Jason Bay, Platoon Outfielder?

Remember back in the 2009-2010 off-season, when some people weren’t sure who was better between big-time free agent outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday? That was awesome. The Bay contract may not have been the nail in the coffin of Omar Minaya’s tenure as general manager of the Mets, but it was pretty close.

It is unlikely that even the biggest critics of the Bay contract at the time (and I was not a fan) thought things would get this bad this quickly. Bay was paid to be a star, but he has not even been an average player in either of his seasons so far with the Mets. Perhaps he was about average overall when he played in 2010, but he missed more than a third of the 2010 season. In 2011 he played more, but went from overpaid average player to just a bad player. He has looked so poor in spring training that there is talk (understandably dismissed by the Mets) that Bay could be platooned if he starts slow this year. The talk may be baseless, but that it is even out there is a bad sign for the Mets given that Bay still has two years and $35 million guaranteed (including the $3 million buyout on the 2014 club option) on his contract, which also includes a full no-trade clause.

But for the sake of speculation, if the Mets did decide to platoon Bay, would it really accomplish anything?

Platooning a mediocre player is usually a good idea, as it can enable a spot in the lineup to be above-average if the right players are chosen. The idea in Bay’s case probably also came about because he displayed a really big split in 2011.

One should be cautious in asserting Bay’s value as part of a platoon. The main reason (detailed here) is that individual platoon splits vary a great deal from year to year, and thus to determine a player’s actual skill we need to regress even several years of observed splits fairly heavily to the mean in order get an estimate of the player’s true platoon talent. Bay had a big 2011 platoon split, but for his career it is not nearly as large. Finally, Bay is a right-handed hitter, and the platoon skills of right-handed hitters generally vary less than those of lefties.

While projection systems do not see Bay hitting like the star the prior Mets administration signed him to be, they do see him having some value. Steamer projects a .336 wOBA, and ZiPS .338 wOBA. Taking the average of the two and applying a simple regression method, we estimate his current true talent wOBA to be .342 versus left-handed pitchers and .335 versus right-handed pitchers. Even if the Mets had a platoon partner for Bay that could wOBA .342 versus righties, that would only project to gain them maybe three runs over a full season.

The player mentioned who might be Bay’s platoon partner is Triple-A outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, whom Marc Hulet ranked as the Mets ninth-best prospect. While Nieuwenhuis has a reputation as a potential platoon player and would very likely be a substantial upgrade in the field over Bay, it seem unlikely that those two factors would be enough to make him an upgrade over Bay, even against right-handed pitching.

Of course, most of this analysis has been from an “objective,” statistical standpoint. There may very well be some legitimate concerns from a scouting perspective that the Mets do not want to discuss publicly for fear of hurting whatever chance they have of trading Bay. However, that points to another important reason the team is probably well-advised to avoid platooning Bay. If he really can put up a wOBA in the mid-.330s, he could have some value to a team in need of a left-fielder or even a DH (the heavily left-haded Cleveland team comes to mind) . Of course, the Mets would have to pick up a substantial portion of his remaining salary, but that is better than eating the whole for two non-contending seasons at the beginning of a big rebuild.

The Mets certainly do not want to devalue Bay by giving potential trade partners the idea that he is only a part-time player. Moreover, he would be the lesser half of a platoon, which would both cuts into his on-field value and decrease his playing time such that it would give the Mets and other teams less of an opportunity to see if he has anything left. Some may say that ship has sailed, but I think that over-emphasizes the 2011 season at the expense of Bay’s prior performance.

One could, of course, point to Bay’s advanced age (33, pretty old in baseball terms), injury issues, miserable Spring, as well as argue that the Mets probably are not going to get anything for him, anyway. Why “go through the motions” of trying to up his trade value? If Bay was blocking a hot prospect, I might agree. But while I was not a fan of the signing at the time, and am not now, at this point Bay may have enough left to offer that if he gets off to a decent start this season, the Mets could at least get some much-needed financial relief. Together, Jason Bay’s bat and glove are such that he is probably an average player at best. But Bay does project to have some value, and something that would be needlessly hurt if the Mets are too quick to bench or platoon him.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

22 Responses to “Jason Bay, Platoon Outfielder?”

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  1. John says:

    Good article.

    You nailed the point. Doesn’t make sense for Mets to platoon and devalue an already diminished stock. They aren’t going to win anything anyway. May as well play him.

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    • TerrysKids says:

      Right. And if he has another awful year, he goes from a diminished stock to a sunk cost and the Mets would be within their rights to release/bench him.

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  2. Dan in Philly says:

    Holy cow we’re once again at the time where 33 is old in baseball years. So many younger fans think otherwise due to a few notable exceptions to the normal aging patterns that it’s almost a shock to see what was so true when I grew up – 33 really is pretty old for a baseball player.

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  3. Greg says:

    Jason Bay was ruined in 2010 by the Mets hitting coach. He got Bay to change his swing to try to become more of a line drive hitter before ever seeing if his normal approach would work in Citi Field. He did the same thing to David Wright in 2009. Bay has had some confidence problems since then…in batting practice, the dude hits bombs into the second deck in LF and weak grounders to 3B during the game.

    Basically, Howard Johnson is a terrible hitting coach.

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    • pft says:

      This is a good point. I watched him play for the Red Sox and his HR were no doubters, not the Pedroia variety. He looks like a completely different hitter, but he also looks smaller (not that he was a huge guy). Maybe he cut back on his work outs and adjusted his swing..

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  4. Mr Punch says:

    One advantage to platooning Bay is of course that the OF defense would almost certainly improve.

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    • Greg says:

      Bay has been rated at very close to neutral defensively for several years now. People still seem to think the unadjusted -18 UZR when he played in Fenway is still relevant. Once it was correctly adjusted, it showed that he wasn’t bad defensively at all.

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  5. Franco says:

    I get it and I agree with the article. But I’d give him a short leash, maybe until the end of May to prove he has something left even if it’s just favorablility from BABIP gods.

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  6. caseyB says:

    The Mets are only considering platooning Bay if he does very poorly the first 6-7 weeks of the season. In which case, he is unlikely to reach his projected wOBA as a full time player. In which case a platoon attempt does make sense from the standpoint of trying to get more out of LF.

    But what the article totally neglects to mention is that there is an onerous vesting option for 2014 in Bay’s contract, based on plate appearances in 2012 and 2013. Even if a platoon would provide only negligible improvement in production, it will likely save the Mets $14 million dollars ($17 million option minus the $3 million buyout). Alderson would be really negligent if they didn’t try a full platoon if Bay struggles this season from the start.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      You beat me to the punch on the option. There’s no way the team can allow that option to vest (assuming he doesn’t become a 5 WAR player out of the blue). It’s too early to put a plan into motion, but I’m sure they’re all well aware of the option. If he doesn’t turn it around, they should absolutely bench him against tough righties (at the very least) to ensure that the option doesn’t vest.

      Best case scenario would be for him to become a competent enough hitter where they can trade him away, and maybe a team would pick up $4MM of his annual contract. But at some point they need to transition from “let him raise his trade value” to “make sure he’s not on our team in 2014”.

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      • caseyB says:

        Exactly. Only there is a potential problem with the whole idea of a trade. Wouldn’t that vesting option be in place with any new club? No club is going to trade for him if that vesting option stays in place, even if the Mets ate ALL of Bay’s remaining guaranteed money.

        The best remaining course of action may be as you put it to “make sure he’s not on our team in 2014.”

        This is really turning out to be one of the worst contracts in Mets history. It’s just stunning how fast and how much Bay has fallen off.

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    • R. Johnston says:

      Since it was signed I’ve been calling Bay’s contract a 3 year, $66 million contract as opposed to the 4 year, $66 million term generally used in the media, precisely because it was obvious from the beginning that even if he had played up to reasonable expectations that letting that option vest would almost certainly be a terrible idea. If he’d been the 4 or 4.5 WAR/season player about to decline normally as players do in their early-to-mid 30s that it looked like the Mets were getting then letting that option vest would have been bad; now it’s unthinkable.

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  7. stumanji says:


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  8. pft says:

    Red Sox dodged the bullet on Bay only to be hit by the cruise missile Crawford.

    You look at how some players turn into pumpkins after signing a big free agent deal (Figgins, Dunn, Werth, etc) and I can only think it must be something like testosterone withdrawal. No reason to juice anymore given the health consequences since the money is locked up. Dunno if that’s it, but I have not heard another reasonable explanation (short acting testosterone can allow players to avoid a positive test during the season and I am sure there are ways to use offseason without being tested during a cycle by going to the DR, API or a long trip)

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  9. Joey B says:

    Minaya signed him to that ridiculous contract because he knew he’d be fired if they lost, so why not lose big? Wilpon is an idiot for letting him make that decision. It’s like allowing a lame duck GM to trade draft choices.

    IRT Bay, just another GM paying off of a huge season. He wasn’t really a 36-HR hitter. He was more like a 30-HR, .265 weakish fielder type of player. A very long swing, with a career high in Ks when he left Boston.

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  10. jim says:

    “Remember back in the 2009-2010 off-season, when some people weren’t sure who was better between big-time free agent outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday?”

    the continual underrating of matt holliday

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  11. Keith says:

    Pft’s theory is compelling. Or maybe Bay is just the second coming of George Foster. Or maybe it is the mild brain trauma (aka concussion) he sustained.

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  12. Keith says:

    Pft’s theory is compelling. Alternatively, maybe Bay is just the second coming of George Foster. Or maybe it is the mild brain trauma (aka concussion) he sustained.

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    • caseyB says:

      I strongly disagree with the theory that steroids have anything to do with the marked decline in some of these athletes. It doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels.

      First, the disparity in performance between these players prior to and after they sign the contract is pretty big. I highly doubt there is any short-acting testosterone regimen effective enough to account for these big differences in performance. Is there? Does anyone know if one actually exists?

      Second, since prior to signing their contracts each of these players enjoyed sustained success, so if steroids accounted for that, you would have to assume they were taking steroids steadily for years prior. Oh, really? So despite the existence of stringent testing they were just lucky enough to have escaped detection? Or are you saying there exists a short-acting undetectable super-effective steroid that no one has ever heard of?

      The theory by Pft assumes that they didn’t care about negative health effects prior to signing the contract but they did after? So much so that they subjected themselves to endless booing and criticism for their post-contract failures rather than go back to steroids? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

      So why do these athletes fail after the big payday? For one thing, by the time they sign their contracts, their best years are usually behind them and they are well beyond the age of peak performance. So a decline is to be expected regardless. Second, there is the pressure of living up to a big contract. Third, sometimes it means going to a new league and learning new pitchers or facing stiffer competition. Fourth, there are other miscellaneous reasons — in Bay’s case a big new park which stole home runs. Also, a concussion.

      I highly doubt it’s steroids, and I think suggesting it is cast doubts on all current major leaguers because it implies that there is currently an easy way to beat the system and cheat for years and years. I don’t think there is. If there were, that would mean everyone is currently suspect including Votto and Pujols. It’s not fair to the clean players. And it tends to minimize instances where players such as Braun do test positive by implying he was just unlucky to have gotten caught.

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  13. M.Twain says:

    Remember back in the 2009-2010 off-season, when some people weren’t sure who was better between big-time free agent outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday? That was awesome.

    And now Bay lives in a van down by the river.

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  14. Fluffy says:

    I agree with Greg. When he was with the Red Sox he hit 36 home runs,but when he went to the Mets, he hit about 6 homers. Howard Johnson totally messed up J-Bay’s swing. He should just not listen to Johnson and swing like he did on the Red Sox and Pirates. Howard Johnson is a terrible hitting coach.

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