About Jason Bay

If you could eliminate one player and his contract from the Mets, no consequences, who would you cut?

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.

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13 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

13 responses to “About Jason Bay

  1. Rob

    Patrick, do you think there may be some kind of underlying knee or shoulder injury that has weakened Bay’s swing? Maybe some kind of deterioration that’s just bad enough to affect his power?

    I remember the Red Sox supposedly sighting potential medical issues as the main reason they didn’t offer Bay a better contract in the ’10 offseason.

    On the one hand it’s easy to see how bad his swing looks these days, but like you I find it hard to believe that a 32 year old power hitter can suddenly “forget” how to hit home runs.

    • Patrick Flood

      The Red Sox were worried about his knees and shoulder, I think.

      Okay, here’s my take: If Jason Bay’s shoulder and/or his knees are bothering him, why has this only manifested in his ability to hit home runs? He’s not striking out more, he doesn’t look slow running the bases or in the outfield, and he’s a decent defender. He walks the same, puts the ball in play the same. I find it hard to believe that Bay would be able to play at a high level except for his power, which is why I lean against it.

      David Wright, on the other hand . . . I’m still 15% convinced he’s got an eye problem or something. Like, 2012 comes along, he goes to the eye doctor, and they’re like “holy crap, you can’t see clearly.” They fix him and it’s back to business. Or something. I like to imagine.

  2. Get both Bay and Wright to move closer to the plate. Or, have a stinging device placed in each one of there helmets that goes off every time a breaking ball goes off the outside corner. It would be like a dogs invisable fence. Just striking out is obviously not making an strong enoug impression for them to stop.
    The fact is, it would not make up for the big bucks a home run hitter gets but Met fans would be happy if they would just get an extra base hit with men on base 30 more times a season. That would be great production at any price.

  3. Patrick
    Here is a thought. Ego is the problem maybe.lol Sounds funny doesn’t it. He is getting older and as that happens like it or not you lose speed and power. You have to compensate. If he dropped an ounce or 2 on the bat his swing would be faster and I bet his power comes back with that. Pure physics. He has to admit he needs a lighter bat to quicken the swing and those warning track shots would be HR’s again and weak flies doubles.

  4. I’d be very curious to see how he fared in Pittsburgh and Boston on the soft outside stuff that consistently gets him out these days. From where I sit (on my couch, in front of the television) it seems as though the league has figured out a weakness there and Bay hasn’t adjusted; Jim G and JJ raise interesting points, maybe a lighter bat and a move closer to the plate would benefit him. That said, I can’t imagine that someone close to the team who actually knows something about hitting at the professional level hasn’t suggested that to him. It obviously hasn’t taken, though.

  5. There are some differences in his swing. His stance used to be slightly open, his hands were lower and not quite as far back, he looks a little more crouched, and his bat seems closer to being parallel to the ground than it used to be…if he’s not getting his hands through the strike zone as quickly, he’s not going to generate as much bat speed, and will only have warning track power when he gets the ball in the air…

    • Patrick Flood

      Just keep in mind — if you haven’t already, and you probably have — the Boston clip uses an overhead camera in center, and the SNY uses a centerfield camera one slightly off to the side. It makes Bay’s stance look a little more open with the Sox, but it’s just a camera angle.

      • sorry, but it looks like his feet are in a different position in relationship to the batters box lines in the Boston and Pittsburgh shots…that can’t be camera angle. Both feet are parallel to the lines in the NY shot…and his hands are definitely in a different starting position as well, as is his bat…but the same camera angle would definitely give a better perspective…And Angelo, I just noticed your point too…

      • Patrick Flood

        Yes, you’re probably correct. Bay was just talking about this before the game, saying that if you watch video, his swing evolves over time from Pittsburgh to Boston to New York.

  6. Also, to add to Bob G’s point, while with Boston, Bay seemed to be completely stiff with no bat movement whatsoever until he started a rather dramatic take back. With the Mets, it seems like he has more bat movement pre-pitch, and less of a take back. Maybe that can explain the lack of power. It seems to me like a lot of his power came from that take back he had. He seems to have a completely different stance and swing now than he did back in 09. Whatever the issue is, I hope he figures it out very soon.

  7. Patrick, how does Bay do in batting practice — does he still hit home runs and hit the ball hard? If he can’t homer in BP, maybe you have something.

  8. JJ

    It is the lack of steroids in his system. Suddenly, a home-run turns out to be a long fly ball out! Steroids could add 20 or 30 feet to a ball hit to the outfield! Unfortunately for Bay, lack of the Steroids is making him a below average offensive threat!

  9. It looks like the homeruns are fastballs on the inner half of the plate. He is now being pitched to the outer half with breaking balls and change-ups just like David Wright. These guys have to make the adjustments, if not expect more of the same.

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