Jason Bay inked a very generous four-year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets two offseasons ago, following a year in which he hit .267, with 36 HR and 119 RBI -- career-high power numbers. But when Bay played for the Mets last season, in his 95 games before he sustained a concussion, he hit just six homeruns, drove in 47 runs and batted .259. His OPS fell to his second worst mark of his career at .749.
At 32 years old, Bay is not a youngster, but it's not like he's over the hill, either. Regardless, the question arises, based on previous experiences: Will Jason Bay be just the latest in a myriad of free-agent busts to join the New York Mets?
Sunday in camp, Bay spoke about his expectations for this season, and that the concussion is no longer an issue.
"Every year I kind of say the same thing. ... Thirty, I think, is reasonable," he said, as quoted by ESPN NY. "Yeah, it's a big ballpark. And the number might take a hit. You look at David [Wright]. David hit near 30. It can be done. It's not so much about the home runs. It's about the overall production. For me anyway, if I'm driving in runs, I would like the home runs -- no question. But I still need to drive in runs. And even last year, with as down a year as I had ... I was still somewhat productive in my limited sample set with the RBIs."
Thirty homeruns seems like a grandiose prediction after he hit just six homeruns, at a career-low 5.1 percent HR/FB rate, last season with the Mets. What are the chances he returns to the 30-HR plateau, one he's reached in four of his seven seasons?
Bay has averaged 30 homeruns in his career, so it's not like this is a milestone that has no chances of happening. He also has a career 15.8 percent HR/FB rate in the majors, a rate that fell to a ridiculously-low five percent last season. Looking at his batted ball rates, his 45 percent fly-ball mark was also right at his career norm so it wasn't as if he hit way less fly balls. His ISO fell to .144, from a career mark of .231 -- and a career-best .269 with the Red Sox in 2009 --- but he still managed 20 doubles (he hit 29 with Boston in 2009). He struckout the same amount of time as he did in any other year, he walked slightly less, and his BABIP was right at his career average, but his power production fell off the charts -- he lost over 100 points in his slugging percentage (mostly due to the drop in homeruns) from his career average. Even with age and slight regression in the cards, to see a power decline that steep from a player of Bay's pedigree is puzzling. I just don't see a way it's for real and that his skills could've depreciated that much in one season.
Bay averaged 393.7 feet on his homeruns in 2009, while averaging 396.7 on his six last season, according to HitTracker. The average speed on his homeruns in 2010 dropped two miles per hour. Granted, he's now moved into the homerun-supressing CitiField, which allowed just 1.36 HR a game last season (Fenway Park was 2.30). However, it's not like PNC Park, where he played with the Pirates, is any easier on right handers (1.60 HR/game last season) and Bay hit 61 HR there over just less than six seasons. Bay hit just two homeruns to left field in 2010, while hitting nearly every single one to left field in 2009. Six is a small sample size, but is it possible he tried to alter his power approach/swing with the Red Sox, considering Fenway has such a short left-field wall, and failed to make the proper adjustments in New York (and then just became increasingly frustrated by his lack of success)? I think it's possible.
David Wright's homerun numbers dropped to just 10 in 2009 during his first season at CitiField, then he rebounded to 29 last season. Five of his 10 HR in 2009 were in CitiField -- 12 of his 29 last season went yard in the home ballpark.
Bay is too good a hitter -- and too hard of a worker -- to see his power numbers drop to all-time lows in two consecutive seasons. His batspeed may have slowed a little and he may have been trying to do too much in his first year in New York, but I don't think he's become this bad, this fast. Even though 30 homeruns may be a bit much considering the year he's just coming off of -- it is not out of the question -- I would think 20-25 HR would be attainable for the left fielder.