This is becoming a very fun new exercise for me.
In my big review of the Bay deal, I ended up comparing him to many of the players on his baseball-reference list of comparable players. Those players are chosen by a simple computer process which pairs the player in question with other players in history who have a) played the same or similar positions and b) posted similar statistics.
Subsequently, others seem to have followed suit. An article at Dugout Central compared Jason Bay to Richie Sexson. Personally, I think that comparison was made solely for its dramatic value -- they are not very alike.
This is what we are looking at. Left fielder, statistics compiled between age 24 and age 30 seasons. Here is what Jason Bay has done in an average 162 game season:
Jason Bay: 33 home runs, 108 RBI, 86 walks, 157 strikeouts, .280/.376/.519.
Now, I'm going to look at players... the majority of whom were suggested by baseball-reference, with a few others suggested by my experience or other media outlets... and group them into three general groups.
Similar To Bay
Ryan Klesko: 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 103 strikeouts, .285/.372/.528.
Bobby Bonilla: 26 home runs, 100 rbi, 74 bb, 90 strikeouts, .279/.356/.489
Danny Tartabull: 31 home runs, 90 walks, 157 strikeouts, .278/.374/.505
JD Drew: 28 home runs, 88 RBI, 92 walks, 115 strikeouts, .291/.399/.517
Jim Edmonds: 32 home runs, 99 RBI, 72 walks, 137 strikeouts, .292/.370/.515
Better Than Bay
Brian Giles: 33 home runs, 105 RBI, 98 walks, 76 strikeouts, .303/.409/.560
Tim Salmon: 34 home runs, 114 RBI, 99 walks, 139 strikeouts, .294/.395/.530
George Foster: 36 home runs, 119 RBI, 61 walks, 111 strikeouts, .298/.367/.547
Willie Stargell: 32 home runs, 104 RBI, 56 walks, 134 strikeouts, .278/.345/.510
Kevin Mitchell: 31 home runs, 100 RBI, 64 walks, 98 strikeouts, .277/.351/.508
Worse Than Bay
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
Bobby Higginson: 26 home runs, 89 RBI, 80 walks, 99 strikeouts, .281/.367/.482
Pat Burrell: 32 home runs, 104 RBI, 97 walks, 156 strikeouts, .258/.368/.484
Purely by accident, we ended up with five players in each group. All of these players posted statistics which were in the same ballpark as Bay, almost all of them were corner outfielders, and all of them are household names. You can draw your own conclusions from the groupings.
Now, we'll take a look at how these players did in the next five years of their careers. Although it might be too much to expect that the age 31-35 seasons of a man's career to be as good as his prime -- Jason Bay is being paid by the Mets as if they EXPECT them to be. As such, I'll loosen the standards and take a general look at how they did in the next few years and label them as hits or misses.
As far as I can tell, in the group of players marginally worse than Bay, all have flamed out. Higginson and Hidalgo fell off the map completely. Jenkins, Burnitz, and Burrell -- all sluggers who were moderately unathletic looking and with strikeout totals similar to Bay -- hung around for a while and dwindled away.
As for the group of players better than Bay, they were all clearly better than him in their careers up to this point. As pointed out in the last article, these players are not, in fact, very comparable to Bay. Brian Giles had far superior plate discipline and stats. George Foster had three top-six MVP finishes and a 54 home run season before he was 31. Willie Stargell and his superior batting line had five years with MVP votes, including a second place finish. Finally, Kevin Mitchell already had an MVP win and a career OPS+ far superior to Bay.
Most of those players were erroneously included in his list of similar players --- baseball-reference saw that they had similar batting lines (average, on-base, etc.) without factoring in that the eras they played in were very different. For instance, Jason Bay's batting line of .280/.376/.519 is superior to Kevin Mitchell's line of .277/.351/.508, but Mitchell had the VASTLY higher OPS+ because he played in a much more difficult hitting environment. Adjusted to their eras, Jason Bay's OPS+ is only 131 compared to Mitchell's 140 OPS+ and MVP win.
As for how they did, Salmon, Foster and Mitchell all had very lackluster careers from age 31 onwards. Tim Salmon had only 60 home runs after age 31, batted .262 and was out of baseball completely by 35. George Foster batted only .263/.326/.440 in the next five seasons and averaged only 26 home runs. Kevin Mitchell only had 702 at-bats over his next five seasons and only once played more than 65 games in a season.
Giles and Stargell, of course, had excellent sunsets to their careers. Stargell, who is vastly better than Bay, continued on to become one of the all-time greats while Giles had a gentle decline before his career abruptly ended.
Finally, we have the group of players similar to Bay. Of them, Edmonds was the only one to finish his career successfully. Drew is still playing, so the jury is out. As for Klesko, Bonilla, and Tartabull, the ends are not pretty.
Danny Tartabull hit .249 the rest of his career for a barely league average OPS. He averaged only 14 home runs per season and was out of baseball by the third year. Bobby Bonilla was universally reviled for his large contract, but didn't play terribly. He averaged 21 home runs over the next five years and had an OPS+ of 124.
His MOST similar player, Ryan 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.
Worse Than Bay: 0-for-5
Similar To Bay: 1-for-4
Better Than Bay: 2-for-5
Of the 15 players I looked at, only three could be said to have had their careers from ages 31 to 35 be considered as successful as the ones before.