Last year, when Ike Davis was called up to the major leagues on April 19, the Mets were struggling. They had lost eight of their first 12 games and appeared to be falling out of contention before the season got underway in earnest. With Ike providing the Mets another solid bat in the lineup, the team took off, embarking on an eight-game winning streak in late April. Over his first two-plus months in the major leagues, the Mets went 39-24, propelling themselves into the wild card lead.
Of course, once the second half began, the Mets went on their season-changing road trip, where they lost nine of 11 games and the services of their left fielder after Jason Bay ran head first into the fence at Dodger Stadium.
When Jason Bay played his last game for the Mets last year, the Mets had a winning record (50-49). The Mets played the final 63 games of 2010 and the first 18 games of 2011 without Bay, which is the equivalent of half a season of missed games. In that time frame, the Mets' record was 34-47.
Of course, when Bay was healthy, he was performing far below what was expected from him. However, his absence from the lineup made it easier for opposing pitchers to pitch around other batters in the lineup, particularly David Wright. Prior to Bay's injury, Wright was hitting .298 with a .372 on-base percentage. Once Bay's name was removed from the lineup, Wright's batting average fell to .253 and he reached base at a .321 clip.
The same formula continued over the first 18 games of the 2011 season. With Bay on the disabled list, Wright began the season by hitting .229. His on-base percentage and slugging percentage were .304 and .386, respectively. Wright also struck out at an alarming rate, with 22 whiffs in 70 at-bats.
Then Jason Bay returned to the lineup on Tuesday. David Wright had another bat to protect him in the batting order and he hasn't stopped hitting ever since.
In the four games since Bay's return, Wright has hit .429 (6-for-14) and has reached base in 10 of his 18 plate appearances. He has also banged out more productive hits, driving in six runs over the four games. In addition, Wright has picked up four extra-base hits with Bay in the lineup, three of which cleared the outfield wall. His slugging percentage over the four games is an eye-popping .889, giving him a 1.445 OPS. That's a far cry from the .690 OPS Wright was producing out of the three-hole over the first three weeks of the season.
The most important stat that has come out of Bay's return is not Wright's re-emergence as a potent bat, but the number in the win column. The Mets have won all four games since Jason Bay came off the disabled list. Similar to Ike Davis' addition the lineup in 2010, Bay's return has brought a winning atmosphere to the team. His presence in the batting order has given opposing pitchers something else to contemplate (Bay's batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage since his return is an impressive .333/.412/.667.) and has awakened a number of sleeping bats in the lineup, most notably David Wright's.
The Mets may have paid Jason Bay $66 million over four years to provide a powerful bat to a lineup that lacked firepower in 2009, but what they may have gotten as a bonus was a catalyst. Even if Bay doesn't come close to reproducing his 2009 numbers in Boston (36 HR, 119 RBI), his return to the Mets gives his teammates a better chance to put up the numbers expected from them. Jose Reyes might be considered by some to be the spark plug of the team, but Jason Bay, whether he knows it or not, is the one who's lit the fire, and the Mets are a better team because of it.