Who is Jason Bay?
Well, we know Red Sox fans love him so far — key roles in three games will do that — but, at least initially, there appeared to be a tendency among the Boston sports scribes to underestimate just how good a hitter Bay is.
Events have somewhat overtaken this post (that’s what having a kid will do to research-heavy pieces), but I think it’s still instructive to look at Bay’s splits for this season and his career. They show how consistently — regardless of situation — Bay is well above league average, and they also help dispel some of the mythologizing that the Red Sox have acquired a poorly performing hitter in the clutch.
(A reminder that sOPS+ is OPS+ where 100 is league average for the particular circumstances represented by that split. It’s a great way to tell if a hitter is above league average even if his numbers are atrocious in universally poor hitting situations such as an 0-2 count, or on balls hit to the infield).
Lefty/Righty: Bay this season has been atrocious against lefties, though it’s instructive to note that his triple off Alan Embree last night raised his batting average against them on the season by 10 points, to .200, and his sOPS+ by another 10 points, to 86. He’s now up to .202 and 93 after a 1-for-4 line, including a homer, off lefties last night. The sample size is extremely small (89 at bats) and his BABIP off lefties this year is extremely low (.231). So I don’t think his lefty line is really a cause for concern.
Also, in briefly looking at Manny Ramirez’s splits, he is equally as bad as Bay against lefties this year compared to his overall average. So even if Bay’s poor numbers are a new paradigm, there’s no reason to belief he would still be any worse against them than the man he’s replacing.
Home/Road: Bay was 100 points of OPS worse away from PNC Park this year, even though it’s a pitcher’s park and fairly large to left field. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that by sOPS+ the numbers are not so extreme — 145 vs. 135, which makes me think most people hit worse away from PNC. But if they do, why does it have a park factor of 97? In either case, Bay’s slugging is what’s really dropped on the road; his home runs were halved in only 44 fewer at bats.
Wins/losses: Bay performs much worse in games his team loses — but, then, so does everyone. His sOPS+ is close — 147 in wins, 137 in losses.
Batting order: Terry Francona needs to take note: Bay as a cleanup hitter this year is much better than Bay anywhere else: .300/.393/.568 in 190 at bats, a 129 sOPS+ in the spot where you expect terrific numbers across the league. By contrast, his numbers from the three hole, where he spent about equal time, are pedestrian relative to other batters in that spot: .260/.353/.455.
By count: Bay is above average in every count and after every count (that’s 22 different permutations) except six. He’s very impressive on the first pitch (160 sOPS+), and any extreme variations thereafter can certainly be attributed to luck, as the sample sizes are so small. But here are some interesting ones anyway: He’s 4 for 6 with three homers when swinging on a 2-0 count, he’s got a 210 sOPS+ when swinging at an 0-1 pitch, 228 when swinging 2-1 and 180 when swinging 1-2. Remarkably, he’s terrible when he swings in an 0-2 count. Granted, everyone is, but Bay’s sOPS+ this year in that count is 5. Five. Three hits in 34 at bats, with a sacrifice fly and a hit-by-pitch. After working the count to 3-0, Bay invariably walks (.771 OBP with only one hit and one strikeout among his nine at-bats in 35 plate appearances), but that 1-for-9 gives him a 24 sOPS+. Indeed, swinging on 3-0 is usually a pretty good idea, but it hasn’t really worked out for Bay. Similarly, don’t expect him to walk if the count gets to 0-2: He’s only done it three times in 74 plate appearances.
This is all fun trivia, but the larger point is that Bay consistently is well above average regardless of the count. 119 sOPS+ after a first-pitch ball, 164 after a first-pitch strike, 172 after a 1-1 count, 149 after 2-1, 192 after 1-2, 158 after 2-2, 118 with three balls, 128 with two strikes.
Bases: Men on? Bases empty? Doesn’t matter to Bay, who has a 136 sOPS+ with the bases empty and a 150 when there’s someone on. This year, the breakdown of which runners are on base and where seems to be extreme to the point of anomaly. With a runner only on first, he’s got a 1.251 OPS (220), but with runners in scoring position it drops to .705 (86). It might be the only important split in which Bay is below average.
Outs: Consistency is the word for Bay here. Zero outs: 136 sOPS+, one out: 160 sOPS+, two outs: 136 sOPS+. His OPS doesn’t drop below .860 in any case.
Clutch: Here’s something interesting for those worried about Jason Bay in the clutch: He’s above average in every single clutch category. And in the most important of those — late and close (which is seventh inning or later, and the team tied, ahead by one or the tying run at least on deck) — Bay is at his best, posting a .316/.480/.614 line, good for a 204 sOPS+. With RISP and two out, Bay hits 101 sOPS+, in tie games, he’s at 152, in games within one run, 157. Similarly, in high-leverage situations (as defined by Fangraphs, I assume), Bay has a 195 sOPS+, hitting .310/.440/.676 with more RBI (27) than in medium or low leverage situations despite half the number of plate appearances.
By inning: This also speaks to the clutch factor. Bay this year has been better as the game goes on — a 161 sOPS+ in innings 4-6 and 144 in 7-9. In his 17 extra-inning plate appearances this season, Bay has a 388 sOPS+, which of course includes the key triple in his debut game with the Sox.
By pitcher type: Bay does worse against finesse pitchers, but again, so does everyone, in part because the definition precludes high-walk hurlers, and Bay derives a lot of his OPS from his good batting eye. Nevertheless, Bay is above average against all categories: 152 sOPS+ against power pitchers, 179 against average pitchers and 114 against finesse pitchers. Similarly, he’s got a 107 sOPS+ against fly ball pitchers, 139 against average pitchers and 167 against ground ball pitchers (against whom he’s got a surprisingly high .586 slugging percentage).
By hit location: Noticing a trend? Bay, again, is consistently above league average in nearly every category. Even on balls hit to the infield, where his stats are necessarily terrible (.121/.121/.121), his 16 infield hits give him a 227 sOPS+. On balls hit to the outfield, he has a .542 batting average and a 118 sOPS+. When he pulls the ball, he has a 1.126 OPS, though that’s actually below average. When he hits it up the middle, he produces nearly twice as much offense as average, and he’s still 20 percent above average when he hits it to the opposite field. Type of ball hit? Same story: A 135 sOPS+ on ground balls (keep in mind that means the slugging percentage is necessarily minuscule), a 183 on fly balls and a 102 on line drives (where it’s hard to do much better than his .759/.745/.981 line).
I don’t want to focus too heavily on career splits, otherwise this will be a huge post, so I’ll just highlight any major differences from his 2008 splits.
Lefty/Righty: As discussed before, Bay’s 2008 is extremely anomalous to his career, where he’s actually posted better numbers against lefties (sadly, there’s no sOPS+ stat for career splits in Baseball-Reference). Bay killed lefties in 2005 (1.064 OPS) and 2006 (1.014), before sliding to a .742 OPS in 2007. Of course, Bay was bad all around in ’07, and that performance against lefties actually matched his performance against righties. 2008 is his first full season in which he’s performed worse against lefties than righties, so the Yankees might want to hold off bringing in Damaso Marte just yet.
Home/road: For his career, Bay’s posted a virtually identical OPS at home and on the road:
First/second half. Practically no difference.
Batting position: Although he’s batted third or fourth the vast majority of his career, Bay’s best numbers (.330/.416/.571) have come in the 95 games in which he’s batted fifth, so maybe Tito is on to something after all.
By count: For his career, Bay is insane in any count in which there are fewer than two strikes, with no OPS lower than .925. In full counts, he posts a 1.007 OPS. With two strikes on him, his OPS slides to .627, which is close to his 2008 numbers, which again are nearly 30 percent above league average.
By baserunner: For his career, Bay is significantly above his 2008 numbers with runners in scoring position, posting a .907 OPS in 885 plate appearances. His bases empty/men on split is about even.
Clutch: Bay has always been very good with runners in scoring position and two out, posting an .898 OPS. He’s also better in tie games, though his late and close OPS slides to .777; 2008 is the only year in which he’s topped his overall career OPS in this split. Bay over his career has performed his best in high leverage situations (.911 OPS) and in extra innings. Although Bay doesn’t do as well in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, he’s above his average in the ninth.
By pitcher: Bay performs equally well against power and finesse pitchers, but performs best against the majority of hurlers who fall in between those extremes. Similarly, Bay doesn’t do as well against extreme fly- or ground-ball pitchers, though he manages to counter-intuitively post better numbers (including a .511 career slugging percentage) against groundballers.
By hit: Somewhere in his career, Jason Bay hit an infield double. I want to know about that. Otherwise, he’s very good when he pulls the ball or hits it up the middle, not as good to the opposite field (but still an .896 OPS).
To recap, what the Red Sox have acquired is perhaps the best right-handed hitter available at the trade deadline, one who is consistently well above league average in every situation — against every type of pitcher, in almost every inning, regardless of score. It’s often been cited as Manny Ramirez’s best quality, and it’s certainly one of Bay’s, as well.