I actually already know the answer to the question posed in the title. Jason Bay is in Port St. Lucie, taking batting practice while recovering from his intercostal strain. What I mean is, the Mets need Jason Bay back, which will hopefully happen sooner rather than later. Yes, the Mets need Jason Bay. The same Jason Bay who hit .259/.347/.402 last year with only six home runs (he had the same number of triples), four of which game in two games. The same Jason Bay who appeared in just 95 games last season because he suffered a concussion while running into a fence at Dodger stadium. And the same Jason Bay who has the ability to add serious depth to the Mets lineup.
So far, manager Terry Collins has been shuffling around his lineup a little, trying to find something that works consistently. Jose Reyes is always going to leadoff (he better not try and stick him in the three hole) and David Wright is locked in the third spot. When Carlos Beltran plays, he’s hit fourth, but he’s also had three days off already, forcing Collins to shuffle guys around again. Ike Davis has hit fourth through sixth, while Angel Pagan, struggling to find his swing, has hit second and fifth, with Brad Emaus and Josh Thole batting in the seventh and eight slots, respectively. The result has been seven different batting orders (excluding the pitcher spot) over the first nine games of the season.
As I mentioned, the problem the Mets have right now is lack of depth. That is, once a pitcher gets through the first five batters (four if Beltran is resting), the hitters become far less threatening. Right now, the key is Pagan. In an attempt to add depth to the lineup, Collins inserted Pagan into the fifth spot in the order on Opening Day, with Willie Harris batting second and Davis hitting sixth. The problem is that the fifth spot is traditionally reserved for power hitters, which Angel is not. Pagan would be better suited in the two hole given his speed (although he might not be the best option on the team for that spot either, which I’ll get to later), while Davis moves up to fifth in the order. However, that means either Emaus, Thole or Willie Harris/Scott Hairston would bat sixth, not exactly ideal (although Hairston has hit 17 homers in a season twice in his career). The problem is only magnified when Beltran has a day off. Here is where Bay comes in.
Bay slots perfectly into the fifth or sixth spot in the Mets batting order. Assuming the first four are Reyes, Pagan, Wright and Beltran, having the Bay/Davis combination bat fifth/sixth is much more desirable than Pagan/Davis or the other combinations used thus far. It’s true Bay had a hard time getting used to Citi Field last year, but so did Wright in 2009 and he bounced back quite well. Prior to last season, Bay was hitting .280/.376/.519, averaging 33 homers and 34 doubles per 162 games played. The power numbers are going to decrease, but Bay is a good hitter and still relatively in his prime at age 32. After a successful spring training, there is no reason to think that the former Rookie of the Year won’t bounce back and improve both his power and his slash line. Suddenly, the one through six spots in the order are pretty difficult for the opposing pitcher. And for good measure, Bay was a perfectly average left fielder last season, saving exactly zero defensive runs above average. With Pagan able to cover a lot of ground in center, average is all Bay needs to be.
The seventh and eight spots in the order for now seem to be whoever is playing second base and then Josh Thole. However, there might be a better spot in the order for Thole: the two hole. In his young career, Thole’s on-base percentage is .357, and he’s off to a decent start this year, collecting seven hits in twenty-five at bats with three walks. Pagan’s career OBP is .334, so while Collins is shuffling the lineup card, why not stick Thole in the two slot? He has so far proven to be a patient hitter, capable of getting on base and putting the ball in play, and would certainly take a couple of pitches so Reyes could run. He’s not fast by any means, but who says the two hitter has to be a speed demon? If Thole hits two, then Pagan could hit seven or even eight, providing some speed at the bottom of the order which could always come in handy. For example, think if Pagan, hitting eight, leads off an inning with a single, steals second and then gets sacrificed over to third by the pitcher, creating a situation where he could score on an out. Obviously that is ideal, but it’s something for TC to think about.
Right now though, the Mets need Jason Bay, and with no timetable set for his return, the Mets will continue to lack depth in the lineup. The offense has proven capable of scoring a lot of runs while also demonstrating awesome futility with runners in scoring position. Needless to say, while he rehabs in Port St. Lucie I will be on full Bay-watch, hoping that his return doesn’t happen in slow motion.