(Bumped from FanPosts. -- James)
A great many words have been dispensed discussing the woes of Jason Bay and their potential causes. These are more of those words. As you may have noticed, I have a soft spot for Bay. I expect every day for him to break out of this never-ending slump, for no logical reason. I've heard a lot of speculation about what the issue is with this once prolific hitter, ranging from positioning in the batters box, to concussion based vision problems, to psychiatric disorders, and secret Illuminati plans for world domination. With the exception of positioning in the batters box, these other ideas are hard to measure in any useful manner, so I've decided to take a look at a breakdown of how Bay handles different pitch types against different handed pitchers.
While I probably don't blow the cover off of the vast Jason Bay/Illuminati connection (just saying, nobody has DISPROVED this theory yet), I did notice a few things that could be contributing to his less than stellar 2012 campaign. I stuck to 2012 alone because, well, it's depressing to look at too many years of Bay's stats in a row. Anyway, I'm sure once he reads this article, that breakout I've been predicting will finally happen and we'll finally get the left fielder we (over)paid for.
Let's start with the basic numbers:
So far this year, Bay has accrued a strikeout rate of 26.3% and a walk rate of 9.9%. The walk rate is actually around league average, which suggests he doesn't have an awful eye at the plate, even if it's not quite as discerning as it used to be. This is both good and bad news, as it means it appears he's not swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone (and thus must be missing a lot of pitches in zone). This was covered a bit in another post recently. His K% for the season is a somewhat unsightly 26.3%. His career average is a 22.9%, and he's been well over 20% pretty much his entire career, so while the strikeout rate is high, it generally always has been for Bay.
So far all we see is a player who's lost a little patience at the plate, nothing too surprising from a guy who clearly hasn't found a good rhythm, but it doesn't explain the massive dropoff in production. When looking at Bay's BABIP, one may speculate that he's simply been unlucky, to the tune of a 0.165 BABIP. However with a career low LD% (13.8%), and a career high GB rate (44%), a below average BABIP is not unexpected. Even Bay’s home run per flyball rate is pretty average, at 13%. Not screaming power hitter but actually higher than his past 2 seasons, suggesting when he does elevate the ball he’s making some decent contact. xBABIP pegs him at around a .278 BABIP given his numbers. However I don't believe the prolonged slump can be blamed entirely on bad luck in this case. Perhaps if we break things down a bit further we can find a gap to explain the drop in production.
Let's see if the problem is a platoon split, some issue with hitting righties or lefties which would allow us to hide his flaws a bit and get some value back out of him. Against right-handed pitchers, Bay strikes out a staggering 31% of the time, flies out 18% of the time (I guess he can elevate the ball?), and grounds out 14% of the time, while only walking 7.1% of the time. That K rate certainly would seem to be a good part of the reason his overall K rate is so high. Against left-handed pitchers, his groundout rate is a staggering 26%, his K rate around his career average at 19.4%, and his flyout rate approximately 15.3%, however he managed to offset this slightly with a 13.9% BB rate (much closer to his career norms overall). When you break BABIP down vs handedness to see how much bad luck plays a role in his struggles, he has a .211 BABIP vs righties, and an abysmal .109 BABIP vs lefties. Basically the worst thing he can do left-handed is swing the bat since he has a better chance of walking than he does of getting on base if he puts the ball in play.
What this suggests to me is Bay's problem is different against lefties than righties. Not surprising, as most players struggle with one side vs the other, but given how awful both sides are it means each likely needs to be addressed as a separate problem and solution. Against right-handed pitchers Bay is a strikeout machine, while against left-handed pitchers, he drives the ball into the ground with amazing consistency. Now let's look a bit deeper and start to analyze his swings by pitch type.
Let's start by looking at what they’re throwing to Bay this year. For the most part the pitch selection is the same, with one notable exception. Pitchers are throwing Bay changeups at a rate of 13.5% of the time, more frequently than they have at any other point in his career by a few percent. This seemed a touch counterintuitive to me, as most players get a healthy dose of fastballs as their swing slows down with age.
Let's start with right-handed pitchers. Bay has a whiff rate of 37.1% on changeups thrown by right-handed pitchers this year. This is vastly higher than last year where he still whiffed at a fairly high mark of 22.4%. The swing chart for Bay vs righties throwing changeups this year is as follows:
Well one thing is for sure, he's swinging at an awful lot of changeups very low and out of the zone. As it's hard to make contact with a pitch around ankle high and on the outside half of the plate, I feel like this could be a major contributor to Bay falling behind in counts. I had contemplated showing a spray chart of what happens when he puts a righty changeup in play, but then realized this consisted of 3 batted balls so far this year and decided it wasn't worth the effort. This pitch appears to be a major stumbling block for Bay so far this year.
Let's see what happens when we flip things around and throw him the change from the left side:
Looks like he's got a much better view of the changeup from the left side. He's only swinging at pitches in the zone, with only a sprinkling of them being notably outside. However, one thing to note is he's ONLY swinging at changeups that are in the outer half of the zone. Still, this seems like a vast improvement. However, the batted ball profile says "not so fast".
This pitch pretty much has a homing beacon in it that draws it between shortstop and 3rd base for an out (or as we've come to call it the Jason Bay Special). Almost everything he's put in play with this pitch has been on the ground and towards the pull-side. What this tells me is he is seeing this pitch well, and not swinging at the change outside the zone from this side like he does from the right, however when he makes contact it is invariably weak and to the left side of the diamond. Essentially he's trying to pull a slow, outside pitch, gets in front of it, and is only able to weakly tap it back through the infield.
What all of this together tells us is that from each side of the plate, the changeup is a major stumbling point for Bay this year, and the uptick in changeups he's seen means opposing pitchers know it. From the right side he can't seem to square them up, swinging through the pitch with an alarming frequency, from the left side, he see's the pitch well enough to know if it will be in the zone or not, but only makes weak contact by getting out in front of the pitch instead of waiting to drive it to opposite field.
While many of you might say "wait a minute Dr. Smoustache, he's only played in 50ish games this year, the sample size is small". If you go back to 2011, you will see extremely similar swing patterns and batted ball patterns emerging in 2011 as well (data not shown, as I'm into the whole brevity thing). What we have here is pitchers homing in on a major weakness and then pounding away at it over and over again.
There was one other pitch which seems to further punctuate Bay's struggles against right-handed pitchers. Let's take a look at his performance against right-handed sliders. On the whole, a 14.4% whiff rate on the slider (29% swing rate) is a bit high, but could just be a function of the slider being a tough pitch to make contact with. Let's take a look at what his swing chart looks like shall we?
Okay, what in the name of god are you swinging at? Look at this chart and realize that when Bay swings at this pitch he only whiffs about half of the time. When you're making contact on that many pitches low and away in the zone as a pull hitter, I wonder what the batted ball outcome might be?
I had to double check to make sure I hadn't made a duplicate of the lefty changeup spray chart, because this one looks goddamn identical. This is hardly surprising, given the location of those pitches and his hitting style, but still the resemblance is striking. If we thought it was just our imagination that Bay likes to cluster his balls in play in that third base-short stop zone we were mistaken. Essentially, any pitcher with a changeup from the left or a slider from the right can induce a groundball out almost at will from Bay.
When you take all of this in aggregate there are a few take home messages. Against left-handed pitchers, Bay tends to swing at changeups only on the outer half of the plate, which does not play to his strengths. Unsurprisingly, he tends to ground these pitches to the left side. Outside of this pitch, he tends to handle left-handed pitching respectably well. He seems to be able to recognize the pitch well since If he can work on cutting down swinging at pitches on the outside edge that he can't make good contact with, he could considerably cut down his weak contact and improve his fairly well earned low BABIP. When facing right-handed pitchers, Bay is a complete mess.
Changeups from right-handed pitchers are almost guaranteed swing and misses or are fouled off. He almost never puts these pitches into play. Seeing the number of changeups he swings at way below the strike zone, it suggests he might not have a good view of the ball coming out of the pitchers hand, or is unable to differentiate changeup vs fastball. By contrast it would almost be merciful if Bay missed more sliders from right-handed pitchers. He has a tendency to swing at sliders well low and outside the strike zone, with similar predictable results (the Jason Bay Special). Again, pitch location recognition from the right side seems to be, shall we say, lacking, and pitchers can induce a groundout pretty much at will by mixing in a slider outside of the zone. The problems from this side of the plate seem a bit more severe, with Bay swinging at a lot of pitches outside of the zone, with no apparently recognition how bad they are. One way to alleviate the problem may be to have Dave Hudgens work with him on becoming more of an opposite field hitter, although this would be no easy adjustment at this point in his career.
This may not be a perfect analysis, as I'm lazy and have typed to much already, but I feel like it points out where the biggest holes in Bay's swing are. Maybe the smarter folk amongst you readers can figure out where in his swing mechanics he's going wrong. I don't think its as simple as standing closer to the plate since he's hacking at pitches way outside of the zone. Anyway, never fear, he's going to turn the corner and get his bat going starting tomorrow... just you wait!