We all know the flaws of Jason Bay's game: his fielding is suspect, he's already on the wrong side of 30, and his contract length is too long. But sometimes, we forget: he can rake, and he shows up every day. Over his six years in the bigs, he's compiled a 131 OPS+ while playing in 145 games or more each year save for his rookie season. And he's been consistent, too. Save for the 2007 season, he has produced annual OPS+s of 132, 134 twice, 138, and 150. Consistent, reliable, and well above average.
During the same six year period, Mets fans have been treated to none of those three positive traits from their merry-go-round of left fielders. Only once did a LF appear in more than 145 games -- Cliff Floyd, in 2005, graced us with a 126 OPS+ over 150 games. And only once did a LF break the 130 OPS+ mark -- Moises Alou put up a Bay-ian 137 in 2007, but only managed to appear in 87 games.
In fact, Bay has four seasons of 150 games played with an OPS+ of 132 or greater. That's three more than the Mets have had from their left fielder in the history of the franchise. And it isn't even close. Reduce the cutoffs to 125 OPS+ and 140 games played, and the team has a mere six instances, Floyd's 2005 most recent. Bay comes in with a real shot at being the team's best hitting LF -- ever.
Let's look closer, continuing using OPS+ and games played as our metrics. Or, more to the point:
1) Who Is the Mets Best Hitting LF of All Time?
We have Bay for five years, probably, so let's focus on the best five year runs (or fewer) provided by our LFers. There are really only two candidates.
Throughout team history, only one left fielder has put up OPS+ of 130 or higher in three different seasons: Cleon Jones. From 1968 to 1971, Jones put up OPS+ of 137, 151, 106, and 144. His attendance was acceptable, but hardly stellar, with 147 games in '68, but falling to 137, 134, and 136 thereafter. Over the four year period, his aggregate OPS+ was a stellar 134, but he missed almost 100 games. Want a five year period? 125 OPS+ averaging 137 games.
Kevin McReynolds is also in the running. From 1987 through 1991, McReynolds appeared in no fewer than 143 games. His best season was 1988, where he made a run at an MVP award with a 142 OPS+ in 147 games. During the five year period, he averaged 147 games played with an aggregate OPS+ of 122.
With apologies to Bernard Gilkey, whose 155 OPS+ in 153 games in 1996, Jones and McReynolds are really all we've got. The nod probably goes to Cleon, but after the last few years of Floyd, Alou, no one, and Sheffield, I can't fully endorse a guy who missed 15% of games during his peak, and fell off to about average in year five.
2) What Can We Expect from Bay?
A much harder question, of course.
Our best bet may be to look at Similarity Scores, and find similar players through age 30. Aggregate their next five years and see what comes out. Here's what we've got with the most similar guy (Ryan Klesko) first.
The first thing you'll notice, probably, is lots of asterisks. Klesko had a grand total of four at bats in his final season in the period looked at (and played one season after), so that 107 games played is misleading -- he averaged 133 over the other four seasons with an OPS+ of 129. Jenkins only made it three seasons, total, and J.D. Drew's numbers are also only for three season as he's still active. Bobby Higginson played four, but I discarded a meaningless 10 game, 27 plate appearance, -48 OPS+ final "season" as to not totally tank his numbers. Kevin Mitchell's games played numbers are totally screwy; he missed his age 33 season entirely, so that's really 68 games over four years. To make matters worse, his age 32 season (by far his best during the time period, a 186 OPS) was over 95 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season. It prorates out to 135 games.
The second thing? Even if we drop Mitchell and reset Kelsko's stats to extend only over a four year period, only one -- Edmonds -- approached McReynolds' games played level. That's the bad news, but it's probably overstated. To date, Bay has had four seasons of 150 or more games played; Of the nine players on his Similarity Scores board, only two managed to have multiple 150+ seasons. Edmonds and Foster both had four, but two of them were after their age-30 seasons. My guess is that unless there's something inherintly wrong with Bay, physically (which there may be), I think it's fair to assume that Bay will end up averaging more than most in this table.
The good news? An OPS+ over Jones' 125 is definitely within reach. Klesko, Edmonds, and Stargel all did it, as did Mitchell in his hyper-limited playing time. J.D. Drew is coming close, and has two more years to tack on that last point.
All said and done, the Mets may end up regretting this contract. It's a year too long, it's too rich, and Bay's defense is less than stellar. However, there is a very good chance that ten years from now, we'll look back and ask:
Will the Mets ever have another left fielder as good as Jason Bay?