I’m warming up to Jason Bay and the 2010 Mets. I haven’t run out and bought a cream colored 44 jersey quite yet, but I’m getting excited. 2009 has started to fade away into a fuzzy memory, a war wound I’ll be able to scare small children with: “You think this year is bad? Let me tell you about the time Daniel Murphy hit clean up and the time Jeremy Reed played first base.” 2009 is gone and baseball optimism is emerging from its yearly rebirth. This is the year. I believe in 2010. Some misguided team will take Luis Castillo. Oliver Perez will be in the best shape of his life. Jeff Francoeur will keep his OBP above .300. Someone other than Molina will be the catcher. 24 years. We’re due. And all that stuff.
I wasn’t quite feeling this a week ago. Jason Bay signing with the Mets was, for me, like unwrapping a childhood birthday present and not getting quite what you wanted. Maybe you asked for an Optimus Prime Transformer or pogs or “Super Mario Bros.” Perhaps you asked for an American Girl doll or a toy fire engine. Tickle Me Elmo. Red rider BB gun. A pet rock. Something. Then you open your present, and instead of the gift you wanted, you got a book, undersized dress clothes from your well-meaning-but-elderly aunt, or, if you were excessively unlucky, something educational from overbearing mom and dad. “Oh it’s a . . . a Jason Bay. That’s cool. I guess. Thanks, Omar.”
While clothes and educational items are never fun – never – the book sometimes ended up being a memorable one. Maybe you got to take a trip to Hogwarts with Harry Potter, you hopped on pop, or you found out where the Phantom Tollbooth led. You saw where the wild things were. Maybe you spent a day wandering around Dublin with Leopold Bloom.* Sometimes the present you didn’t want turns out to be better than the one you did. That’s how I feel about Jason Bay. He wasn’t quite what I wanted, but I’m going to see him play everyday for the next four (or five years) and I’ve getting warmed up too it. While he’s not Matt Holliday and Bay is a classic Omar Minaya reactionary move – no bullpen? K-Rod and J.J. Putz! No power? Jason Bay and Bengie Molina! No Jeff Conine? Jeff Conine! – I’m excited to get to know Jason Bay regardless.**
*Just kidding. “Ulysses” would be a horrible birthday gift for a child. Or just most people. Punctuation police especially.
**Not actually get to know him in person, but in the way you get to know a baseball player from watching 162 games. You spent three hours a day watching anyone for six months, and you pick up on who they are and what their about. Mike Pelfrey’s neurotic, Daniel Murphy means business – Omir Santos hits a home run at Fenway Park, and you see his life story in his reaction. Both hands extended into the air, the smile/scream because he can’t believe that just happened either. The countless hours playing baseball in Puerto Rico, the eight years in the minor leagues, the ridiculous number of things that had happen in just the right way so that Santos could hit a home run off Jonathon Papelbon in the ninth inning one night at the Fenway Park – they were all right there on his face. Television shows are on for just 30 minutes once a week and you still get to know the characters. Baseball, sort of a television show, is on three hours a day, seven days a week – it’s impossible not to get to know who the players are. I’m excited to get to know Jason Bay in that way.
Still, I have to wait for the season to begin – or at least spring training – too see who Jason Bay is, so all I can do for now is look at the numbers. Jason Bay does a lot of things well – he hits for power, gets on base, he’s an intelligent baserunner (81% SB success rate for his career) – and some other things not-so-well – defense and . . . yeah that’s it. Just his defense.
Let’s take a closer look at two of those things in particular: home runs and defense.
First the home runs, and Bay’s offense in general: Jason Bay has what some call “old guys skills.” Not “still being upset about the USS Maine or the ability to painlessly grab scalding objects because he has no feeling remaining in his hands” old guy skills. Instead, walking and hitting home runs are Bay’s old guys skills. Young guy skills are the speed related abilities, like defense, stolen bases, infield hits – everything Ichiro does. Jason Bay has an old guy skill set, which is important because he’s already 32. 46% of his 2009 at-bats ended in one of the “three true outcomes”: a home run, a walk, or a strikeout – this is a good thing. As long as his bat speed doesn’t drop off, he should remain a productive offensive player because his offensive skill set won’t suffer a decline due to a loss of foot speed. The home runs and walks should keep on coming – at least on the road. The pseudo-eccentricities of Citi Field can drain certain player’s power.
The Mets play in the Grand Canyon for some types of right handed hitters. Here is Jason Bay’s 2009 home runs, from Hit Tracker, overlayed onto Citi Field. The actual wall distance is in black, my adjustments for the “actual distance” based on the wall heights are in gray (or I guess they’re in “grey” because Bay is Canadian):
By my count, 10 are definitely not out of Citi Field – but Bay will only play half his games there. Keeping in mind that Bay hits slightly more home runs on the road than at home, let’s take away 4 of these home runs from his total, dropping Bay down to 32 – not bad. While Citi Field has a huge impact on fellow right handed hitter Wright, Bay’s power is located much more towards the right field line than right-center, which is Death Valley East for righties. If the Mets were just looking for someone who can yank them out of Citi, Bay was the right man. He’ll lose some to Citi Field, but not as many as Wright.
Now the defense.
As you may have heard, Jason Bay is not exactly Willie Mays. Or even Willie “Mays” Hayes. UZR says Jason Bay is a poor fielder, playing left field with a Dudley Do-Right level of comic ineptness over the past three years. Fan Scouting Reports agrees, saying Bay has below average reaction/instincts and acceleration, and rates him as a poor fielder overall. On the other hand, Dewan +/- has Jason Bay as about average in 2009 – but they have him as just a poor fielder for the two previous years. All that adds up to a lot of votes for “bad” and only one for “average” – meaning Bay’s true fielding ability is probably well below average. He’s certainly not Adam Dunn, but he’s certainly comparable to Pat Burrell. However, if or when Bay slows down due to increased age, get used to hearing Howie Rose’s voice saying, ” . . . and it’s just over Bay’s head, rolling all the way to the wall. One run will score. Two runs will score . . .” and so on. The defense could start to look like Gary Sheffield’s.
Bay doesn’t play left field well. Neither did Sheffield or Daniel Murphy or whoever else the Mets scavenged to play out there. They let Wilson Valdez play left field in 2009. Wilson Valdez. Wilson Exxon-Valdez. The shortstop hitting .190 in the minors that the Mets had to buy from th
e Indians because they didn’t have anyone better. He played a few innings in left field for the 2009 Mets. You know who’s a better option to play left field than Wilson Valdez, Sheffield, or Murphy? You are. I am. Jason Bay, definitely. Bay plays everyday and he can hit – two things the Mets haven’t had out of a left fielder in a long time. Jason Bay is a massive upgrade over the shuffling AAA zombies the Mets shoveled out into left over the past three seasons.
Some combination of David Wright, Jose Reyes – remember him? – Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay will load up the impressive top half of the 2010 Mets’ line up. As for the bottom half – well, let’s just say the Mets as currently constructed are about as front loaded as U2’s “The Joshua Tree.” Which is to say a lot. However, those top four guys are going to churn out bunches of runs for the Metropolitans. There are plenty of holes in the oft breached hull of the U.S.S. Mets, and the shiny head of Matt Holliday would have plugged a lot of them. But Jason Bay works too.