Note: This post was published about 5 hours before Jason Bay hit his first home run of the season. Pretty prophetic. For my next post I will write about how the Mets will go on a 15 game winning streak. Hopefully, that will happen as well.
He’s the new guy in town and the Mets biggest off-season signing. I’m speaking of course about Jason Bay. Bay is putting $15 million in his pocket this year from the Mets ($6.5M + $8.5M signing bonus) which puts him behind only Johan Santana as the highest paid Met player for 2010. But so far this season, he has yet to perform like the impact player he’s expected to be in New York. Nor has he come close to being the solid hitter he was in his Pirate years or for that matter his time spent in Boston. It’s been a sluggish start for the left fielder but being the new face in the crowd, well give him a little slack since he playing on the biggest stage in baseball. But for how long?
On the surface, Bays numbers would hardly raise an eyebrow this season. He’s slash line reads .269/.388/.373. The batting average is probably where we should anticipate Bay to be. He’s a .280 lifetime hitter, so he’s not going to be big on average. And it’s hard to complain about a .388 OBP. But the main criticism is that he hasn’t hit much for power yet and the run production off of his bat has not materialized. He has only 5 extra base hits which include no home runs. He also has only 5 RBI and a .261 average with runners in scoring position. Bay’s lack of run production is like paying fillet mignon prices but getting only a ground beef in return.
Looking below the surface at Bay’s numbers, there are some interesting trends. Bay’s BABIP is extremely high at .409 and he has a solid line drive percentage of 25%, so based upon those numbers we would expect a pretty high batting average. After all, the balls that are batted into play are going for hits almost 41% of the time and he is hitting solid line drives. That batting average should be pretty good. So what gives? Why is he only batting .269? The answer: strikeouts! Currently, Bay is tied for 4th in the N.L. with 23 strikeouts, just one behind teammate David Wright. If you’re thinking that this is not the category that you want to be a top 10 leader in, you’d be right. Currently, Bay strikes out just under 29% of the time.
But the good news is that Bay has been on an upswing. His strikeout rate has improved along with his contact rate on pitches. Just as recent as 7 days ago, Bay’s contact rate on pitches was hovering around 66%. Now it’s up to a more reasonable (for Bay) 73%.
What other improvements have we seen from Bay over the past week? His batting average has improved from .217 to .269, batting .380 over the past week. He has been making contact 81% of the time and while he is still striking out around 23%, he is balancing it out with an improved plate discipline with a BB/K of 1.0. And he has a terrific OBP of .519.
While numbers like BABIP, OBP and batting average are all very well and good, these aren’t really the numbers that we are concerned with when it comes to Bay. Sure, they provide insight into certain trends of difficulty or success a player may be having. But Bay has averaged 103 RBI and 31 home runs over the past 5 seasons. We’re looking for those meaty statistics, the kind that generate runs, and so far they haven’t been there.
Perhaps a good sign is that 3 of the 5 RBI Bay has on the season have come in the past week. Maybe a home run is not too far behind. Met fans will continue to be patient; the recent hitting upswing buys Bay time. But if the RBI doesn’t improve and the home run drought continues, Bay may find an increasingly anxious fan base expecting some “fillet mignon” results for the money that he is being paid. After all, over the past 3 seasons, Met fans have seen enough ground beef.