Jason Bay or Matt Holliday? This was the debate on WFAN radio in New York yesterday, and nearly everyone was leaning in favor of Bay. The discussion occurred on Miked Up, a show hosted by Mike Francesa that can also be seen on the YES Network in the afternoon.
I mention Francesa because he's one of the better-respected sports radio men in the business, and yet I found myself completely disagreeing with him—a phenomenon which is not at all uncommon for me.
Francesa was giving Bay the edge in general, and as a fit for the Mets. What bothered me is that he was presenting it as a non-decision, as if Bay is far superior to Holliday.
First of all, I'd definitely rather have Holliday on the Mets. I doubt they'll even come close to signing him, but it's fun to play the "what if?" game. Here's why I prefer Holliday:
Holliday hit .313 last season, and he's a .318 lifetime hitter. Bay hit .267 in '09 and is a .280 lifetime hitter.
That's a 46-point difference last season, and a 38-point one lifetime. Let's get a little more specific, though: Holliday is already the better average hitter, and he'd be playing his home games at Citi Field, the park that allowed a 70-win team to lead the National League in team batting average.
The spacious outfield and big gaps at Citi Field could easily help Holliday to the ballpark of a .335 average, and he'd be getting plenty of opportunities to drive in runs because Luis Castillo, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright are all quality on-base guys.
As for Bay, Francesa was saying that the chart of Bay's home runs suggests that Citi Field could be a good fit for him, but he played his home games at Fenway for the past year and a half. Does the chart account for the fact that Bay could have easily (and rightfully) altered his approach because it's so easy for power guys to lift bombs over the Green Monster?
I don't think so. Sure, the left field line is the softest spot for homers at Citi Field, but it's certainly more difficult to clear than Fenway.
In addition, from what I've seen of Bay (and I've seen plenty; I covered the Red Sox on a long-term assignment), his natural power is to the gaps and center field. He prefers to hit the ball where it's pitched, as opposed to trying to yank everything down the line.
I prefer hitters that keep the ball in play. Holliday struck out 101 times in '09; Bay fanned 162 times. Holliday struck out 104 times in '08, while Bay K'd 137 times.
Bay's power approach isn't right for Citi Field; the optimal approach is one that allows the park to play to its offensive strength, which is a vast ocean of an outfield. Holliday's approach is obviously more appropriate.
Now I'll highlight the counterarguments:
Francesa and the callers on the Miked Up show were saying that Bay has more power, and that's something that the Mets are in desperate need of.
I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree again. Both Bay and Holliday have plus raw power. I don't think there's a clear advantage between the two. Let's go to the numbers:
Bay's career high in homers is 36, and that came during his only full season in Boston. Ever hear of ballpark effects?
There's a good example.
In Bay's last lengthy season with Pittsburgh (2007, 538 at-bats), he had only 21 homers. Surely nothing to write home about.
But in all fairness, Holliday has been the benefactor of a favorable home park, and of course that's Coors Field.
Holliday's career high in home runs is also 36, and that came in 2007 with the Rockies.
So it's clear that both players have provided better power numbers when they play in more favorable hitters' parks, and that's completely natural.
What does it all mean?
Well, if they cancel out in power, wouldn't you rather have the more professional hitter, the one with the higher average and better rate of contact?
I know I would. That's Holliday.
The second argument in favor of Bay is his defense. This is another cancel-out situation. Baseball Prospectus gave Bay a negative defensive rating heading into the '09 season (which is pretty rare, and a little embarrassing), but I'll grant that Holliday isn't a great defender either.
Neither will shine playing left field in Queens. It's fair to leave it at that.
In the end, I'm taking Holliday, and I think you know why. How Francesa could think that Bay is clearly the better option for the Mets...well...
Maybe he's not as knowledgeable as the public seems to think he is.
(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston's popular GM Theo Epstein. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)