Will Jason Bay give the Mets the power presence they need?
Last season, Jason Bay hit 36 home runs and had 119 RBIs for the Boston Red Sox. It was the fourth time in the past five seasons that Bay compiled at least 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored. The lone exception was 2007, and the lesser production may have been thanks to his right knee causing him plenty of discomfort throughout the season.
The Mets, in need of some extra pop in their lineup and happy with the results of the physical that Bay took for them, signed him to a four-year, $66 million contract to play left field. But was this a waste of money? After all, one of the criticisms of Bay is that he strikes out far too much to be relied on to consistently provide solid power numbers, and certainly, it's a valid criticism. Take a look at this chart.
Strikeout frequency rate, 2009
Only five players struck out at a more frequent rate than Bay last season, and although that kind of all-or-nothing approach to hitting may end up frustrating Mets fans in 2010, from a fantasy standpoint, it's pretty much irrelevant. Bay's batting average is not nearly the deadweight that you'll get from the likes of Jack Cust or a repeat of Carlos Pena's disastrous 2009. Bay's higher-than-expected walk rate shows he's more than willing to be patient at the plate if the pitches aren't there.
The question shouldn't be of Bay's demeanor at the plate, but rather whether it is possible for him to excel at Citi Field, which already has been branded as a ballpark where home runs go to die, albeit with only one season of statistical evidence.
The Mets combined to hit only 95 round-trippers last season, with Daniel Murphy, of all people, leading the way with 12. Certainly, injuries played their part in this league-worst power showing, with only three players staying healthy enough to have had 400 or more at-bats: Murphy, Luis Castillo and David Wright. Plus, visiting players hit 81 home runs at the new stadium as compared to just 49 hit by the Mets, so you gotta believe that the Mets' not-so-amazin' lineup is certainly -- at least partially -- to blame.
Still, Citi Field is a factor. Only 1.60 homers per game were hit in Flushing in 2009, as compared with 2.15 homers per game hit at Shea Stadium in 2008. Greg Rybarczyk of Hittrackeronline.com calculates that 64 balls that were not home runs in Citi Field would have flown out of Shea, while only four Citi Field homers would have failed to clear the fences at the old stadium.
The poster child for this so-called "Citi Field effect" is Wright, who dropped from 33 home runs in 2008 to a mere 10 in 2009. But Bay is a completely different hitter from Wright. He's a strict pull hitter whose power "lives" in left field. Take a look at the following chart, outlining the difference between Bay and Wright since 2008.
Batting tendencies: 2008 and '09
Data in this chart provided by Inside Edge. *%Flies to left refers to percentage of all hit balls, not just fly balls.
As you can see, not only does Bay pull the ball far more frequently than Wright, he also hits more overall fly balls, and of those fly balls, far more of Bay's blasts go to left field. In fact, of his 36 home runs last season, only seven were not hit to left field or left-center.
Even if Bay does not keep up his unbelievable 19.7 fly ball-to-home run ratio, he'll still hit plenty of home runs. After all, what was Wright's big complaint about Citi Field? The height of the walls -- most notably left field, where it doubled from 8 feet at Shea to 16 feet at Citi Field. Hitting coach Howard Johnson told The New York Times that he felt Wright might have overcompensated last year and tried to hit too much to right field as a result.
Well, we're not worried about Bay making the same mistake. After all, we're talking about a player who just spent a couple of seasons in Boston. We find it hard to believe that Bay will feel the same type of claustrophobia and trepidation that Wright did, especially after staring down a 37-foot-high Green Monster at Fenway Park.
In short, a healthy Bay should continue to do what he always does: hit 30 home runs. What about 100 runs and 100 RBIs? Well, that's going to be up to the rest of the Mets' lineup -- and any failure to reach those milestones won't be able to be pinned on No. 44.