When he tells you he’s a streaky hitter, Jason Bay ain’t lying. The stark disparity and clear definition between his first 50 games and his second 50 games this season is incredible. Look at his numbers:
First 50 Second 50
AVG: .288 .213
OBP: .415 .346
SLG: .627 .354
OPS: 1.042 .700
RBI: 49 25
HR: 15 5
What’s the explanation? Bay has always been a streaky hitter, but aren’t those above numbers a tad extreme? After Wednesday’s 8-2 Sox win – in which Bay went 3 for 3 with two walks, wo runs, and his third homer in three games – I proposed one theory to Bay: In his first year in the American League, the league hadn’t yet figured out Bay; the second two months was the league adjusting; the past week has been Bay making his adjustments.
“I can see your point,” Bay said. “I personally don’t think so. There really are no secrets anymore. If you can be exploited a certain way, it’s not going to take a couple months to figure out. I don’t think that, regardless of the league, the scouting, the video, this and that now. The two months I had here last year I faced basically every team. I didn’t go through a stretch [this year] where I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ I’m getting pitched completely different. I didn’t see that coming.’ ”
The difference for Bay, simply, is feel at the plate and in the batter’s box. It takes a couple of pitchers for him to go bad, and it takes only a couple pitches for him to go good. The thing about Bay is, for whatever reason, the time between that happening can be awfully prolonged.
Bay was hot, and then wasn’t. He tried to keep the same approach. But then “a week turns into two turns into a month,” Bay said. “You’re looking back going, ‘This is still going on.’ You’re trying everything and getting yourself into a deep hole.”
He started moving his feet in the batter’s box, trying new things, unwittingly getting further and further away from what made him hot in the first place.
“When I was scuffling, I was getting pitches to hit, and I was missing them,” Bay said. “All of a sudden now I’m in a hole and I’ve got to battle and I don’t feel great anyway. All these things just kind of snowballed. For as locked in as I was the first two months, it was the exact opposite for the next two.”
And the last week in Tampa, Bay hit a home run. Like that, the searching stopped. Bay was cold, and now he’s not.
“These past few days have been the first time I haven’t really been trying,” Bay said. “I’d been trying to make things happen. Now I’m just kind of letting it come to me and reacting. It kind of felt uninhibited. I wasn’t trying to do anything. I saw the ball.
“The difference between fouling off a pitch you can hit out of the ballpark and hitting it out of the ballpark is huge. All of a sudden you hit a ball out. You’re a little more relaxed. I don’t have to get a hit. When you’re going up there pressing, I’m 0-for this or 0-for that, it makes it even tougher. But to get those hits, you’ve got to relax more. It’s kind of a chicken-and-the-egg thing. It’s got to happen. Fortunately, it worked out.”
For the past five days, these have been Bay’s numbers: .353 AVG, .421 OBP, .882 SLG, 1.303 OPS, 3 HR, 5 RBI. A small sample size, to be sure, but pretty close to those first 50 games.
There seemed to be a theory bubbling out there that Bay’s slump owed to the fact that pitchers had figured Bay was a fastball pitcher and started feeding him breaking pitches. Is Bay really just a fastball hitter? That’s partly true. Here, with an assist from the amazing FanGraphs.com, is how Bay has fared against different pitch types this year:
Fastballs: 15.7 runs above average, 32d in the majors
Cutters: -0.4 runs above average average, 89th
Curveballs: 1.4 runs above average, 68th
Changeups: -1.7 runs above average, 124th
Splitters: 1.4 runs above average, 16th
Bay is better than most big leaguers against splitters, and he’s not exactly helpless against curveballs. The pitches Bay thrives on is mistakes. Any hitter can say that, of course. But Bay is different in that he can look really bad against good pitches, and he has a special ability to murder mistakes.
“I’m looking for a pitch that I can drive,” Bay said. “You try to take the ones you can’t it. I’m not looking for a pitch I can’t hit.”
If there’s one conclusion, it’s this: Bay’s season comes down more to what he is than what others are doing against him.
“I’m definitely streaky, no question,” Bay said. “When you’re good, you’re good. When you’re bad, you’re bad.”