The Jason Bay Lessons

Jeff Sullivan · June 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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 ado words:

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.


13 Responses to “The Jason Bay Lessons”

  1. Slats on June 3rd, 2013 6:33 pm

    Jason Bay’s WAR in three seasons with the Mets: 0.7
    Jason’s WAR so far this season: 0.9

  2. PackBob on June 3rd, 2013 6:38 pm

    When you think of how fine the line can be between success and failure, a home run or a lazy fly ball with not much difference in bat placement based on a decision made in an eye blink, it’s not surprising that a player can lose it or find it again. And I can see why a player like Figgens can feel like a return to past performance is right around the corner.

    Regarding the selection of Bay over Wells, they made their best guess and it turned out pretty good so far. Predicting future performance on an individual basis is a result of varying degrees of skill and luck.

    It’s like Jack Z’s selection of young talent. There has been nothing too wrong with his choices, they simply haven’t performed as expected. That’s something no one can predict and doesn’t have much to do with his skill as a talent evaluator.

  3. Paul B on June 3rd, 2013 9:33 pm

    If Bay continues to hit at this rate, I’ll gladly admit I was wrong.

    I saw great similarity between Jason Bay of 2012 and Richie Sexson in his last year. And that was enough to convince me he was through.

  4. scraps on June 3rd, 2013 10:30 pm

    I won’t, at least till Wells gets a chance and fails. He’s still younger, faster, able to play center, and was under team control.

  5. Westside guy on June 3rd, 2013 10:47 pm

    Right on cue – Bay did seem to take a really weird path to at least one ball tonight.

    He’s certainly better than Raul out there, in that he routinely catches things hit to his vicinity. But if he has to move much, the issues do seem t come to the surface.

  6. daveblev on June 4th, 2013 7:00 am

    I’ll take Casper Wells over Jason Bay 10x any day. I’ve been rooting for Bay to fail all season so the Mariners realize that they made a mistake. Seems like a fluke to me.

  7. vj on June 4th, 2013 9:43 am

    Over at fangraphs I saw that Bay is currently running a HR/FB percentage of 24.2. That doesn’t look sustainable. If that percentage was in line with his career norms, he’d have 4 or 5 dingers instead of 8 which would bring his slugging down considerably. In other words, it may still be too early to tell, how much he’s left in the tank.

  8. Westside guy on June 4th, 2013 9:48 am

    One thing we need to remember is – Jeff is looking at Jason Bay in isolation here. The problem many of us had with this most recent off-season wasn’t the Bay pickup, or the Ibañez pickup, or the Morse pickup – it was the fact that all three were signed. The Wells versus Bay argument is sort of artificial, even though it fit the team’s narrative at the end of spring training.

    The actual problem was the team decided to sign three aging players (two with a history of missing time on the DL) who were defensively challenged even in their prime, plus trade for Kendrys Morales. Basically 20% of our roster is best suited to the DH/1B role. THAT’S why they had to let Casper Wells go – it wasn’t specifically the Bay signing. And it’s also why they’ve had to run some truly pathetic outfields out there at times.

    (P.S. I’d love to see the team re-sign Kendrys.)

  9. maqman on June 4th, 2013 10:56 am

    Why do people have such a hard time admitting that picking up Bay, Ibanez and Morales were good moves that are paying off? Remember the moaning about Jaso and Garland? Morse has hit 11 dingers, Jaso has hit 1. Garland’s ERA is 5.81. Hamilton? A good not get.

  10. Mid80sRighty on June 4th, 2013 11:13 am

    There’s A LOT more to playing baseball then dingers and ERA…in fact, ERA is a pretty terrible stat to be using. Here’s something a little more useful:

    Morse – 0.0 WAR
    Jaso – 0.5 WAR
    Garland – 0.4 WAR

  11. Bryce on June 4th, 2013 12:03 pm

    Don’t get upset about the choice of Wells over Bay. It’s not that big of a deal. Get upset over the fact that Jack Z’s inability to properly evaluate talent is what led to Wells being on the roster in the first place. Trading one of the better pitchers in the AL for a used jock strap and a half empty bag of Big League Chew is much more of an indictment than Bay/Wells.

  12. Westside guy on June 4th, 2013 12:06 pm

    Some people still don’t think defense matters, apparently.

    Morse would be worth more as a first baseman or a DH. In the outfield, he gives away as much value as he’s provided with his bat. He hits home runs, but his on-base percentage has never been high enough to make him a great hitter – he’s definitely a good hitter, although for that skill set I prefer Kendrys Morales.

    2013 Raul Ibañez is basically Jose Lopez’s good season 2.0,. He hits homers, but he also doesn’t get on base well at all. The bottom line is he makes too many outs – his OBP is currently .266.
    Add atrocious defense to that, and you get Raul.

    If all you care about is the bottom line, here it is. The team’s won-loss record is exactly as bad this year as it was last year. The team’s run differential is WORSE this year than last year. The young guys who didn’t play well this year also did not play well last year (Saunders had a prolonged bad slump last year too, so his recent 2013 slump had a 2012 analog) – so those three “good pickups” obviously have not improved the team one whit.

  13. sawsatch on June 6th, 2013 9:25 pm

    We can’t win with patchwork teams that are weak up the middle, loaded with DHs and with questionable pitching.
    I know the NFL is a different animal, but the Hawks have succeeded by drafting and developing talent in a highly skilled manner to build a balanced team with a specific mindset and character.
    The Hawks have people longing to come to Seattle to play. The Mariners are even feeling ok when they lose.
    By the way, our much improved, break-out year outfielder strikes out about 33% of his PAs.

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