With Casper Wells officially an Oakland Athletic, I thought it was a good time to look at how Jason Bay is doing at the plate so far this season. Obviously, sitting at April 23rd, three weeks into the regular season, statistics, whether traditional or “sabermetric” are not going to be at a point where it makes any sense to evaluate them. Instead, as I have done in previous posts, I will look at Pitch F/X data. Here, we will be able to see what pitches he is seeing, from what kind of pitchers, and what he is doing with these pitches/pitchers. Bay has seen 181 pitches so far in the regular season, so let’s look at what the data tells us about Bay’s 2013 season so far.
First, let’s look at the opposing pitcher’s release points, giving us an idea of what kinds of pitchers he is facing:
As you can see, Bay has not been much of a platoon player, having the platoon advantage just 36% of the time. This is at least part out of necessity, since the outfield has been so thin and unhealthy to start the year. We do see that Wedge has protected him from right-handed specialist type pitchers reasonably well (or the Mariners have just not faced them), and giving him plenty of at-bats against left-handed specialists. This trend would help boost his numbers at least somewhat arbitrarily in a way that is not predictive in a vacuum.
What about the velocity of the pitches Bay has seen?
The average pitch Jason Bay is seeing so far this year is 87.47 MPH, which is above the median for relief pitchers in 2013, and well above the median for starting pitchers for 2013. He has only seen 87 fastballs or fastball type pitches (counting moving fastballs/sinkers/cutters), which is a low number. So it is not that he is seeing a lot of fastballs, because he really isn’t. It is that he is seeing hard fastballs, averaging about 93.8 MPH, roughly 3 MPH harder than league average. As you see from the chart, he has seen a fastball that nearly touched 100 MPH, and to his credit, he at least fouled it off. It is really a strange dynamic we are seeing for Bay. He is coming off of a dreadful year, and yet pitchers won’t throw him fastballs, even though these pitchers seem to have very good fastballs on average.
So how is Bay handling this velocity? Without classifying pitches (for one, we are just looking at velocity now, and the MLBAM tags can be tricky or wrong, and since we are looking at an abundance of pitchers, classifying them in a way that is not overly simplistic or binary would be extremely difficult), I broke the pitches in half based on velocity.
On pitches that are above the average of 87.47 MPH, Bay has made contact (because the sample size is so small, we can’t differentiate between outs and non-outs for obvious BABIP reasons, and have to just assume contact is always good, which of course, it isn’t) 15 times and whiffed 7 times. On pitches below this average, Bay has made contact just 8 times, and whiffed 12 times. So it appears that pitchers are justified in throwing him softer pitchers and a lot of breaking balls.
What about location? Can we already create “hot” and “cold” zones? Here is where pitchers have been throwing the harder pitches against Bay:
Pitchers will throw inside on him occasionally, but clearly so far in 2013, they are wanting to keep the ball away, even with hard stuff.
Here are the softer half of pitches thrown to Bay:
With the slower pitches, pitchers will throw some inside at the bottom of the plate (something they wouldn’t do with harder stuff), but again, they mainly want to throw away. Perhaps pitchers are questioning not only Bay’s plate discipline, but his plate coverage as well.
Here are the pitches Bay has made contact on:
Mixed bag here, a couple way off the plate, but everything else in the zone, no one spot he had the most contact in, but he isn’t making any contact on pitches low and in, something that pitchers are doing with the softer stuff.
Here are the pitches Bay has swung and missed at:
The problem here is clear. Other than the one stray inside ball, everything is middle to outside, with a lot of them low. These are of course, mainly breaking pitches.
So pitchers are going with soft stuff away from Bay, because frankly, he will swing and miss at it. When pitchers go hard and in on Bay, he can hit that. Bay has always been a pretty big strikeout hitter, but he doesn’t go out of the zone much, at least historically. That he is having so many problems with outside breaking balls is troublesome. On the other hand, his ability to get inside fastballs is encouraging from a bat speed perspective. It is definitely a small sample size, but Bay has seen 16 pitches over 95 MPH, and he has put 3 in play, and swung and missed at just 2. The quick wrists and strength that it takes to be a big league hitter appear to still be there, unless you believe that he is cheating on pitches, only hitting fastballs because he is sitting on them, and way ahead of breaking balls because he is just guessing fastball. This seems to be hard to prove without sample size, one way or another. He has had 46 0-0 counts so far, with just 2 swinging strikes. One was the second best fastball velocity he has seen, while the other was classified as a slider at 86.5 MPH. I count 22 of those 46 pitches classified as non-fastballs. If he were just guessing, one would think (at least this is what I would think) when pitchers started the count with off-speed and breaking stuff, he would look horrible, expecting to get a fastball. But, as we saw with the frequency of pitch types (fastballs versus non-fastballs), pitchers think/know he will chase, and so they throw an abnormal amount of off-speed/breaking pitches to start the count.
Do I expect Bay to be a positive contributor for the Mariners because of this data? The answer is still no. He doesn’t run or field well, so he really needs to hit to be a worthwhile player. The lack of discipline and ability on low and away breaking pitches at this point probably rule out him being a big contributor with the bat. It is noteworthy though, if one wanted to be positive, that the skill set of being able to hit good fastballs is not gone. The data suggests that he isn’t absolutely lost at the plate (which it seems he was in 2012 when he played), but the significant holes in all three facets of the game keep Bay from being someone the Mariners should be throwing out onto the field on any kind of regular basis (not that they have a lot of options right now).