"I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level...I’m excited to keep playing and have no intention of just walking away." -- Jason Bay
The last time Jason Bay hit the free agent market, he parlayed a 36-homer season with the Red Sox in 2009 into a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets. Bay is back on the market after parting ways with New York, but he'll only get 66 this time around if that's the uni number he's assigned as a non-roster invitee this spring.
The 34-year-old, felled by post-concussion symptoms and cracked ribs during his time in Queens, is coming off a 2012 season in which he batted .165, got on base at a .237 clip and slugged .299 in 215 plate appearances. His 47 OPS+ was the worst by a Mets hitter getting 200+ plate appearances in a season since Joe McEwing (44 OPS+) in 2002. For Bay to be even a shadow of the stealth star he was with the Pirates and Red Sox, he'll need to start turning on some fastballs.
Check out Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location against fastballs since 2009. He was a monster against heaters in 2009, slugging .598...
Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2009
During his first year with the Mets, Bay clubbed fastballs left over the heart of the plate and also did damage on pitches thrown at the knees. Even so, his fastball slugging percentage dipped to .477...
Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2010
Save for the occasional high fastball, he wasn't much of a threat against fastballs in 2011 while slugging .444...
Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2011
This past year, Bay's heat map was an ocean of blue. Bay slugged just .323 against fastballs:
Bay's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2012
As Bay became an easy out on fastballs, pitchers pounced. Pitchers threw Bay a fastball over the plate 49.8% of the time in 2009, 53.2% in 2010, 53.5% in 2011 and 55.7% in 2012 (the MLB average is 51.3% over that time frame). There's no need to be timid when the most Bay can do with a fastball most days is hit an occasional single.
Hopefully, Bay can overcome his ailments and re-establish himself as a major leaguer. If not, he can proudly walk away with over $80 million in career earnings and the highest career value (21.8 Wins Above Replacement) of any 22nd-round draft pick this side of John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte.