Why Jason Bay makes the Red Sox a better team

Let’s start with this:

Hitting with runners in scoring position is not a repeatable skill.

In case you missed it, last Thursday Steve Phillips was challenged by Baseball Tonight host Steve Berthiaume when Berthiaume stated that the numbers of Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez were virtually the same. Phillips shot back, stating “Ramirez is hitting .316 with runners in scoring position while Bay is hitting just .216″. I believe Phillips threw in a “it’s not even close”.

Let me say it again: Hitting with runners in scoring position is not a repeatable skill. It’s a worthless stat to look at if you are evaluating a player’s worth going forward. Numerous studies have shown this to be the case. This isn’t to say that different players don’t have different emotions running through their mind in various situations, but it isn’t really detectable.

The implication made by Phillips was that Bay was not as good a hitter as Manny because he didn’t hit as well with runners in scoring position. This would also seem to imply that Bay historically has been a bad hitter with runners in scoring position. However, history proves this is not the case.

Jason Bay RISP (Actual OPS)

2004 – 1.079 OPS (.908)
2005 – 1.074 OPS (.961)
2006 – .838 OPS (.928)
2007 – .793 OPS (.745)
2008 – .651 OPS (.901)

Three-year split from 05 – 07: .883 OPS overall, .902 OPS w/ RISP

A player’s production with runners in scoring position is usually based on a player’s production overall. The better a player hits, the better they do with runners in scoring position. Bay’s 2008 season is simply an outlier and should not be used to predict his performance going forward.

Just to dig a little deeper, Bay has an OPS of 1.251 with runners on first. Does Phillips think Bay’s mind-set changes when that runner reaches second or third? Does Phillips think Bay suddenly cracks under the pressure when that runner gets into scoring position? It’s an extremely flawed argument to making the case Manny is better than Bay.

Compared to Manny, Bay stacks up quite well. I would still give Manny the overall edge as a hitter, but here’s how they compare (all numbers used are prior to the trade):

Batting Average – Advantage Manny (.299 vs. 282)
OBP – Advantage Manny – (.398 vs. 375)
ISO-P – Advantage Bay (.237 vs. 230)
OPS – Advantage Manny (.926 vs. .894)
BB% – Advantage Bay – 13.1 vs. 12.5
K% – Advantage Bay – 21.9 vs. 23.6
HR:FB% – Advantage Manny – 18 vs. 15.6

A couple notes:

1. The difference in OBP is mostly related to intentional walks and hit by pitches. Ramirez has a combined 16 compared to Bay’s four.

2. Bay has a career strikeout percentage of just over 26, so this year is sorta flukey in that regard.

In any case, it’s not difficult to see Manny probably still has an edge as a hitter, but it is close. Is it really hard to believe Jason Bay, a player still relatively in his prime is about as good as an aging and older Manny Ramirez?

Are Bay’s 2007 struggles behind him?

One concern a lot of people had about Bay was his struggles in 2007.

Bay experienced what was a mentally draining slump starting in June, 2007. The slump lasted through the final four months of the season as things simply snowballed on him and he lost much of his confidence as the year wore on. He didn’t see the ball well coming out of the pitcher’s hand and he didn’t feel confident hitting with two strikes, so he would start swinging earlier in the count instead of being patient and working the count, which is probably the best way to deal with a slump.

Before the season started, I wrote about Jason Bay’s struggles and looked for exactly what happened to him–what caused his downfall. Mechanically, he looked much different than in 2006. What I found was Bay’s timing was off.

In baseball, timing and efficiency are everything. This holds true for both pitching and hitting. If the timing of a player’s mechanics are just slightly off, the output of that player could still be dramatically affected.

The chain of events, from foot plant to the hip rotation to the bat’s first aggressive movement forward—the actions that help a player produce a powerful swing—weren’t being done efficiently. Compare the below clips from Bay in 2007 to Bay in 2008. Both pitches are thrown on the inside half of the plate at similar velocities. The 2007 fastball is hit over the wall near left center, while the homerun in 2008 is more straightaway center. See if you can detect the differences (Bay in 07 is on the left, while Bay in 08 is on the right):

imageimage

When Bay is going well, he plants his front foot aggressively enabling a forceful hip rotation. The hips and hands turn together, the front leg firms up and he uses it as a base in which to turn his hips on.

In these frame-by-frame looks, you can kinda see the points where a forceful action is exerted. In Bay’s case, these points are at foot plant and at the time his leg “firms up”. In the animations below, I mark the frame number in which the force is exerted. For the ’08 clip, frame three is at foot plant and frame seven is when the leg firms up. For the ’07 clip, frame five is when the leg firms up. Observe the animations for yourself and see if you can detect the times he applies force to his swing.

imageimage

A couple thoughts

1. Take note of the ripple in Bay’s pants and use that as an indicator of the force applied when his leg “firms up.”

2. What you’ll notice in 2007, there was never really a forceful exertion at foot plant. You see a forceful action at a later point, but the distance his bat travels after that force is applied is much less than the distance traveled when the first initial force is applied in 2008. The result is a loss of power.

A lot of people came to the conclusion that it must have been Bay’s knee, which he had surgery on in the offseason before 2007, that was the root cause in the changing of his mechanics. I think that probably had a good bit to do with it, as he admitted to playing in pain at certain points of last year.

However, I also think the changes made by Bay this year illustrate just how important time off and “mental healing” is for a player. Oftentimes, when a player is allowed to clear their head and get away from their struggles, they come back a completely different player. His mechanics were just one of the things that ended up getting completely out of whack.

It’s like in basketball if you’re in a shooting slump–I always found if I took two, three, four days off, I would come back rejuvenated and the slump would be gone.

Given the way Bay has bounced back this year, we can chalk up his 2007 season as a flukey-type season. His true ability is represented by what he put up from 2004 – 2006 as well as 2008.

Of course, hitting isn’t the only factor that needs to be considered when evaluating Bay and Manny:

Defense

Using Myron Logan’s defensive ratings spread sheet and the average being zero runs, Ramirez comes out at -14 runs while Bay is just barely below average (barely a fraction of a run) so far this year. Fenway Park undoubtedly hurts Ramirez’s rating but even factoring in the park effects, Ramirez is still one of the poorest defenders in baseball. Bay is a significant upgrade defensively.

In addition to defense, the following factors should be considered:

1. Bay is a better runner

2. Bay is under contract for next season at a very reasonable price

3. Bay will have a much more positive influence on Boston’s clubhouse than Manny. As Theo Epstein stated, “There was an environment that was not conducive to winning surrounding this club.”

So let’s not get too caught up in the pedigree of Manny. Yes, the Red Sox had to give up a couple of solid prospects and pay a lot of money to unload Manny, but in the end, the Red Sox did just fine in getting Bay–in fact, they may have gotten the better player.

References & Resources
Retrosheet – “In Search of Clutch Hitting”
Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position by Jim Albert
MLB Advanced Media

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