Jon Jay, Lead Off Hitter

Jon Jay

No debate sparks more argument among Cardinals fans than the center field debate. I wrote about it preseason, in which I voted for Peter Bourjos to start in center.

Here’s that link:

I still like Bourjos, and think he is a really nice piece to have on the roster, but the debate is over. Jon Jay has up and run away with the centerfield job, and frankly has become criminally underrated. Let us not forget that Jay was the leadoff man for the Cardinals not long ago, and possesses a career OBP of .358.

Fans turned on Jay last year because of a career low .276 average. Amazingly, Jay still maintained a .351 OBP which was higher than the .344 OBP he carried while hitting .297 in 2011. However, the Cardinal Centerfielder also posted career lows in slugging, and had a horrendous year defensively.

That is all in the past. Jon Jay is back, and better than ever. Jay’s average sits at .302, creeping up on his career high .305. His OBP of .372 is one point lower than his career high, and he is carrying the second highest SLG% of his career. Shockingly, Jay’s OPS sits at .772, higher than Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.

People will say what they will about Jay’s average being fueled by BABIP, and they aren’t wrong. Jay posts a ridiculously high .355 BABIP this year, .056 higher than the league average. I hear all the time on twitter “once Jay stops BABIPing, he will decline.” That would absolutely be true, but frankly, there is no sign that Jay will stop having an insanely high BABIP. In 2010 Jay had a .350 BABIP, and people called in unsustainable. In 2011, that number dipped to .340, and again it seemed unsustainable. Last year, Jay’s career low average was caused by a career low .325 BABIP, which was still good for .028 above the league average. That was the only year of Jay’s career in which he did not post a BABIP of .340 or better. It’s hard to say that Jay is going to decline once his BABIP does, because for the last five years, BABIP has been no issue for the Miami native.

In the offense’s current state, I would love to see Jay moved to the leadoff spot. Many, including myself, believe that Matt Carpenter makes for the ideal number two hitter. The only thing hindering that is that the Cardinals haven’t had anyone else to hit leadoff, now they do. This works for many reasons. Number one, Kolten Wong’s .292 OBP belongs nowhere near the top of the lineup. Secondly, the Cardinal offense has been crippled this year by double plays from the two hole. Four players have taken 40+ AB’s from the two hole this year, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong, and Jon Jay. Those four also happen to carry the four highest double play percentages on the roster. I have grown weary watching Matt Carpenter lead off the game by getting on base, only to be erased seconds later.

Moving Jay to lead off, and Carpenter down to second almost completely erases this issue. Jay’s OBP is only .007 lower than Carpenter’s and would be a .81 improvement over Kolten Wong. Simply put, the top two spots in the order would be getting on base 8% more often than they currently are. As far as the double play situation, Matt Carpenter holds the lowest double play percentage on the roster, so that issue would be relieved as well.

For an offense struggling as mightily as the Cardinals have, a little lineup reconstruction certainly wouldn’t hurt. The point being, is that Jon Jay can provide a healthy boost to the offense if used correctly. It’s time to stop with BABIP argument, and start appreciating the offensive weapon that Jay is becoming.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports



2 thoughts on “Jon Jay, Lead Off Hitter

  1. Solid post, AJ. For the record, I have considered this for quite some time, but I chose to not make it public because I already talk about Jay enough. 🙂 Jay thrived as a lead-off hitter in the past, but this was abandoned when he slumped at the beginning of last season. His OBP, LD%, and high BABIP (all three should be considered skills, IMO) fit the lead-off role perfectly. However, I don’t see this ever happening, especially with Matheny as manager, so at the very least, he should hit second. I strongly believe that your top-two OBP guys should be hitting 1st and 2nd, and this season, that is Carpenter and Jay. Kolten Wong, at least at this stage in his career, is not a two-hole hitter. Finally, the biggest problem with having Jay at the leadoff spot is that he still isn’t a 100% everyday starter. Bourjos will still get his time and serve as a defensive replacement as well. It seems weird to put a guy who doesn’t play everyday or doesn’t always play a full 9 innings in the leadoff spot. Regardless, I wouldn’t mind seeing him there, but as long as he’s in the top two slots, I’m happy.

    • Thanks for reading Joe. I agree that I never see this happening with Matheny as manager, nor do I see it as a necessary move. I’m completely ok with Jay hitting in the 2 hole, because like you, I believe that those 2 spots should be for your top 2 OBP guys. Its the double play situation that really makes me want to see Marp in the 2 hole. For a team with no power, every double play is an absolute killer. Also, Marp has shown an ability to drive in runs that I think fits perfectly in the 2 hole while Jay would be leading off. I see your point about him still not playing everyday, but that is why Marp is so valuable. If Jay is your lead off man, and gets a day off, Marp slides right back into the role he has thrived in so far.

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