I twote that question on Twitter last night. A handful of folks replied Johan Santana ($77.5 million guaranteed), there were a couple of joking votes for Bobby Bonilla ($30 million over the next 25 years), Omar Minaya ($2 million), and someone still wanted to dump what was owed to Oliver Perez for the remainder of this season (about $7 million). Surprisingly, no one voted for Francisco Rodriguez — I guess Twitter doesn’t know about the $17.5 million dollar option that vests with 55 games finished by Rodriguez this season, which is understandable. It’s a poorly covered story.
But the overwhelming favorite for “the make me and my contract disappear award” was Jason Bay. The Mets’ left fielder is owed $48 million dollars from 2011-2013, with a $17 million dollar vesting option for 2014. Bay hasn’t been totally awful with the Mets: He still gets on base, sneaks a few steals, and plays a better left field than advertised. But he’s been sort of awful and dramatically overpaid, a final going away present from the Omar Minaya era. The Mets would pull a hamstring running after the chance for a do-over on that deal.
The big obvious problem with Bay is the power — 544 plate appearances into his Mets career, Jason Bay has hit eight home runs. Think about that. From 2005-2009, Bay averaged 31 home runs a season and a .892 OPS. He was one of the top power hitters in baseball — Fangraphs has him as the 12th best run producer over that period. Since joining the Mets, Bay has 8 home runs, a .718 OPS, and has been the 183rd best run producer in baseball. He waves at pitches off the plate in a way that just looks sad. His walk up song — Pearl Jam’s “Alive” — has taken on a new ironic meaning. Bay has six extra base hits this season and a .315 slugging percentage (wait, now it’s .310. I’m re-writing this during the game . . . now it’s .307), which would be the 5th worst slugging percentage in the league if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Jason Bay has totally and completely collapsed as a power threat.
The weird thing is that Bay is still walking, striking out, and putting the ball in play about as often as he has in the past. And he’s still just 32 years old, not usually an age when sluggers suddenly fade. He’s basically the same player, the only difference between his play now and his play before is that when Bay hits the ball now, it doesn’t go over the fence.
But it’s not the park: Citi Field hasn’t played been as tough a home run park as it seems, and Bay has spent his entire career before coming to the Mets in tough home run parks. According to Seamheads‘ wonderful ballpark database, Citi Field has a home run park factor of 95 (meaning that for every 100 home runs that would be hit in a normal park, there are 95 home runs hit in Citi Field). That’s not an extreme factor, and actually makes the Mets’ home one of the better longball parks in the division. The Mets’ home run hitting performance backs this up: In 2009, the Mets hit 49 home runs in Citi Field and 46 on the road. Last season, they hit 63 at home and 65 on the road. The stadium is a bit kinder to lefthanded hitters than righthanded hitters, but there are nearly a dozen parks in baseball just as tough or tougher for home runs by righthanded hitters.
One of those parks tough on righthanded home run hitters is PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where Bay played his home games from 2003-2008. The Pirates’ home has a deep fence in left, running 389 feet in left-center and 410 in the gap, not much different from the left field dimensions of Citi Field. Bay didn’t have as much power at the park, hitting 61 home runs at home and 72 on the road during his Pirates career. He might have been a 40 home run a year player in another park, but with the Pirates, Bay still proved he could jack them out anywhere:
Another park not as kind for home runs as it seems is Fenway Park in Boston, where Bay played as a member of the Red Sox. The Green Monster creates some cheapies for righthanded batters, but it also turns a decent number of hard hit balls into doubles off the wall. Playing with Boston from 2008-2009, Bay hit 18 home runs at home and 27 on the road. But, again, he can jack them out anywhere:
The point of all that being: I find it seems hard to believe that someone who played his entire career in tough ballparks for righthanded hitters cannot hit the ball out of Citi Field. Bay hit the ball out in PNC Park, he hit the ball out of Fenway, and he hit the ball out on the road. But he has 4 home runs at home and 4 on the road with the Mets, so he’s not hitting many home runs anywhere anymore:
So we’re back to where we started: Jason Bay is 32 years old and suddenly lost his ability to hit baseballs great distances with any regularity. It’s not his plate discipline, it’s not the ballpark, and he wasn’t shot by a pretty lady in a hotel room. If there’s a reason he’s struggling, it doesn’t seem like the Mets know what it is and it doesn’t seem like Jason Bay knows what it is. If you want to play swing doctor with the three videos in this post, go ahead. I don’t see anything (though I only picked home run videos). Whatever is going on with Bay is a big mystery with no obvious answer.
Other than putting him on steroids, which could be a good answer. Bring back steroids!
But as more time passes and Bay remains in a slump, it grows increasingly possible that this slump isn’t just a slump, and Bay might be done as a hitter — leaving the Mets on the hook for a lot of money in exchange for very few hits. And on a team struggling to score runs (3.8 runs per game in May) and rumored to not have enough money to re-sign its star shortstop, Bay is representative of all sorts of Mets problems. He’s underperforming, overpaid, and not going anywhere. The Mets still have a handful of bad contracts, but Bay is making a case that his is the worst.