No, this is not a black comedy.  Instead it is a reminder that Jason Bay is a pretty good player and one that the fan base should be happy to see in the middle of the Mets lineup.

It’s official – Jason Bay is a Met.  This was not my first choice (John Lackey) or my second (Matt Holliday) but I still think this is a good signing.  It is not what I would have done but I think it is a move that will help the team.  What surprises me is the amount of negativity surrounding this signing.  For months, fans and media outlets were screaming for Omar Minaya and the Mets to do something big to give hope for the 2010 season.  Now that he has, it is met with some combination of indifference and regret.

You hear and read complaints about Bay’s defense, that the contract was too long and for too many dollars and how Bay didn’t want to go to the Mets and ended up on the team because they were the only ones willing to meet his contract demands.  It’s possible that there is truth in each of these statements.  But they miss the point of what Bay will bring to the offense.

The New York Rangers once passed on Mike Bossy because he was weak on defense.  Bossy went on to score 573 goals, added 553 assists and became a member of Hockey’s Hall of Fame.  Because the Rangers focused on what Bossy couldn’t do, they lost out on an impact talent.  No, Bay is not going to end up in the Hall of Fame.  But by focusing on his defense (which is bad and why Holliday would have been a better choice), people are missing out that he is the bat to replace Carlos Delgado and that should help the offense.

We all want to forget the train wreck that was the 2009 season.  But before the injuries got out of hand, when Delgado was in the lineup, the Mets were in good shape in the NL East.  Delgado played his last game on May 10th, the 30th game of the season and the 26th that he played.  After that game, the Mets were 17-13 (.567) and in first place in the division.  By contrast, the Yankees were 15-16 (.484) and in third place, 5.5 games behind the Blue Jays.

Delgado finished 2009 with a .298/.393/.521 line.  As I’m sure you know, Delgado is a poor defensive player.  UZR has him in negative numbers in six of the past seven seasons.  The Dewan Defensive Runs Saved metric shows him in negative numbers four of the past five seasons.  But that big bat in the middle of the lineup made a difference the first 30 games of the season.

Last year Bay put up a .267/.384/.537 line for the Red Sox.  And while he did better at home (.936 OPS) than on the road (.904), he had a higher slugging percentage away from Fenway.  In road games last year, Bay notched a .542 slugging percentage.  Call me crazy, but I am excited about the prospects of the Mets adding a .900+ OPS bat to their lineup, one capable of compiling big numbers in both OBP and SLG.

One of the reasons the Mets preferred Bay over Holliday was because of his HR bat and also Bay’s pull tendencies.  Hit Tracker Online shows that only five of Bay’s 36 HR went to RC or RF.  Baseball-Reference.com shows Bay pulling 132 balls, hitting 190 up the middle and hitting only 47 to the opposite field.  He hit 3X as may balls to LF as RF.  With LF being slightly easier to hit HR at Citi Field, this could help Bay avoid the fate that befell David Wright, who uses more of the field.

But what about Bay’s defense?

When writing about Wally Backman, Bill James mentioned that before the arrival of Davey Johnson, the Mets kept Backman from meaningful playing time because they were concerned about his defense.  Paraphrasing, James said words to the effect that you would think Backman was banned from McDonald’s from dropping his French fries too often – that’s how bad the Mets thought his hands were.  By focusing on what Backman could not do (play great defense) they were missing out on the chance to help their team because he was such a superior offensive player to Brian Giles, Bob Bailor and the other mediocrities that the club used instead of Backman.

Defense is important; I am not trying to say otherwise.  But everything needs to be put in context.  UZR does not like Bay.  It shows him as a double-digit negative the past three seasons.  Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved does not like Bay, either.  But it is not as extreme as UZR.  Dewan’s method had Bay at -8 in both 2007 and 2008 and -1 last year.  If Dewan’s numbers are closer to the truth, than the Mets can live with Bay in the OF and not have to move him to 1B (or the American League) as many have suggested.

And just as a reminder, Gary Sheffield played 46 games in LF for the Mets last year.  His UZR in that time was -11.6, which extrapolates to a -35.4 UZR/150.  Dewan had him at -7 in LF.  Bay is likely to be a defensive upgrade from Sheffield.

Moving on to the contract, I don’t see how anyone expected to get Bay for fewer years than the Mets did.  He got four guaranteed years and a vesting option that he will reach if healthy the final two seasons.  Compare that to Holliday, who just signed a six-year deal.  The money is significant, perhaps an overpay since it seems like Bay had no other serious suitors besides the Mets.  But if Bay can avoid a significant drop in his offensive output, it hardly will be the disaster contract that people seem to think it is.

Finally, I don’t care if the Mets were not the first choice for Bay.  If he had doubts about playing here, there is no way he signs what will likely be a five-year deal.  I have no interest in having a player who doesn’t want to be on the team.  Even 31 years later, the Richie Hebner memories are too strong.  Now that’s a player who didn’t want to play for the Mets.  Bay doesn’t have to love New York, he just has to show up and produce a .900+ OPS the next four-to-five years.

So, I think the negativity is misplaced in regards to Bay.  If he turns out to be a butcher in the field, his contract becomes an albatross and he openly gripes about New York, then by all means let’s boo him.  But right now that is an awful lot of conjecture.  Because of his previous offensive output, Bay deserves the benefit of the doubt before the fans turn on him.

And maybe the Fighting Whities of Bay, Jeff Francoeur, Daniel Murphy and Wright can lead the Mets back to the playoffs.  Wouldn’t that be something for Minaya and Los Mets.

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