Jason Bay and home runs

You’re not watching quite the same Jason Bay who played in Pittsburgh. Bay was an above-average power hitter with the Pirates. He hit 35 home runs in 2006, and he’s hit at least 30 in three of the past four seasons. From 2003 to 2008, Bay hit a home run every 18.7 at-bats, 34th best in the majors over that span. He even participated in the Home Run Derby in 2005, which led to disastrous results.

This season has been different, because Bay has been a monster. He has 13 home runs, which ranks second in the American League. Bay has hit a home run every 11 at-bats, the fifth-highest rate in the major leagues. At his current pace, Bay would hit 51 home runs this year.

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Put another way: Bay has always been good at hitting home runs. For 41 games this season, he has been one of the best sluggers on this big, green planet.

“I don’t know what the difference is,” Bay said. “I don’t really want to think about it.”

One of the most obvious theories would be that Bay now plays his home games at Fenway Park, a perceived haven for righthanded power hitters. But Bay has hit seven homers in 21 road games and six homers in 20 home games. And, as he did last night for his 13th bomb, Bay has used the opposite field in a park not know for surrendering right field homers. “He’s got some strong wrists on him,” manager Terry Francona said.

Another good guess might be that Bay is now playing in a loaded lineup and teams have to give him better pitches to hit compared to when he was the clear anchor of Pittsburgh’s order. Bay has considered this, and he doesn’t see it as correct.

“It’s funny,” Bay said. “Maybe the RBIs and some of the secondary statistics may be a result of that. It’s not really something I’ve really noticed. I’ve been asked, ‘Do you notice now that you’re in Boston, teams aren’t viewing you as The Guy and they’re not giving you anything to hit?’ And I haven’t noticed that. I mean, it’s not that different, like, ‘Hey, I’m getting pitched to.’ For whatever reason … I just want to go up there and hope the hot streak continues.”

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That leaves two likely possibilities, and which one is correct will be determined over the course of the season. The first is that 41 games is too small a sample size to be taken seriously, and Bay will level off and wind up with about 32 home runs, a very nice year but nothing out of his norm.

The second is that Bay is a late-bloomer. Only 30, Bay ought to be entering his peak. He was unknown out of high school in Trail, British Columbia, and he was not chosen until the 645th selection of the 2000 draft. He became a major leaguer in the first place only because in the minors he kept getting better. It might be as simple as this: Jason Bay may have never been this good before, and now he is.

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