2011 Analysis: Jason Bay

Last year, I almost forgot to analyze Jason Bay during my annual evaluation series — perhaps because Bay had slogged through such a forgettable season in 2010.

After all, Bay appeared in only 95 games in his initial season as a Met, hitting a paltry 6 homeruns, before missing the final two months of the season with a concussion. To say he was a disappointment would have been an understatement.

But it’s not unsurprising for a big-time free agent to have a difficult first year in NYC, and then rebound with a positive follow-up campaign. Unfortunately for Bay, that’s not the way the story went in 2011.

While Bay played in 28 more games and doubled his homerun output, no one would say that 2011 was a success for the veteran outfielder. Rather, it created even more doubt. Prior to joining the Mets, Bay’s career OPS was a shade under .900 — which placed him among the top hitters in the game. If OPS is a stat you’re not familiar with, it may help to tell you that Albert Pujols posted a .906 OPS last year. For perspective: in 2009, the year before Bay joined the Mets, he posted a .921 OPS. But hey, that was in Fenway, a hitter’s park, right? OK, in 2005, with Pittsburgh, his OPS was .961; in 2006 it was .928. In other words, Bay was a big-time slugger and on-base machine prior to his move to Flushing. Last year, through over 500 plate appearances, his OPS was a comparatively frail .703 — a number would be barely acceptable from a poor-hitting middle infielder.

As in 2010, Bay’s 2011 was marred by injuries — but, pain was not the only blame for his woes in either year. What we’ve seen from Bay in his time as a Met is lack of confidence, multiple stances, and general confusion at the plate. To his credit, Jason Bay‘s defense has been much better than advertised, and his effort has been admirable. He hustles, he plays hard, and he does all the little things you want to see from a ballplayer; unfortunately, he hasn’t done the one big thing he is paid handsomely to do, which is hit like an All-Star.

The multimillion-dollar question is this: is Jason Bay finished? His swift and drastic slide to mediocrity just after turning 30 is eerily similar to other sluggers of the past, such as Robin Ventura, Bobby Higginson, Jacque Jones, Von Hayes, Dale Murphy, Shawn Green, and Andruw Jones (to name a few). Watching Jason Bay play over the past two years, it looks as though his sheer athletic skill — i.e., hand-eye coordination, hand strength, and bat speed — may have compensated for his less-than-ideal hitting mechanics during his youth. It’s plausible that those skills have deteriorated with age, thereby exposing inefficient execution (such as striding toward the plate / diving, rushing hands forward, etc.).

2012 Projection

Generally speaking, if a Major League hitter is in his 30s and not using performance-enhancing drugs, his skills are unlikely to drastically improve after they’ve drastically declined. Since Bay turned 33 last September and PED use is prohibited in Bud Selig’s baseball company, it’s hard for me to expect Jason Bay to return to the form that earned him a 4-year, $66M contract.

At the same time, it’s hard for me to accept the idea that Bay is a sub-.250 hitter who will be lucky to hit 15 homers over a full season of play. But, that’s my emotions thinking; from his days in Pittsburgh, I’ve loved Bay’s approach to the game and always enjoyed watching him play. I’ve had similar, irrational feelings for other Mets in the twilight of their careers, such as the aforementioned Ventura and Green, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, and Willie Montanez — as much as my eyes were telling me those players were finished, my heart was hoping my eyes weren’t seeing clearly.

In 2012 I’m going to keep my expectations low for Jason Bay, but at the same time I’ll be pulling for him — hard — with every at-bat he takes. As a streak hitter, he has a shot at finding his stroke and getting hot just long enough to become a trading chip at the deadline — much like the Burnitz turnaround of 2003. If you remember, Burnitz was Africa-hot in May and followed that up with 8 homers in June, setting up a trade to the Dodgers that brought back three prospects — one of whom eventually was flipped for Mike Nickeas. But I digress … the Mets fan in me is going to go on a limb and say that Jason Bay will start slowly, heat up in June, and get dealt at the deadline for marginal, A-ball prospects — with the Mets eating little to none of the cash left on his contract. You heard it here first.

What do you think? What’s your hope and/or projection for Jason Bay in 2012? Answer in the comments.

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. Jeff January 16, 2012 at 9:51 am
    I agree that Bay’s attitude are very good, especially for someone who has struggled so much in NY. He would be a great story if he can approach a .275/25 HR production level. I hope it is possible. However, would it be better to try to flip him across town to the Yankees for their “extra” pitcher in AJ Burnett? For the production Bay has given the Mets it would not be hard to find a cheaper alternative, even someone like a Juan Pierre. The Mets could then cut loose Big Pelf gain one headache in Burnett, but get rid of another in Pelf.
  2. Mike B January 16, 2012 at 10:01 am
    Ah I had such high hope for Bay when the Mets resigned him. Reunited with Reyes from their days in the minors. I thought he was going to fill the hole Carlos Delgado left in the lineup. I dont blame the Mets on this one, he wasnt 34 when they signed him to a 4 year deal. I know the Red Sox didnt want anything to do with him but I cant believe they thought he would be this bad. Lets hope for a comeback year, I dont think youll get much for him anyway.
  3. Dan B January 16, 2012 at 10:33 am
    The reason I don’t think the Mets will win more then 74 wins is if Bay bounces back, he will be traded. The same can be said about Wright, Santana, Dickey, Pelfrey, and most of the bullpen. Now if we get quality prospects then we are the road back to .500. But if the other teams smell desperation it will be hard to get good prospects. Plus I fear the Mets are more interested in not paying salary then getting good players back.
  4. Tony January 16, 2012 at 11:02 am
    I think your conclusion is very plausible, as is your, keep expectations low, but have optimism..the ball carriers better in flushing come June when weather wind patterns pick up, question is, can he get his bat around quick enough to beat those low inside fastballs that have been eating him up without having to cheat on em.
  5. LiL Ed January 16, 2012 at 11:23 am
    Just another guy that is easy to root for but gives you nothing to cheer for.
  6. Matt January 16, 2012 at 11:55 am
    Would like to see him hit if anything just so he doesn’t look so unhappy all the time. The Mets fate is pretty much sealed next summer either way.

    But I do wonder how much the last couple of years had anything to do him with him just not wanting to be a Met. I think Scott Boras really screwed with his ruthless negotiations. It’s not always about the money.

  7. JoeJP January 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm
    I was worried when they picked up the Bay contract (doing little else that off season as I recall) that it was too much money for too long and that the doubters of his skills translating to the Mets for that span would pan out.

    Helped by injury, the doubts came true, though he is a very likeable player, who continued to provide defense and have a nice quiet presence that adds something to the team.

    He seems to have the ability, and the wall coming in might help, to have a decent year at the plate, with a hot streak mixed in. I won’t forget the years before but this makes the analysis set forth by Joe Janish as possible (some signs of life, trade, not eating much contract), and that is probably what I hope will happen.

    He’s not the long term answer in LF and watching him is a reminder of the problems with the team. As with other parts, the team won’t move on before he is gone. Unlike certain players, I have much less ill will for him.

  8. Glenn January 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm
    The best we can hope from Bay is that he has a good first half .260/.340/.480 and then maybe the Mets can eat hlaf of his remaining salary and trade him away. I like him as a person but you’re right, in the post-steroid era over 30 players rarely improve drastically.
  9. DaveSchneck January 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm
    I agree that Bay is an easy guy to root for, but I do not agree with the notion that a good start for him helps the Mets. The Mets will not be able flip him easily. He is due a ton of money next year, along with a reachable option based on ABs for 2014. In some ways he may help the team more by flopping, or at least flopping against right-handed pitching. That way they can either platoon him or eat the money and move on. I think Duda is better suited for LF, assuming he performs offensively, and with any luck someone like Captian Kirk can step into RF.
    • Joe Janish January 16, 2012 at 11:01 pm
      Eating $32M is not an option for this version of the Mets. Is it really that much money over two years, if (and granted, a big “IF”) he’s up around a .900 OPS? Pujols just got 10 years, $250M, and I’m not comparing him to Pujols, but rather pointing out that there was a team willing to pony up that money — and several others nearly as willing, which means there are teams who a) need a power hitter and b) have the budget to buy one. In other words, if there are teams who were in the bidding for 7-10 years and $200M+, and lost out, then those same teams won’t blink at 2 years / $32M if they’re desperate at the deadline and Bay is looking like he did two years ago.

      Yeah, these are huge ifs and probably unrealistic. But hey, you never know. The Burnitz example in particular provides hope.

      • jerseymet January 16, 2012 at 11:51 pm
        With baseball’s declining payrolls, I don’t think anyone would pick up Bay’s 16 million per. Perhaps if the Mets picked up 10 million per year they could trade him for a couple of minor leaguers.
        • Joe Janish January 16, 2012 at 11:57 pm
          Disagree with the premise. For every declining payroll there’s one that’s expanding — it’s always been that way. The Mets only need one team that’s willing to spend and is desperate to add an impact bat. Again, it all depends on whether Bay can actually appear to be an impact bat, but if he can, finances will not be an issue. If he hits, a team somewhere will pay — they always do.
        • Carl January 17, 2012 at 9:50 am
          I don’t think anyone has pointed this out yet, but as a 6 year veteran Bay does have a full no-trade clause in his contract. Now, granted with the state the Mets are in, even if Bay turns back into an all-star this team has very slim playoff hopes so maybe he would allow a trade to a contender. Also, why would he want to get traded though if he produces like he did before and has a chance to reach that vesting option. It really seems like it would take a perfect storm of good fortune for the Mets to get rid of Bay’s contract though.
      • Glenn January 17, 2012 at 11:27 am
        You need to understand the concept of sunk cost. The money you’re paying Bay is gone. You don’t save money by playing him. The only reason Bay is playing is because the Mets have no viable option to replace him. If they did , he would already be gone. Castillo and Perez were gone and their contracts eaten (20mil) and the Mets ate some of K-Rod’s money to be rid of him. They had options to replace them. Do I think Bay will play well enough to be traded. No, but that’s why I said it’s the BEST the Mets can hope for.
  10. argonbunnies January 17, 2012 at 2:45 am
    If you look at Bay’s career, there’s more cause for hope than if you actually watched him swing the bat the last two years. Accordingly, I say flip him ASAP for somebody else’s bad contract.

    How about A.J. Burnett? Less pressure to win, weaker opposing hitters, new pitching coach… who knows?

    Burnett replaces Pelf, who we either trade or convert to relief.

    Then we throw Manny $1 mil to be our LF for the last 100 games, and spend the first third of the season mixing and matching with backups, auditions, and Murphy.