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Jason Bay Will Be Missed, But Boston Red Sox Were Correct in Letting Him Go

Joe ReganCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Jason Bay #44 of the Boston Red Sox flys out in the fifth inning of Game Two of the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium on October 9, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

So the Bay era is over in Boston. Probably a lot sooner than many Red Sox fans, myself included, had hoped.

Jason Bay, while no Manny Ramirez with the bat, provided the Red Sox with a very solid power stroke in a very walk-happy lineup (second in the AL with 659), hitting 36 home runs, and providing a very nice line of .267/.384/.537.

It will be interesting to see how Bay's style plays at Citi Field, as it is a very young ballpark, and while Fenway Park is noted as a hitter's park, it also can depress HR totals. Particularly for a right handed hitter.

But at $66 million over four years, how much of an asset is Bay to a championship run? Thanks to many a projection system, it is possible to project this and see exactly what the Mets are getting for this $66 million.

For purposes of this article, I will draw from the great work that Sean Smith provides over at baseballprojection.com, where the CHONE projections of every MLB player are readily available. As shown on the Mets page , Bay is projected for a .267/.376/.514 line, with 34 home runs over 529 plate appearances.

That puts Bay, in 2010, at about 23 runs above the average MLB player per 150 games with the bat. Bill James, as shown on his fangraphs page, has Bay at +27 runs for the season. Given his PA total according to James (648), we can project this as +25 runs per 150 games.

So, let's go forward and say Bay is a +24 hitter in 2010, which is obviously a very good total.

While Bay has been a great hitter, his defense, conversely, has come under fire, leading many a person to believe he would stay in the AL and become a full time DH in the near future.

Using UZR alone paints a bleak picture of Bay as a defender, posting UZR/150's of -11.4, -18.2, and -11.2 over the last three seasons in LF. The fans projection on fangraphs doesn't seem to be any nicer, projecting him as a -11.3 UZR defender in one of the easier spots in the outfield.

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UZR is not a substitute for defense, or a be-all, end-all, though, so let's look at some other readily available figures. Baseball Prospectus' DT card for Bay seems to concur with fangraphs on his '07 and '08 seasons defensively, but note 2009 where his FRAA is -2. For all intents and purposes, that's an average defender.

To show the generally hectic nature of defensive statistics, Bay's baseball-reference page has Bay as a plus defender in LF, at least in 2009, at +7.9. Going back to Bay's CHONE projections, Sean Smith has him at -4 for 2010. Given that his 2009 ratings seem all over the board, with UZR being the most reliable (but probably not totally), -4 seems like a fair number.

He will be playing LF all season for these Mets, so for a per 150 game count, we will go with +24 offense, -4 defense, and about a -7 run positional adjustment. That makes Bay about a +13 per 150 game player, or about +33 runs above replacement, about a +3.3 Wins above replacement player.

Given that his offensive projection includes his wasted 2007 season, it can be reasonably fair to use this +33 mark as an optimistic, but relatively reasonable average over the course of the contract.

So for $66 million, Bay provides the Mets 13.2 wins above running Jeff Francoeur out there on a regular basis for four years. That comes out to be exactly $5,000,000 per win. While far from a terrible contract, is it necessarily a good one?

Chone Figgins, who going forward is probably as valuable as Bay, will earn $30 million dollars less over the same time frame. If, say, Bay and Figgins are both +3.3 WAR players, isn't one of those at $9 mil a year far better than one at $16.5 mil a year?

Which brings us back to the man tasked to replace Bay, at least over the next two seasons, Mike Cameron.

As a hitter, Mike Cameron is very much a Jason Bay-light. Both are noted as good HR hitters, with Cameron constantly in the 20-25 HR a season range. Both are frequent walkers, as Cameron sports a career 11.1 percent walk rate vs. Bay's 12.6 percent.

Both are also prone to the strikeout, as Cameron has struck out in 24.2 percent of his career plate appearances, where Bay has in 23 percent. Bay is also better in terms of batting average (.280 vs. .250), and ISO (.239 vs .198). So it's obvious, the Red Sox are not getting an offensive upgrade to their roster in 2010 in the form of Mike Cameron.

Where they are getting one, however, is defensively. It has been well established that Mike Cameron has been one of the most brutally efficient CF's in MLB this decade, a skill that thanks to Moneyball and the OBP movement of teams, is now actually undervalued by a great deal in the market.

As a result, his three major statistics pages (fangraphs , baseball reference , baseball prospectus ) seem to generally concur on his defensive ability, with per 150 game marks ranging from about +5.7 to about +8. His CHONE projection on the Red Sox page seems to concur, listing him as +7 per 150 in 2010.

CHONE, likely due to Cameron's age, seems to hate his offensive prospects for 2010, though, listing Cameron as -3 runs per 150. Bill James is not much friendlier, listing him at around +1 run per 150. For all intensive purposes, let us go forward and say Cameron clocks in at perfectly average in 2010.

So what we have is 0 offense, +7 defense, +2 positional adjustment, a +9 RAA player. So, we can say Mike Cameron is a 2.9 WAR player in 2010. Using a common rule of thumb, we can knock of .5 WAR as a result of aging in 2011, and call Cammy a 2.4 WAR player in 2011, or 5.3 WAR total.

So $15.5 million salary divided by 5.3 WAR leaves Cammy at about $2.925 million dollars per marginal win. Given the normal going rate of $3.5-$4.5 million per win in the market, this is a definite win for the Red Sox.

However, what if the Red Sox choose to play Cameron in LF? The Red Sox organization, as well as the fan base, like Jacoby Ellsbury in CF, and who can blame them? He has the No. 1 tool needed for high levels of success for a centerfielder—speed.

Anyone familiar with UZR, though, knows Ellsbury was not painted in as brilliant a light as Dave Roberts and others give him, listing him as one of the worst full time CF's in baseball. Unfortunately, this does not seem outlandish, and multiple other defensive evaluators, like Total Zone, FRAA, and Dewan plus-minus, say the same thing.

However, a single season snapshot should not cancel out what we as fans see regularly. What we do see regularly is a player with raw talent, but still behind on the instincts front, which is something that can easily be built with simple seasoning (see B.J. Upton).

Going forward, I think Cameron is more likely to man left field for the Red Sox in 2010 and 2011, while Ellsbury continues to learn and improve on the job.

So what could this do for Cameron's rating? Well, given his limited data available to analyze in the corners, I will go with the 139 games he has played in RF over his career. Baseball prospectus rates Cammy as +7 per 100 games in RF, so it is safe to call him, in my view, a +10 per 150 defender in LF.

So, a +0 bat, a +10 glove, and a -7 positional adjustment leaves Cameron at +2.3 WAR. Using the same -0.5 WAR rule of thumb, let us call him +1.8 WAR in 2011. That leaves Cameron now as a $3.78 million per win player, which is a pretty fair market value signing for Cameron, and still much better per dollar value than Bay.

The thing I most ask fellow Red Sox fans for in 2010 is the realization that Mike Cameron is not here to be better than Jason Bay. Mike Cameron is here because the Free Agent market dictated that he was a better value to the Red Sox organization than Jason Bay.

The Red Sox were a 95 win team in 2009, and have already seen dramatic improvement to their roster at shortstop, with the signing of Scutaro (who we can expect to be a 2.5-3 WAR player), and John Lackey. Victor Martinez's bat full time at catcher will also help the team, and Jason Varitek, despite the duress he has been under from the media, is still a solid backup option.

The Red Sox also continue to be in talks with another defensive whiz with a projected average bat, Adrian Beltre. So do not despair too much about losing Jason Bay, Red Sox fans. This is a very good team coming into 2010, and you can expect another playoff run from your boys.

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