Let’s play a game using two players. We’re going to call one “Player A” and the other “Anthony Michael Hall,” really for no reason in particular . . . we‘ll go with “AMH” for short. See if you can decide who is having a better season. Here are their basic numbers:
Player A has a substantial lead in home runs, while Anthony Michael Hall holds a sizable lead in walks and triples. Player A has the advantage in slugging, Player AMH in on-base percentage. AMH has come to the plate about 50 more times, but everything else is just about even between the two.
But there are a few other things worth comparing.
– Player A has stolen one base this season; AMH is a perfect ten for ten in stolen base attempts.
– Neither player fields at a position that stresses defense, but Player A has saved +3 runs defensively by UZR and +8 runs by Plus/Minus at first base. AHM has cost his team -2 runs by UZR and -3 runs by Plus/Minus in left field.
– Player A has driven in runs more efficiently than AMH. Player A has come to the plate with 225 runners on base and has 45 RBI; Player AMH has come to the plate with 251 runners on base and has 44 RBI.
Player A has an advantage in power and defense, but AMH has the advantage in speed and getting on-base — these differences just about balance each other out. You would be hard pressed to prove that one player has been significantly better than the other.
OK. It should be possible by now to guess that “Player A” is Ike Davis, and “Player Anthony Michael Hall” is Jason Bay. All things considered, Davis and Bay have performed about equally this season.
But that’s outside of any context. Within the context of expectations, Ike Davis has been a pleasant surprise at first base, while Jason Bay has been an unpleasant pile of disappointment in left field. Considering that the two players have posted fairly similar numbers, that one is having a down year while the other is not may seem weird. But expectations color everything.
It’s not that Jason Bay has been awful — he’s been anything but awful. Bay is second on the Mets in walks, third in runs scored, second in doubles, and is tied for the team lead in triples. His ten steals without being caught tie him with Adam Kennedy for the most steals without a CS in the National League. Bay’s OPS+ sits at 107, and he’s held his own defensively in left field. It’s hard to describe that as an awful performance. Not great for a left fielder maybe, but not awful.
On a team that is ahead of only the Pirates and Astros in their league for team on-base percentage — a Mets team that has semi-regularly featured a lineup with three or four players posting sub-.300 on-base percentages, not including the pitcher — it’s hard to point to Jason Bay and his .354 OBP mark and say that he’s the problem with the offense.
But Jason Bay is certainly not having a typical Jason Bay season. He has scored over 100 runs, driven in over 100 runs, and hit over 30 home runs in every full season of his career, the exception being his injury plagued 2007; Bay has just 47 runs scored, 44 runs driven in, and has hit 6 home runs in a season which is now more than half over. His on-base percentage sits about 20 points lower than his career mark, and his slugging percentage sits about 100 points lower. So, yeah, Bay hasn’t been awful when compared to the average major league hitter — when rookie Ike Davis is compared to that sort of performance, Davis looks pretty good. However, when Jason Bay’s 2010 is compared to what has been the norm for Jason Bay, the comparison quickly becomes less favorable.
Bay’s season is like a bad Rolling Stones album. On one hand, something like “It’s Only Rock and Roll” would be a good effort for just about anyone else . . . but because they’re capable of so much more, it’s a disappointment. It’s expecting a four-and-a-half or five star album and getting a three star album. There’s nothing truly awful about it — six triples! ten steals! — but relative to expectations, it’s a massive let down. That’s Jason Bay’s season. He has hit like a decent two-hitter, but the Mets expected a cleanup guy. Plus, Bay can’t even blame this three star performance on Keith Richards’ drug problems . . . I think.
But until recently, Bay and his struggles have remained mostly hidden, or at least obscured by the greater failings of those around him. Much like Jeff Francoeur, Bay supposedly has the sort of friendly and accessible demeanor that keeps the traditional media off him; unlike Frenchy, Bay has played well enough to keep the blogosphere off him as well. It’s also helped that Bay has been surrounded by out machines Francoeur, Ruben Tejada, Alex Cora, and Rod Barajas; he only began to hear boos during the last homestand. When a bunch of kids are eating paste in the back of the classroom, it’s the quietly struggling one in the front who tends to be overlooked for better or worse. There have been bigger things to complain about all season.
Unfortunately for Bay, the paste-eaters are mostly gone. Carlos Beltran has displaced Francoeur, while Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo have mostly displaced the Cora/Tejada out-party. Those are massive offensive upgrades. Rod Barajas is still around, but I assume that he HAS to improve or Josh Thole will displace him. But for the most part, the Mets have the band back together again. If they want to compete down the stretch, they need to start scoring runs. Beltran will help massively. Castillo will help less massively. But if Bay doesn’t figure it out soon, he’s suddenly going to be front and center. The Mets offense has been bad, Bay hasn’t helped much, and there’s nowhere left for him to hide.
Jason Bay hasn’t been one of the awful Mets this season. Not even close. However, for fans with realistic expectations, Bay may be the most disappointing. Hitting like Ike Davis is cool when you’re Ike Davis; when you’re Jason Bay, it’s much less so.
Image via Slgckgc’s Flickr.