Will new fences make a new hitter out of Jason Bay?

Last year on July 25th, I wrote an article saying that Jason Bay was toast and it was time for the Mets to move on. Three days later he started a hot streak that lasted until the end of the season. The streak lasted for 188 PA and led to this line:

.283/.362/.476

That performance would be a fantastic thing for the 2012 Mets to have. The question is: How likely is Bay to provide that kind of value over a full season? The six forecasts available over at FanGraphs give him an OPS ranging from .744 (Marcel) to .791 (Bill James). Last year he had a .703 OPS over the entire season, so every system sees him improving this year, even though at least some of these projections were made without benefit of knowing the new park dimensions.

The unknown of how Citi Field’s new dimensions will play out hovers over everything.

How likely is Bay, on the wrong side of 30, to match those numbers in a full season? In MLB history, there have been 165 people who at age 32 put up an OPS between .675 and .730 in a season in which they had at least 400 PA. Bay ranks 79th on this list with his .703 OPS last year. How many do you think were able to significantly increase their OPS in their age 33 season?

Actually, it’s more than I would have guessed. There were 22 players from this group who saw their OPS go up between 50 and 99 points. And there were 10 more that saw their OPS go up by at least 100 points. A pair of San Francisco Giants from their 2010 World Series team – Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff – are on the list. Other notables include Al Bumbry, Ron Gant, Dick McAuliffe and Jim Northrup. Perhaps the most well-known player is Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, who after posting a .686 OPS in an injury-shortened 1954, rebounded to record a .978 OPS en route to winning the MVP in the magical 1955 season.

There was no common theme among the players who did have a strong year in their age 33 season. Some came back from injuries, some had an off-year at age 32 and bounced back, some had a career year at age 33 and some benefited from a move to a new park.

My takeaway from this is the Mets need to give Bay a shot in 2012. If he can come close to duplicating his numbers over the final 188 PA from last year, that would be a big boost to the lineup. It still seems like odds are against it actually happening, even with the fences coming in. But at this point in time, the Mets don’t have an obvious replacement.

I would give him until the All-Star break. If Bay is near an .800 OPS at that point, then the decision is easy and the Mets just keep playing him. However, if his numbers are hovering around the .656 OPS that he had last year at the break, then it’s clear that it’s time to get him out of the lineup. Everyone wants to see Kirk Nieuwenhuis have a couple of months at Triple-A. Here he gets that time and hopefully is ready to step in if Bay is struggling again.

When Bay signed with the Mets prior to the 2010 season, he inked a four-year deal with a $17 million option ($3M buyout) that becomes vested if he gets 600 PA in 2013 or 500 in both 2012 and 2013. Much like with Francisco Rodriguez last year, one of the goals of the organization should be to make sure that they do not have to pick up that option.

FanGraphs shows Bay being worth $6 million in 2010 and $3.3 million last year. It is extremely unlikely that he will be worth $17 million in 2014.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that even while Bay has performed miserably in his tenure with the Mets, he is still a productive player against LHP. Last year he had a .300/.418/.500 line against lefties. Perhaps the best way to utilize Bay going forward is to use him in a platoon role, especially if he is struggling at the All-Star break.

A platoon ensures that Bay does not reach his vesting option. It allows the Mets to get at least some value from their multi-million dollar investment. And it eases the transition for Nieuwenhuis into the majors. The rookie would get the bulk of the playing time, as the lefty-swinging Nieuwenhuis would start against the righties. But with guys like Buehrle, Gonzalez, Hamels, Lee and Minor in the division, Bay should still see some action.

It’s really a shame how things have worked out for Bay in New York. By all accounts he is a good guy, his defense has been much better than advertised and he hustles all of the time. He’s a guy that fans normally would love to have on their team. But it’s tough to love a guy with a big contract who isn’t hitting. Hopefully the new dimensions help reinvigorate his career. But if they don’t – hopefully the Mets are ready to do what’s necessary to avoid having to pay him $17 million in 2014.

3 comments for “Will new fences make a new hitter out of Jason Bay?

  1. Metsense
    March 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Brian, once again we are on the same page. This article is my thoughts exactly, especially concerning Nieuwenhuis.I also enjoyed the background info on 33 yoa player bouncebacks. Sensational research and thanks.

    • Brian Joura
      March 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      I was really surprised at the number of people who improved at age 33. While it’s still an uphill climb, enough people have done it for me to think that giving Bay another shot is not foolish. One of the guys who did it is Bobby Higginson, who usually shows up among Bay’s age-based comps over at Baseball-Reference.

  2. David Groveman
    March 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I just don’t see Bay turning things around. To take advantage of the shorter porches he needs to make solid contact and he just doesn’t seem to do that anymore.

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