Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jason Bay's Struggles Seem Awfully Familiar

When Jason Bay became a Met prior to the 2010 season, he was coming off a tremendous season in Boston.  Bay was an All-Star in his final season with the Red Sox, hitting .267 with 36 HR and 119 RBI.  He also won his first Silver Slugger Award and finished seventh in the AL MVP vote.  Perhaps his greatest victory that year was getting the Mets to give him a four-year, $66 million contract to become their new leftfielder.

Since signing the free agent deal, Bay has been a tremendous disappointment.  In 2010, he struggled from Day One.  He hit one home run in his first 44 games and had only hit five more by the All-Star Break.  After the break, Bay went homerless in the team's first ten games and then gave himself a noogie on the left field fence at Dodger Stadium.  He was diagnosed with a concussion and spent the rest of the season on the disabled list.  His final numbers in his first season as a Met (.259 batting average, .347 on-base percentage, 6 HR, 47 RBI in 95 games) left many to wonder if this was a fluke season or a sign of things to come.

In 2011, Bay began the second year of his Mets career in the same place where he ended his first - on the disabled list.  Bay missed the first 18 games of the season before returning from the DL on April 21.  Although he was able to remain healthy for the rest of the season, once again his production fell far short of his pre-2010 levels.  Bay hit two home runs in his first 47 games and finished the year with 12 HR and 57 RBI.  His batting average and on-base percentage were also disappointing, as he finished at .245 and .329, respectively.

Clearly, Jason Bay has not done much of anything to earn his high salary.  But this drop in production is not unique among Met hitters.  In fact, it happened before two decades ago in strikingly similar fashion.

Howard Johnson went from beloved '86 Met to three 30-30 seasons to "LOOK OUT BELOW!!"

In 1991, Howard Johnson won two legs of the National League Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs (38) and RBI (117).  He set a new franchise record with his RBI total and fell one homer short of Darryl Strawberry's single-season home run record.  He also hit .259 on the way to becoming an All-Star, winning the Silver Slugger Award and finishing fifth in the NL MVP vote.

One year later, HoJo had an awful first half.  At the time of the All-Star Break, Johnson was hitting .228 with 7 HR, 37 RBI, and was reaching base at a .336 clip.  After the break, he played in 15 games without hitting a home run, then was placed on the disabled list with a broken right wrist.  Johnson did not play again in 1992.

In 1993, Johnson attempted to show the Mets that he was over his injury, but instead regressed.  HoJo played in all but one of the team's first 57 games, hitting .243 with 5 HR, 22 RBI and a .353 on-base percentage.  He then missed three weeks with a viral infection, but when he returned to the lineup, he was basically an automatic out.  He played in 16 games after his DL stint ended, batting .222 (.354 OBP) and only driving in four runs (2 HR) before his season ended with another trip to the disabled list, this time with a fractured thumb.  For the season, Johnson hit .238 with 7 HR, 26 RBI and a .354 on-base percentage in 72 games.

Did you notice a similarity there?  I'll put it all together for you in case you missed it.

  • Howard Johnson (1991): .259, 38 HR, 117 RBI, All-Star, Silver Slugger, top 10 MVP vote.
  • Jason Bay (2009): .267, 36 HR, 119 RBI, All-Star, Silver Slugger, top 10 MVP vote.

  • Johnson ('92): .223, 7 HR, 43 RBI, sidelined for the season shortly after the All-Star Break.
  • Bay ('10): .259, 6 HR, 47 RBI, sidelined for the season shortly after the All-Star Break.

  • Johnson ('93): .238, 7 HR, 26 RBI, spent more time on the DL with a different injury.
  • Bay ('11): .245, 12 HR, 57 RBI, spent more time on the DL with a different injury.

Both Johnson and Bay had strikingly similar performances and health issues in the year following their best seasons.  Oh, and did I mention they were both 30 years of age during those great seasons?  No?  Sorry, I must have forgotten with all those other similarities I had to remember.

Jason Bay still has two years left on his gazillion dollar contract.  Fortunately for the Mets of two decades ago, Howard Johnson was a free agent following his second straight off-year in 1993, so the Mets were able to avoid a potential third consecutive poor season from HoJo.  (Johnson played two more seasons in the majors and combined to hit .205 with 17 HR and 62 RBI in 180 games for the Rockies and Cubs in 1994 and 1995 before retiring at age 34.)

It remains to be seen if Jason Bay will continue to decline the way Howard Johnson did for the Mets in the '90s.  One thing's for sure.  The Mets can't afford to have Bay suffer at the plate for a third straight season.  That's one similarity between Bay and HoJo the team and the fans could live without.

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