Jason Bay is owned in 32% of Yahoo leagues. Those 32% must not be Mets fans.
If you’ve been watching Bay in the blue and orange, there hasn’t been much to like for two years now. Well, his strikeout and walk rates have held steady so far, but it’s the power that disappeared and never came back, and it was the power that put all those zeroes on his last contract. Maybe that home run derby appearance was a harbinger — since his last year with the Red Sox, Bay has hit fewer fly balls and more ground balls every year. And his isolated power has come down from his peak to his nadir accordingly.
So he’s hitting more ground balls, which is not conducive to power, but that’s not all. The fly balls he is hitting are not going as far. Courtesy baseballheatmaps.com:
See how there’s a general decline in batted ball distance off of a 2008 peak? He’s not muscling them as far as he used to. And it’s not because he’s not trying hard. In fact, he’s pulling the ball more, which might be a nod towards his flagging boom stick.
Pulling the ball more to worse power results is a toxic combo. What’s strange is that he showed one of his better years to the pull field last year — probably because he was looking to pull the ball more — but it was his production to the rest of the field that suffered the most. His work was 62% better than league average to the pull field last year (187 career wRC+), but he had his worst production to center field of his career (115 wRC+ in 2011, 178 wRC+ career). His opposite-field power also hit a career-worst (50 wRC+), but he’s been below 100 in that category for six years now and was never that good to begin with (105 wRC+ career).
While we’re here in the splits page, we might also mention that, after two years of performing well in high-leverage situations in Boston (151 and 185 wRC+ respectively), Bay has stunk in late-and-close situations in New York (37 and 98 wRC+ the last two years). This should help us see a little bit of the noise around any signal — some of it is luck. If you look at his pull- and center-field power, you can see that the recent variations are within his personal error bars.
But it’s safe to say that Bay’s lost his opposite-field prowess. And seeing such a degradation in oppo power, it might make sense to pull more. But to pull more and still see below-league-average power from a corner outfield spot (without adding speed or defense) — that’s not good.
Maybe that’s why the recent reports have indicated that the Mets front office is willing to give Bay ‘six or seven weeks‘ before they’ll start considering other options at the position.
A platoon would be disastrous to the righty Bay’s fantasy value, but he’s always been better against lefties and was 56% better than league average against southpaws overall last year. It might make sense to find him a caddy. Primary outfield backup Scott Hairston is a righty, so if it ends up being a platoon, he’s not a natural fit.
“Captain” Kirk Nieuwenhuis is the name floated by the New York Post, but the lefty-swinging athletic outfielder has to show something in his third stint at Triple-A before he can be considered for a regular role in the bigs — the ability to make consistent contact. Nieuwenhuis has struck out 29.3% and 26.7% of the time during his last two stints at the level. ZiPs ‘likes’ him for a .238/.304/.398 line overall (with decent power and speed), but given some of his Minor League splits, it’s possible that platooning him would produce a better-looking slash line. And he’d have the bigger share of the playing time, considering the league is about 3/4 right-handed.
There aren’t any other Major-League ready outfield prospects that would work in tandem with Jason Bay, though, so expect the Mets front office to take as much time as they can making this decision, especially if Nieuwenhuis has trouble making contact in the early season. But if the Captain is raking, and Bay adds another month-plus to his two-year sample of suckitude, change is going to come.