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: https://gatewaysc.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/pb-jay/

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

AJ

PB & Jay

Player A: .293 BA .356 OBP .757 OPS

Player B: .251 BA .306 OBP .704 OPS

Who do you want starting in center field for your team?

Player A: -5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) .915 Revised Zone Rating (RZR) -11 Outfield Arm Runs Saved (rARM)

Player B: 33 DRS .944 RZR 6 rARM

All info via fangraphs.com

How about now?

If you didn’t figure it out from the title, Player A is Jon Jay, and Player B is the Cardinals’ new toy in the outfield, Peter Bourjos. Based on those stats, which you would prefer start probably depends on whether or not you want offense or defense from the centerfield position.

PB and Jay

Credit: KSDK

The options:

1. Start Bourjos, Jay becomes fourth OF

I am of the belief that given the lack of defense from the corner outfielders, it is more important to the Cardinals to have defense in CF. Matt Holliday and Allen Craig may possibly combine to be the worst defensive set of corner outfielders in baseball this year, but they may also be the best offensively. As an everyday player Bourjos is a potential Gold Glover in center field. The firepower of Holliday and Craig as well as Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta should more than make up for the drop in offense. Jay would easily become an above average bench player, and if Bourjos offense slips too far, could step in as the starter.

2. Start Jay, Bourjos is 4th OF

We’ve seen this before. If Jay is able to return to his form from 2010-2013 he will be a solid, .300 hitting center fielder. He won’t get any assists, or make many spectacular plays, but he will make all the simple plays, and hit a consistent .300. The Cardinals won a World Series with that in center, and were two victories away from another. So why change?

3. Platoon – Jay against RHP, Bourjos against LHP

This is the option that I can’t wrap my head around. I’m old school in the sense that I believe in a player getting into a rhythm playing every day. There is no stat to back this up, but there is something to be said about a player keeping his timing and momentum by being in the lineup on a daily basis. Not to mention that statistically, it wouldn’t even make sense to platoon them. While Jay’s little to begin with pop completely disappears against left handed pitching, he still hits for average and gets on base at a higher rate than Bourjos does against lefties (.269/.343 compared to .256/.301). Take your pick, Bourjos or Jay, but the platoon idea needs to be shot down.

So what will the Cardinals do come April? Should they stick with the solid, but not spectacular that has gotten the job done before? Or should they unleash their new toy, the one that will catch any fly ball hit from here to Cincinnati? Honestly, there is no wrong answer in this case. The rest of the Cardinals roster would make them World Series contenders if they had Shane Robinson patrolling center this year. My vote is to start Bourjos. There is an old adage that says it’s better to be great at one thing than mediocre at many. Jon Jay is a good center fielder, one that would start for a lot of teams in MLB, but there is nothing that he is GREAT at. The reason the Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos is because he is GREAT defensively, possibly the best there is. I say let that greatness shine, but don’t hesitate to use your insurance policy.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

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