The Jason Bay Lessons
It’s June 3, and Jason Bay is starting again tonight for the Mariners. He brings in just a .231 batting average, but his on-base percentage is more than a hundred points higher than that, and his slugging percentage is right there with Michael Morse’s and Kyle Seager’s. Through the first third of the season, Bay’s been a contributor, and a year ago he was a pile of crap. He cost the Mariners little to bring in, his placement on the roster was controversial, and now it’s time to review some lessons we all might have learned. Without further
Jason Bay isn’t toast
This, of course, is the most obvious lesson, on account of Jason Bay hasn’t played like toast. He hasn’t played like anything resembling toast. I don’t actually quite understand the expression, myself, just like I don’t understand the expression of being “on fire.” I certainly don’t understand how they can co-exist as they do. If you’re toast, you’re done. If you’re on fire, you’re performing quite ably. What does fire yield but extremely dark toast? If Jason Bay were on fire, would he not be toasty? Does “toast” refer to when you’re not on fire anymore? Does one go right from being on fire to being finished? And don’t most people enjoy toast? I don’t think these were thought through. I don’t think these were thought through at all.
Bay’s been one of the best hitters on the team. Last year, Bay was one of the worst hitters in baseball. He, for example, hit worse than Chone Figgins. He hit worse than Ramon Santiago. He hit worse than Brendan Ryan and Xavier Nady and whoever Gorkys Hernandez is. Bay was getting older and had had some injuries and there was reason to believe his days were just through, not on this planet, but at least in this league. Now he’s walking like always. He’s striking out basically like always. His isolated slugging percentage is where it was in 2008, when he clubbed 31 dingers and got himself involved in a Manny Ramirez trade. Jason Bay has bounced back. To some extent. To a productive extent. The Mariners picked up a shell and found a crab in it that looked suspiciously Canadian.
Also Bay’s defense hasn’t been bad. Or, if it has been bad, the badness has mostly escaped my attention. He seems to have been perfectly adequate, which is more than you could say of a few other frequent or semi-frequent Mariner outfielders.
Teams usually don’t make truly weird decisions for no reason
At the time, I didn’t understand the argument for Jason Bay over Casper Wells. That is, for all intents and purposes, the decision that was made. Bay was selected as a reserve outfielder while Wells was dropped and discarded. Wells was (and is!) younger, he could play center, he projected better, and he had some extra team control. On paper, choosing Wells was obvious. On paper, going with Bay amounted to lunacy, spring training be damned. It was a little thing, but it was a thing, in an offseason full of questionable things.
I still don’t quite get it. I still don’t get why the Mariners dropped a younger center fielder. Bay’s success doesn’t retroactively justify everything, any more than finding a quarter justifies my tipping over all the washing machines in a laundromat. But Bay has succeeded, and the Mariners felt like they saw something. Wells hasn’t succeeded, in large part because he’s had trouble finding steady work. Other teams didn’t care much for a freely-available Casper Wells, meaning it wasn’t just the Mariners’ evaluation. When a decision you disagree with seems to work out, it’s easy to just say “bad process, good results.” But it requires deeper examination. Probably, the process wasn’t so bad. Probably, it had better chances of working out than you gave it. Baseball teams aren’t baseball idiots. Except for sometimes.
We still haven’t learned about sample sizes
I’ll go quickly over this one since I don’t want to be perceived as a wet blanket, but Bay has 141 plate appearances. How “back” is he, really? He’s been protected from a lot of righties, and, let’s re-visit 2011. Through June 10, Adam Kennedy had a .784 OPS over 173 trips to the plate. The rest of the way, he came in at .521 and 236. We don’t know what Jason Bay’s going to do, and arriving at conclusions after a third of the season is a good way to look kind of stupid after three-thirds of the season. Bay, oddly, has twice as many homers as doubles. That probably won’t keep up. Because of Bay, there’s something of a rush of people admitting to having been wrong, or accusing others of having been wrong. It’s fine, encouraged even, to re-consider perspectives, but remember what date it is. Remember what numbers can do.
It doesn’t only happen to us
Scott Spiezio and Jeff Cirillo are among the more reviled Mariners in recent team history. Spiezio played like a total idiot and Cirillo essentially went bonkers. In Spiezio’s last year with the Mariners, he had three hits. In Cirillo’s last year with the Mariners, his OPS had three fives in it. Spiezio subsequently bounced back in a big way as a role player for the Cardinals. Cirillo found it again playing for the Brewers. It was maddening to see such aggravating busts have success somewhere else after flopping in Seattle. It felt, in some weird way, like an insult.
Jason Bay’s got an OPS near .800. Oliver Perez has an ERA closer to 1 than 2. In Perez’s last year with the Mets, his ERA was almost 7. In Bay’s last year with the Mets, he didn’t slug .300. Perez looked like a complete and utter loss, and Bay looked like a shell of a former star slugger. Mets fans, as far as I could tell, hated Perez. I don’t think they hated Bay — he’s a hard one to hate — but they weren’t sad to see him leave. He wasn’t of use anymore. He hadn’t been of use for some time. Except now, he’s of use, like Perez is, on the Mariners, who aren’t the Mets.
Neither of these guys is going to lead the Mariners to the playoffs, or come through with clutch stretch-run performances. They’re role players, and they’re non-elite ones. But, Mariners fans love to ask, “why do they always get better when they leave?” It’s a silly question, but we’re not the only ones asking it.