For the first time since July 25, 2010, Jason Bay will be in the Mets' lineup tonight. To say his 2010 season was disappointing would be a major understatement. Brought in at the tail end of the Omar Minaya era, Bay was supposed to help fill the void left in the Mets' lineup created by Carlos Delgado's departure and provide the team the everyday left fielder it had lacked.
Bay was coming off one of the finest years of his career in 2009, hitting a career-high 36 home runs and posting a .397 wOBA, the second-best of his career excluding his 107 Plate Appearances in 2003. Although it was obvious that the Mets committed too many years and dollars to Bay when he was signed, nobody would have predicted just how bad his first year in Queens would be.
Before suffering a season-ending concussion, Bay played 95 games and displayed an uncharacteristically low amount of power. He hit only 6 home runs in those games, which played a big role in his .402 SLG and .144 ISO, the lowest marks of his career. He wound up with a .336 wOBA, which was only his second-worst, thanks to the fact that he was still getting on base at a respectable .347 clip.
In nearly every way, 2010 looked a heck of a lot like 2007, and much like he did in 2008, Bay figures to bounce back this season. He'll be 33 before the year is over, but the projections all see Bay as a far more productive player than he was last year, even if they don't see him regaining his pre-Mets form. As long as Bay winds up closer to his 2009 numbers than his 2010 numbers, he'll make a significant impact.
And that brings us to what Bay's return means for the Mets. Through 18 games, the Mets rank 12th in the National League with an average of 4.0 runs per game. Bay's replacements in left field have not helped the cause in his absence. They've hit .227/.320/.364 with 1 home run, numbers that even Bay's 2010 would easily eclipse. Throw in the fact that Willie Harris has gone 1-for-3 in his stolen base attempts, and there's another reason to expect better things with Bay back in the lineup. He'll never be confused for Jose Reyes on the basepaths, but Bay will steal every now and again and usually does so successfully. Since 2008, he's swiped 33 bases while getting caught a mere 3 times, good for a 92% success rate.
Last but not least, while Bay is no defensive wizard, the numbers aren't so thrilled with Harris or Scott Hairston, either. Fangraphs' Aggregate Defensive Rating has both players as slight positives in left field. Bay, on the other hand, had a couple significantly negative years but was only rated a slight negative the past two seasons. In other words, the defensive downgrade should be far outweighed by the offensive upgrade.
Things got off to about as bad a start as they could for the Mets this year, and while he'll never live up to his huge contract, Jason Bay should still be a force in the lineup, especially in the short-term. The Mets, a team that has so far allowed 5.4 runs per game, need all the help scoring runs they can get.