Jason Bay is having a really bad year. Considering his large contract he’s been given by the Mets, his 125 wRC+, combined with mediocre defense at a non-premium position, is simply unacceptable. The question, however, is what has gotten into Bay to have him drop so dramatically? No prognosticators saw this coming, and the Mets brass has to be shocked at the power outage, which Jack Moore chronicled wonderfully last week.
I think we may learn a little bit from Bay’s swing. Let’s take a peak at his stance from July of 2009 on the Red Sox and June of 2010 on the Mets:
So you can definitely see a difference here despite the slightly different camera angles. On the Sox, Bay had his hands farther up and out, his knees bent more, and his stance slightly more open. Given his swing, this is the better approach, as Bay is giving himself the proper momentum to come through on the ball, flicking his wrists to generate power. Bay doesn’t have a typical swing where he whips the bat around all the way; he’s more of the Richie Sexson/Chase Utley school of hitting which requires a flick of the wrists.
Here is Bay getting ready to swing as the pitch is coming in, already released from the pitcher’s hand:
The differences here are more subtle. On the Sox, Bay is less crouched (see how his knees are more bent on the Mets and his rear end is sticking out more). On the Mets, his front foot isn’t as parallel to his back while his hands are farther down, meaning he’ll generate less power with his swing. The main takeaway is that he is more geared back for a strong swing earlier, but now is more flat-footed, giving him no chance to drive the ball on the outside part of the plate with any serious power.
Finally, look how far away from the plate he is on the Mets. It doesn’t look like much, but that ~1 inch or so can mean the world. Because Bay stands so far away from the plate, there’s no way for him to generate any power to right field. He’ll either swing through a pitch on the outside corner, pop it up to right, or roll it over for an easy grounder. Here are his stats when hitting the ball to the right side:
2010: .188/.176/.375, 35 wRC+
2009: .267/.267/.533, 103 wRC+
2008: .256/.247/.522, 92 wRC+
However, if we look at the numbers to right field a little closer, we can learn some more:
2010: 8.8% LD, 5.9% GB, 85.3% FB, 24.1% IFFB, 3.4% HR/FB, .152 BABIP
2009: 9.8% LD, 11.5% GB, 78.7% FB, 20.8% IFFB, 8.3% HR/FB, .214 BABIP
2008: 8.6% LD, 9.7% GB, 81.7% FB, 13.2% IFFB, 6.6% HR/FB, .205 BABIP
I think that Bay has gotten slightly unlucky on his balls in play to the right side this year, but ther’s good reason for such a .156 BABIP. One out of every four balls he hits to the right side is a popup, which is basically an automatic out. That percentage is almost double of his 2008 numbers. Bay’s groundball rate is also extremely low, and grounders have a higher BABIP on average than fly balls. Right field at Citi Field is cavernous, and for Bay to hit flies 85% of the time he hits to right field is a death wish.
The power droppage to right field, and overall for that matter, is stunning, but not necessarily shocking. The change in Bay’s stance isn’t overwhelming, but it may be a marginal cause for his weak numbers for the season. Only time will tell if Bay can get back into form.
Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat