One of the biggest hobbies in St. Louis sports right now is the center field situation of the Cardinals. Who is playing it and when? Mike Matheny writes up his lineup card and Cardinal Nation seems to cock the trigger and prepare to fire. Here are the three parties.
*The Bourjos Redeemers
*The Jay Supporters
*The Oscar Taveras Honks
There you have it. This is a polarizing subject in St. Louis at the moment and can create some hot conversations on Twitter, at the local pub and across the street. The Bourjos crowd will say Jay can’t play center field for his life and his bat gets more cold if he gets too many starts in a row. The Jay crowd will say Bourjos really hasn’t put together much of a season in his entire career and this year he has only been good at catching fly balls and striking out. The Oscar peeps just want the future to start now. Since Matt Adams and Allen Craig are covering right field and first base, Oscar doesn’t have a lot of playing time on this team. This debate has taken on Twilight like levels of passion, with Team Jacob and Edward like follows. Everybody has their favorites and I won’t play that game here.
What is my take? There really is no debate. Jon Jay is the starting center fielder because he has earned it through hard work, production and improvement over a questionable 2013 season. To use a popular John Mozeliak term, “at the end of the day”, Jay needs to play every game right now. Sorry Bourjos friendly’s and Taveras addicts. While I wrote recently about Oscar’s need to be on the team, I can see what Matheny and Mo are doing. They are riding the veteran players on this team and sticking to the plan. To some, that plan may seem like the wrong way to go this season. Sticking with Jay is simple logic. Let’s look at what he has done this year.
In 61 games(37 starts), Jay is hitting .310 and has an on base percentage of .368. His overall WAR isn’t fabulous at 0.8 but he is getting a ton of hits and doing it from different parts in the lineup. Jay has only 1 HR and 19 RBI but that isn’t his job. When you are surrounded by Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, the idea is to get on base and Jay is doing that at an impressive rate. In a season that has seen him stripped of full time playing duty and having to earn every start, Jay is thriving again.
He didn’t suck it up in 2013. He hit .276 and drove in 67 runs but his WAR dropped from a 3.2 in 2012 to a 1.5 in 2013 and his defense was average at best. Jay struck out over 100 times for the first time in his career and couldn’t put a great stretch together. The team brought in Peter Bourjos and gave him the bulk of the playing time for a first couple weeks. After a stretch of starts that stretched into May, Bourjos and Jay shared center field for the better half of the month. It wasn’t until June when Jay truly took off.
Jay’s batting average for the first three months.
Jay is destroying lefties for the first time in his career in 2013, hitting .419. Jay hits very well on the road(.353) and with runners in scoring position and 2 outs, is hitting .318. In the last week of play, Jay is 8-18 with an on base percentage of .524. It’s illogical to sit Jay right now and yet, the Bourjos crowd still roots for the man to fail so Peter gets his shot. Folks, Bourjos’ defense is nice but he’s a .211 hitter and he strikes out a ton(45 K’s in 143 at bats). Bourjos doesn’t hit RHP or LHP well. He does save you runs in the field but not enough to sit Jay’s bat.
How about that Jay defense? He has improved in the field in 2014, playing all three fields and making some decent plays and the occasional great one. In 2011 and 2012, Jay’s defense was slightly above average, and he had great range. After it went missing last season, 2014 has seen a more confident outfielder in the 4 year veteran. Jay has his first outfield assist in this afternoon’s 3-2 loss and made a pair of great stops in the Mets series that could have led to runs. While his defensive play isn’t as strong as Bourjos, Jay has improved enough to earn the bulk of the playing time.
Taveras will have to wait until the Cards are ready to mix and match the lineup or when an injury strikes. The raw bat of Randal Grichuk can get more fine tuning. Bourjos will have to make his starts count and serve as a late inning defensive replacement or possible pinch runner. As I wrote in a column last week for Arch City Sports, Bourjos simply doesn’t get on base enough to utilize his speed and can’t match the overall value of Jay. This is an easy battle folks.
Like it or not, the hot bat of Jon Jay is going to be a part of this lineup for the better part of the first half of the season. While it’s foolish to not call Jay a piece of fine trade bait, his great play in recent games will help the team in a number of ways. It will help them win games, keep them close in others and keep other teams looking at Jon Jay’s true value.
Mike Matheny has taken plenty of fire for his number of lineup changes, bullpen handling and assorted decision making. The one move he hasn’t skipped a beat with is center field. He is playing the hot hand and that is Jay. For a salary of 3.25 million, Jay is exceeding expectations.
Sorry Bourjos redeemers. I am sitting comfortably on Team Jay.