I’m not writing today to bash Jon Jay. What I am saying is that I think Oscar Taveras can’t get here soon enough. If he wasn’t slowed by a bad ankle, I think he already would be in St. Louis and playing CF right about now. Many say that Taveras won’t stick in CF. His body type projects him to fill out and be a RF’er in the long run. That may be true 5 or 6 years down the road, but that’s not the case now or in the near future.
I find it funny that no one ever seems to think about Jim Edmonds when they say this. Edmonds wasn’t blessed with speed and he also had a thick body type like Taveras is projected to have. What Edmonds did do was make up for these shortcomings with great jumps on balls, playing a shallow CF and yet could still get back to the wall (and over it) to rob opposing hitters. We probably won’t ever see another player in CF for the Cards that can do it all like Edmonds did. The numbers and the eye test both said the same thing. The only thing that will keep Edmonds out of Cooperstown will be the lack of padded numbers due to injuries at the end of his career and a late start. I have my own feelings about that, but that’s not a topic I want to get sidetracked by today. The point of writing this is to inform even the loyalist of Jay fans that if he’s not hitting, he has very little value.
I like Jay. Mike Matheny and Tony LaRussa do as well. He works hard and is a good clubhouse guy. However, when I watch Jay I see a player who gets bad jumps on the ball, allows too many balls to fall in front of him and behind him and more often than not he doesn’t take charge in CF. When it’s a question of an infielder going back on a ball, Jay never seems to be assertive in calling that player off to make the catch himself, like a CF’er should. Jay uses his throwing arm to wave off Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday on balls in between them instead of screaming “I got it.” I always wonder why he thinks when a ball is in the air in between them that they would be looking at his arm and not at the ball.
There are a lot of Jay defenders out there and the constant reminding from the FSMW crew that Jay hasn’t made an error since 2011. Because Jay was a .300 hitter in the past, that seems to give him a free pass for his defense. I’ll say this as easy as I can, which is if Jay isn’t at or close to a .300 hitter, he doesn’t have a lot of value, and he has become a tremendous liability. The problem now is that Jay’s .282 BABIP has caught up with him and suggest this is more the player on offense than what we’ve seen in the past when it was in the .343 heading into this year. The league average BABIP is normally .290 to .310.
Jay had value as a nice complementary player on some great teams when he was hitting. It’s possible Jay will find his stroke at the plate and get on track. A problem with that is that his BABIP is about where it should be, so I think it’s fair to say Jay has had some lucky breaks in the past. Another problem with that is that he is in between batting stances right now. Jay saw immediate results when John Mabry had Jay change his helicopter hands into a more steady position at the plate. Now, it looks as if Jay is going back and forth between his old and new stance, even between AB’s in the same game.
Moving along to his defensive play, let’s start with Jay’s arm. Using the stats from Fangraphs, Jay has the worst arm among all qualifying CF’ers. While you’ll hear constant praise for him not making an error, the one thing you won’t hear is that he has the weakest arm in CF in MLB. Since the start of the 2012 season when Jay became the full time starter in CF, his arm ranks as a -4.8, which is dead last among the 20 players that have enough innings to qualify. Here are some other defensive metrics and where Jay ranks out of the 20 MLB CF’ers that qualify since the start of 2012:
UZR: -3.4 (13th out of 20)
UZR/150: -3.0 (12th out of 20)
RngR: -0.6 (11th out of 20)
If you look at the 2013 stats for Jay, it’s looks even worse:
UZR: -7.0 (18th out of 20)
UZR/150: -18.1 (18th out of 20)
RngR: -5.0 (16th out of 20)
Arm: -2.8 (20th out of 20)
In 2013, Jay is just ahead of Shin-Soo Choo in all of these categories, except for his arm. The problem with that is that Choo is playing out of position in CF so the Reds can get the offense they need and sacrifice a lot of defense in doing so. That’s fine for the Reds, but Jay has been playing CF his entire career and is in his prime. Jay shouldn’t be trending downward. If Jay continues to struggle on offense, the Cards might as well bring up Taveras when he’s fully healed and see what he can do with the bat and the glove.
When you listen to other teams broadcast, the announcers say the same thing about Jay as they do Juan Pierre, which is that they’re going to run on him all day. Whether it’s first to third, second to home, or even a case like the other night in Miami when a runner went from the first to home on a single just to the left of Jay. The book is out on Jay and his arm, and it’s not good for the Cardinals.
The point is, if the Cards are going to let a player continue to be tested and ran against at will and who also possesses terrible range by taking bad routes to balls, let’s put a player in there like Taveras and see what he can do with the bat and the glove. Taveras has a strong arm. There may be a bit of a learning curve, but if his offense will carry over from what he’s done in the minors to MLB, I think it’s a risk worth taking and an easy call to make. He’s the #1 prospect in MLB. Of course we don’t know what he’ll do at this level until he gets here, but I can’t imagine a better time to address the weak production that Jay provides. If nothing else, I say it’s time to give it a try.
On the Cardinals, Jay should be the 4th OF’er when Taveras arrives. Jay may be a starter on a few clubs, but not on the one that has the best record in MLB and has the #1 prospect in the minors that has played the majority of his games in CF in the minors the last 2 years. Again, I’m not bashing Jay, I’m just stating what seems obvious to me and I think many others without even looking at the numbers.
Every team needs to have a few cost controlled players that perform at the average league level. I’m not suggesting the Cards need to go out and make a trade to replace Jay. I think it’s important to have a nice balance with these types of guys, especially for a team like the Cards and their payroll limitations. What I am saying is that the Cards have another option that may be ready to make the jump to MLB in another month or so and that the Cards are playing him in CF in the minors. The people who have already pegged Taveras as a RF’er haven’t been keeping up with the strides he’s making on defense.
I know many think Taveras is only playing CF in the minors because of a lack of options down there at that position. I think the Cards are grooming him to be the starter in CF for the Cards in 2014. Adding Taveras to the 2013 club is something I think will happen soon, I just hope the Cards give Taveras a chance to start in CF if Jay continues to struggle. If Taveras is even close to the player Jay is on defense as far as the amount of ground he covers, combined with a much better throwing arm, I think it only comes down to one question. That question is whose bat do you want to see in the lineup, Taveras or Jay? When the Cards are playing ball in October, having Taveras in there instead of Jay can take the Cards great offense to another level. The problem with Jay now is that his throwing arm is being tested about as often as he rolls over on a pitch and routinely grounds out to 2B.