Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jason Bay is a Colossal Mistake: How Bay-watch became Omar-watch

The News
The Mets signed Jason Bay to a four year, $65 million dollar contract yesterday. It has an easily-attainable option which would push the contract to a staggering five years and over $80 million dollars.

This is it - the beginning of the end for Minaya. This is EXACTLY the kind of move that ends a tenure as a GM. That, while receiving lukewarm approval from the fanbase and newspapers today, will be a complete and utter disaster by the end of the contract.

You do not sign low-average, defensively-challenged sluggers to five year contracts when they are 31.

Bay is not a terrible player. We have analyzed Bay extensively at this site, and many others have done so as well elsewhere. He's been an above average player for a number of years. He is a good complementary piece. But that is NOT the way in which mega-contracts should be evaluated. In my last post on Bay, I asked:
Is this the guy we want to occupy 10% of our payroll with? Is this the kind of player we want to shape the rest of our roster around? Is he a cornerstone for the next Mets World Series team? I don't think so.

He's' a great hitter for the six-hole on a contending team. But he's not getting paid like that. He's getting $16.5 million dollars a year UNTIL HE IS 36. He's being given one of the largest free agent contracts ever awarded by the Mets.

The Folly of Mega-Contracts
Long-term contracts usually don't work out. By definition, signing a guy for five guaranteed years is a huge risk. Five years is a very long time to forecast ANYTHING to happen, much less that an athlete will maintain his phenomenal peak performance.

You wouldn't want to buy a stock that you couldn't sell for five years. You wouldn't want to take a girl on one date and then sign a five-year contract with her --- unless of course, she was Heidi Klum. Some singular talents are worth taking a risk for. Heidi Klum, Brooklyn Decker, Gisele Bundchen, Carlos Beltran. Risks this big should be reserved for superstars.

Cot's Contracts has a list of players, sorted by highest average annual value on their contracts. Here is the list of outfielders who have EVER averaged more than $13 million dollars a year.

Vlad Guerrero: $14M - 5 years
J.D. Drew: $14M - 5 years
Magglio Ordonez: $15M - 4 years
Carlos Lee: $16.6M - 6 years
Alfonso Soriano: $17M - 7 years
Carlos Beltran: $17M - 7 years
Vernon Wells: $18M - 6 years
Ichiro Suzuki: $18M - 5 years
Torii Hunter: $18M - 5 years
Andruw Jones: $18.1M - 2 years
Manny Ramirez: $20M, $22.5M - 7 years, 2 years

This list is occupied by one type of player -- players better than Jason Bay. Above him on the list are generational talents, the guys who we will look back at this era on and remember as superstars: Manny, Andruw, Ichiro, Beltran, Soriano.

Some of the contracts on this list worked out okay. Beltran is one. Vlad Guerrero is another. But half of them did not -- and those were for players who were better than Bay. Does anyone really think that Jason Bay belongs on this list? Should his name be in the same sentence as Vlad Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, or Alfonso Soriano? Even the Carlos Lee signing, which was broadly dismissed as a mistake, is a better signing than this.

Jason Bay is not one of those players.

If Not a Star, Then What...?
He is a clearly second-tier talent with a profile which indicates that he is a higher than average risk of collapse. So who is Bay actually comparable to? There are some players which come to mind -- here are their stats per 162 games and through their age 31 seasons:

Jason Bay: 33 home runs, 86 walks, 157 strikeouts, .280/.376/.519.
Geoff Jenkins: 29 home runs, 54 walks, 148 strikeouts, .279/.350/.499
Jeromy Burnitz: 30 home runs, 83 walks, 130 strikeouts, .259/.365/.498
Richard Hidalgo: 28 home runs, 60 walks, 120 strikeouts, .273/.350/.497 (through age 30)

Jenkins was out of baseball two years later. Hidalgo was already out of baseball. I don't have to tell you what happened to Burnitz. Jenkins and Hidalgo are high up on Bay's list of similar players. Burnitz is a Mets-related example.

Another guy who he really reminds me of is Danny Tartabull.

Jason Bay: 33 home runs, 86 walks, 157 strikeouts, .280/.376/.519.
Tartabull: 31 home runs, 90 walks, 157 strikeouts, .278/.374/.505

His next year, with the Yankees and Oakland in 1995, he hit .236. He bounced back in 1996 to hit 27 home runs while batting only .254. The next season, he was out of baseball. Two years later.

His MOST SIMILAR player -- and this is not a joke -- is Ryan Klesko. Klesko was a legitimately good hitter. He was underrated. Through age 31, Ryan Klesko hit 30 home runs per 162 games, drove in 100 runs, struck out only 103 times, and batted a robust .285/.372/.528. Klesko and Bay had identical OPS+ marks of 131 through age 30. This would seem to be the most helpful comparison Bay could ask for.

From age 32 to 36, Klesko hit only 54 more home runs. He batted .264/.366/.432, missed his age 35 season entirely, and was out of baseball the next year.[1]

The Impact

Metsblog did a great job aggregating the reactions from around the blogosphere:

Ed Ryan from Mets Fever says, “Nice job, Omar.”

According to John, from Metstradamus, “This is a good move. In a vacuum, it’s a great move.”

On the other hand, while Mets Grrl likes Bay, she explains why her reaction was just, ‘ehhh.’

Mike Silva of NY Baseball Digest explains, “When it’s all said and done, the Mets needed Bay.”

I disagree. The Mets needed to use their money wisely and did not. The Mets did not need to give Vladmir Guerrero money to the next Danny Tartabull, Bobby Higginson, or Geoff Jenkins.

Shortly after the trade, my friend texted me this: "Let me know how that expensive DH in a huge NL park experiment goes." He's right. Even setting aside all the talk about Jason Bay's defense for a moment -- Jason Bay is going to need to hit just about as well as he has for the next FIVE years in order to come anywhere close to justifying his contract. And the odds of that are enormously long.

When all is said and done, Jason Bay will own the third largest contract on the Mets.[2] I believe that Jack Moore over at fangraphs nailed it on the head in his short article about Bay:
This deal definitely improves the Mets’ offense for 2010 ... Bay’s bat combined with Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright gives the Mets a scary top of the order for opposing pitchers. That’s about where Bay’s effectiveness ends.
Of course, the real interesting point of the contract is the dollar value...Given the current market, $3.5M per WAR, the Mets are expecting 4.5 wins per season out of Bay. Is Jason Bay the type of tier-2 superstar that deserves this contract?

The Mets can afford to overpay given their place on both the revenue curve and the win curve... [but] this move appears to be one of the more significant overpays of the offseason, and it by no means vaults the Mets into the playoffs. Much needs to go the Mets’ way for this contract to work out as planned[.]

On the field, the Mets are going to be better with Jason Bay than without him. That is not the question. The question is whether they will be more well-positioned to be successful with Bay and his contract than without him, both this year and in the future. I believe that the answer to that question is no.

Mets fans were antsy for a move and they got it. The reaction today is relief. I believe Roger also nailed it when he called his post about Bay "The Sound of Settling." But when history looks back at the Minaya regime, I believe this signing is going to be one of those OBVIOUS mistakes.

I certainly hope not. I will be rooting for Bay.


postscript: When we acquired Bobby Bonilla, he had the exact same career OPS as Jason Bay, at 131. He averaged 21 home runs per year, and struck out only half as much. He was a superior player to Bay at the time, and younger. As a Met, he almost replicated those numbers, posting OPS+ marks of 121, 132, 128 and 160.

However, he was so grossly overpaid that the fans reviled him. In fact, the Mets had to trade him in the midst of a season he was hitting .325/.385/.599, for an OPS that would have placed him fourth in the NL ... behind only Bonds, Piazza, and Larry Walker.

Mike Vaccaro actually had an excellent article equating Bonilla and Bay over at the Post a few weeks ago. He is wrong on some of it, calling Bay "a better player than Bonilla," for one ... but generally, his premise is sound. He asks the Mets this:

How many times do you need to have anvils fall on your head before you take a step out of the way? How many times do you have to sign Kevin Appier and Bobby Bonilla before you recognize the difference between attracting the cream of a good free-agent class (see Sabathia, CC, and Teixeira, Mark) and the prettiest homecoming queens of Homely High?

Bay is going to have a huge contract to live up to, and that is going to affect the way that he is perceived.

Dan over at Amazin Avenue asks whether Jason Bay is going to be the Mets' best hitting LF of all time. He may well be. I've also heard him be compared to Cliff Floyd minus the injuries. All these sound good only until you consider the price.

In fact, Cliff Floyd from age 24-31 (the ages Bay has been in the majors) hit a robust 28 home runs per 162 games, with 115 strikeouts and a .289/.370/.515 line and identical 131 OPS+! Sounds great right? Sure ... until you consider that Floyd earned only $6.5 million a year as a Met. Even the world's strongest proponent of Bay cannot come close to justifying investing $82 million guaranteed dollars.


[1] For anyone who worries that I am cherry-picking, others who made his list of comparables include:

Tim Salmon - 60 home runs after age 31, batted .262, out of baseball by 35

JD Drew - In the middle of his contract now but performing well

Bobby Higginson - The poster boy for inexplicable collapses, batted .235 and was out of baseball in three years

Jim Edmonds - Who is not actually comparable to Bay at all in that he was a phenomenal athlete who played center field

George Foster - Who is also not comparable because he was a vastly better hitter than Bay, had three top-six MVP finishes and a 54 home run season before he was 31... though for what it is worth, he proves our point, batting only .258/.316/.434 from age 32 to the end of his career.

Willie Stargell - Another player a universe better than Bay, with an OPS+ of 142 entering his age 32 season and with five years with MVP votes, including a second place finish.

Kevin Mitchell - Similarly to Stargell/Foster, already had an MVP win and a career OPS+ of 142. For what it is worth, the next five years of his career he only had 702 at-bats and only once played more than 65 games in a season.

[2] When they hit free agency, Wright and Reyes will surpass him, but for now, only Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran, two of the best players in the game, were awarded larger contracts. If the contract is backloaded (as is being reported by Metsblog), when 2011 rolls around, our payroll is going to look like this:

Santana $22.5M, Beltran $20M, Bay $21M, Perez $12M, K-Rod $12.1M, Wright $14.2M, Reyes $11M ... that's $113 million committed to 7 players. That is going to be VERY ugly.

1 comment:

Roger said...

I titled my post "The Sound of Settling" in reference to Bay almost as much as I was referring to the Mets. And also because I love Death Cab for Cutie.