Why I’m Optimistic About Jason Bay
It’s no secret that Jason Bay is having a rough time as a New York Met. But there is one example from the recent past that could provide a glimmer of hope.
This isn’t the first time that the Mets had a big-time slugger mired in a massive slump. In fact, there was a situation just a few years ago that strongly resembles the current quandary of Jason Bay.
The Mets had a cleanup hitter with a long history of homerun hitting, high OBPs, and a reputation as an RBI man. This player was considered central to the Mets ability as a team to drive runs home, because he was feared by opposing pitchers, he could carry the team on his back, no park could contain his power, and his mere presence could take pressure off other batters in the lineup. You may recall that these were all the same reasons that the Mets gave Jason Bay $60+M to play in Flushing for four or five years.
This mystery player from the past had an injury-marred, uncharacteristic season one year; a year in which he had a significant dropoff in homeruns, batting average, OBP, OPS — just about every offensive category. He started off the next season in a terrible, terrible slump. Everyone watching the team was convinced that this 30-something player was finished (including yours truly) — that his bat speed was gone, his confidence was shot, that he looked clueless at the plate, and there was no sign nor possibility that he was going to return to his former glory. His at-bats had become laughable. He had become something of a pariah, because he was making an astonishing amount of money and coming nowhere close to earning it. It had gotten to the point where he was being sat by the manager so he could “clear his head” or “take a breath” — and when he did sit, everyone agreed the team was better off without him.
Sound familiar? Sound like what’s happening with Jason Bay right now?
You may or may not be on to the “mystery man” by now — it’s Carlos Delgado. It may take some jogging of the memory — since the last time the Mets were in the heat of a pennant race seems like eons ago — but Delgado started off 2008 much like Bay, maybe even worse. Delgado had a decidedly off year in 2007, hitting only .258 with an un-Delgado-like .781 OPS (the worst of his career). Through the first 50 games of the season, Delgado was hitting a feeble .215 with a .684 OPS. Unlike Bay, Delgado did hit a few homers by that point — 8 to be exact — but he otherwise looked totally lost and overwhelmed at the plate. It looked like his career might be over, and he was dragging the team down with his offensive ineptitude.
Then, in games 52 through 54, he went 5-for-12 to end the month of May, and had fits and starts throughout June, until a two-homer, 9-RBI day against the Yankees at the end of the month. From there forward, Delgado was an absolute beast, throwing the Mets on his back and carrying them through the end of the season. He had a Ruthian-like .714 slugging percentage and 1.160 OPS in the month of July, a strong August, and similarly Ruthian September / October to finish the season.
Something in that June started to “click” with Delgado, and then he just went unconscious from July through the end of the year. (People like to point to the firing of Willie Randolph as the difference, but I’m not so sure; Delgado seemed to start to “click” in late May, a full three weeks before Randolph’s departure.) Sure, Delgado and Bay are two very different ballplayers, but they both share a similarity in that they’ve been prone to streakiness. For example, in Bay’s monster 2009 season with the Red Sox, he hit .230 in June and .192 in July, before hitting close to .300 with a 1.000 OPS from August through the end of the season. In other words, Bay has been through long slumps before, and come out of them in a big way.
I, for one, don’t believe Jason Bay’s career is over just yet. There are dozens of theories as to why he’s been less than stellar in 550+ plate appearances as a Met. He hasn’t been very good through most of that time, but he did have a nice stretch last May when he hit .303 with a .811 OPS (he had an identical OPS in April). Those numbers aren’t Ruthian, but they’re pretty good, and they prove that Bay’s time in Flushing hasn’t been ALL bad — as much as it may feel that way.
Can he figure it out? Will he figure it out? I’m going to remain optimistic, mainly because I don’t see anything physically wrong with Bay and I remember how Delgado suddenly “figured it out” and went ape on the rest of the National League. Baseball is a funny game, filled with streaky players, and sometimes, just when you’re ready to write a slumping hitter off, they seemingly flip a switch and turn from goat to hero.
What do yo think? Is Bay finished? Do you have any hope for him? Post your thoughts in the comments.