Jason Bay's regression sudden, dramatic
In 2006, Jason Bay was clearly the offensive star of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of the eight players with 300 or more plate appearances, he ranked first in OBP, SLG, OPS, home runs and walks. He was third in batting average and second in doubles. The Pirates spent the offseason focusing almost exclusively on finding a power bat to take some of the offensive pressure off of Bay, finally acquiring Adam LaRoche in January. That filled a major hole in the Pittsburgh lineup, but still left the team with many offensive question marks. The one player that seemed dependable was Jason Bay in leftfield.
However, 2007 has not gone as expected. Bay was hitting .312/.382/.540 on June 3 when things suddenly fell apart. Among eight Pirates that currently have 300 or more plate appearances, Bay is eighth in batting average, seventh in OBP and OPS, and sixth in SLG. He is fifth in doubles, second in walks and tied for first in home runs. Remarkably, Jason Bay has been the least productive regular on the team not named Ronny Paulino.
It is hard to explain Bays collapse in 2007. The most baffling part of this story is the abruptness of his decline. Bay went 18 for 39 with five home runs during a 10 game stretch from May 25 to June 3, good for a .462/.500/1.026 clip. Afterwards, he immediately went into a 21 for 142 tailspin and never recovered. What happened that caused such an sudden slump? Bay has a tendency to play through injuries without saying a word, making that a possibility. Another consideration is his age. Today is Bays 29th birthday, leaving him in the closing stages of what are generally a players peak years. Could the Pirates franchise player be at the beginning of a permanent decline?
After entering the season with several holes in their lineup, the Pirates now appear to be a bit more stable offensively. However, while players such as Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson have hit better than expected, Bays drop in production severely hindered any chance the offense had to improve. In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus, the difference between the 2006 Jason Bay and the 2007 version cost the Pirates approximately six team wins. That number shows just how much the team missed his bat this season. But it also provides some hope for next year. Imagine how much the team could improve if this was simply a down season and Bay returns to form in 2008. It would be a simple way to correct much of what ails the Bucs.
And if Bays struggles continue next year? Well, that is a very scary thought.