. Forming the classic Blue Jays outfield alongside Lloyd Moseby in center and Jesse Barfield in right, Bell’s 47 homers were a club record until Bautista came around. Bell is one of just seven players in club history to be added to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.