Jason Bay’s Defense on Trial

jaybayoathEnough is enough. If I hear, read, or see one more complaint about Jason Bay’s defense, I’m going to scream.

Since the day after the World Series ended, Jason Bay’s defense has been on trial. His deficiencies in the field have been brightly exposed by every negative stat, scouting report, and fan comment that could be unearthed. According to seemingly hundreds of sources, the Mets would do better to place a stone monument in left field rather than Jason Bay.

We get it, OK? Jason Bay’s “thing” is not defense. Now let’s move on to realistic considerations.

Bay’s position is LEFT FIELD. Since the day Alexander Cartwright laid down the first rules of the game — and before Bowie Kuhn desecrated it with his designated pinch hitter “experiment” — left field was where you put your worst fielder, usually as a means of getting a good hitter into the lineup. It matters not whether you’re playing in Fenway Park, Dotterweich Field, or the Roman Colosseum — if you need to squeeze another big bat in the lineup, but the guy isn’t so “handy”, you stick him in left field and hope for the best. You live with less-than-stellar defense in the far left corner, because his offense will presumably make up for it. Left field has historically been the “safest” place to put the most challenged fielders — the domain of Greg Luzinski, Manny Ramirez, Jim Rice, and similarly talented hitters who were somewhat challenged while wearing a fielding glove. Some may point out that first base is an equally good place to “hide” a hitter, but remember that a first baseman will likely touch the ball more than anyone else other than the catcher — so that logic is somewhat flawed.

Yes, it would be nice to have a strong fielder in left, particularly in cavernous Citi Field. But if believe that left field defense is so vital to a team’s won-loss record, I will point you to the Mets’ projected left fielder at this time last year: a platoon of Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy. Even at their best, Tatis/Murphy would not come close to matching Bay’s offensive production, and they’d have lost as many games as — if not more than — Bay. So just with that the left field spot will be an upgrade on Opening Day 2010 compared to Opening Day 2009.

Then there’s the fact that Bay isn’t a complete disaster in the field. Yes, there are several high-level sabermetric numbers that display Bay’s defense in a negative light — particularly UZR. The always reliable and entertaining stathead Sam Page pointed out that UZR is not a flawless stat, and believes that Bay’s defense may be a bit better than other SABRheards would lead you to believe.

Personally, I’m torn on the advanced fielding stats. Certainly they have value, but even the most ardent of their proponents admit that massive amounts of data are required for reliability in the judgment and projection of a player. In other words, a stat like UZR based on one year of a player’s career may not tell the whole story — and can be negatively affected if a player has, say, played on a bad knee for example. Wild swings in UZR from year to year are not uncommon — for example, Gold Glove centerfielder Torii Hunter has had UZR ratings ranging from -13 to +13 in his career. Does that mean he’s simply an “average” fielder?

Bay has never been a statistical standout in terms of defense, though there have been years where he was right around the average. The eyes tell a similar story — he doesn’t “look” like a fantastic fielder, but he’s not necessarily godawful, either. His range is limited and his arm is average, but he takes decent routes to the ball and doesn’t make many errors. He won’t make ESPN web gems very often but he also won’t make the highlight reel for a ball landing on his head. He will, however, hit the cutoff man, throw to the right base, stay out of Carlos Beltran’s way, and catch what he gets to. What more do you want from a power-hitting left fielder?

But if you’re still concerned, you may want to take a look at the left fielders of the NL teams that made the postseason in 2009:

Raul Ibanez (Phillies)
Manny Ramirez (Dodgers)
Matt Holliday (Cardinals)
Seth Smith (Rockies)

Not a Gold Glover among them, eh? Smith is probably the best of the bunch, but was it his defense that had the most impact on the Rockies’ success? Or was it his .889 OPS?

Pardon the pun, but, um … the defense rests.


Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Harry Chiti January 11, 2010 at 9:36 am
    Agree completely about Bay’s glove. The last few yars we have seen such non-stellar glove men like Murphy, Sheffield, Tatis, Alou, Easley all playing left field. In comparison Bay may just look like a defensive gem. That’s why the term defensive replacement was invented. Angel Pagan can play the 9th inning in left field.
  2. Walnutz15 January 11, 2010 at 9:50 am
    Thank you, Joe.

    Not only was the organization “more than comfortable” with Murphy/Tatis last year — but Alou and even Floyd before him, weren’t the most physically sound left-fielders to begin with.

    They fared fine.

    In watching Jason Bay alot through the years (my father’s a Pirate fan, and I’ve subscribed to the MLB Extra Innings package since its inception):

    Bay’s biggest problem is that he displays a hesitancy sometimes on balls in front of him (low liners, humpbacks that are dropping in).

    I think it’ll be a different situation for Bay in New York, though — and that’s really all I need to know for myself.

    Obviously, the UZR stat is a nice-to-have, to determine a player’s “value” and “rank” defensively. However, as you’ve stated, that can be taken with a few POUNDS of salt.

    Having a healthy Wright at 3rd Base, healthy Reyes at SS, and as-healthy-as-can-be Beltran in CF makes me a bit more secure in Bay’s defensive short-comings. What I mean, is — maybe they get up to snare a laser headed in Bay’s direction…..or go back to get a looping-liner that he’d have trouble coming in on. Obviously, Beltran covers a tremendous amount of ground on his own in CF and LCF.

    Overall, I haven’t seen Bay having a problem going back on balls, or moving from the foul line to the LCF alley…and again, I’ve watched alot of him through the years.

    UZR isn’t “meaningless”, but it surely isn’t perfect.

    Perfect example?

    Anyone who wants to make it like Matt Holliday is some sort of elite outfielder, basing it on UZR. Realistically speaking, the difference between him and Bay isn’t so much where it’s an embarrassment to Bay. (Yet, I’ve seen that kind of statistical sentiment presented.)

    I don’t think the difference will be all that much when all’s said and done.

    Many will assume that this is based off of one ball we’ve seen Holliday drop in the playoffs…it’s far from that.

    One of my favorite memories of the ’06 season was at Shea Stadium (’86 Met Night vs. The Rox) where we rode Holliday mercilessly from the LF Auxiliary Scoreboard. His error in LF contributed heavily to some floodgates opening for the Mets; ditto some key plays in crucial spots for the Rockies [play-in game, ’07] and obviously, Cards in the postseason this past October.

    We’ll see what happens, but I think that alot of people are looking for ways to knock Jason Bay before he even takes the field in a Met uniform.

    Best of luck to J-Bay…I’ve always enjoyed him as a player.

  3. isuzudude January 11, 2010 at 9:59 am
    Agree with everything here, including Harry’s comment. UZR is too subjective of a stat for me to attach any importance to it. Thus, any arguement denouncing Bay’s defense using UZR is pointless, to me. I feel it’s better to go by eyewitness accounts, fielding percentage, and reputation. And before Bay became available this winter as a free agent, no Met fan was going out of their way to crticize Bay’s defense, whether he was in Pittsburgh or Boston. Now suddenly he’s in the mix for the job and his defense is too unreliable to spend a dime on, despite the proven ability to hit for power, average, and OBP. Remember, folks, Gary Sheffield played the bulk of LF at CitiField last year and did just fine. If he can do it, surely Bay can, too.