A Formal Defense of Jon Jay

With all due respect to Bernie Miklasz, I have to disagree with him about one thing: Jon Jay. As a regular reader of Mr. Miklasz’s generally fantastic "Bernie’s Bytes," I have noticed a continual disdain for the Cardinal’s center fielder that I fail to understand.

His latest beef is with Jay’s home/road splits last season. By comparing Jay statistically with ten of baseball’s most prolific center fielders, I hope to legitimize him as the Cardinals best option for many years to come (and perhaps even sway Mr. Miklasz . . . perhaps). Here are some preliminary 2012 statistics for all eleven players (taken from 2012):

Mike Trout___________10.7______.326______.399_____.993_______129______139
Andrew McCutchen___7.0______.327______.400_____.997_______107_____157
Michael Bourn________6.0______.274______.348_____.995________96______155
Bryce Harper_________5.0______.270______.340_____.981________98______139
Adam Jones___________3.4______.287______.334_____.982_______103______162
Jon Jay________________3.2______.305______.373_____1.000_______70______117
Curtis Granderson___2.7_______.232______.319_____1.000______102______160
B.J. Upton____________2.6_______.246______.298_____.990________79______146
Matt Kemp___________2.3_______.303______.367_____.995________74______106
Shane Victorino______1.1_______.245______.316______.992_______72_______154
Jacoby Ellsbury______0.8_______.271______.313______.982_______43________74

I intentionally left out power numbers such as home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage because Jay isn't a power hitter. His strength comes from his ability to get on base, not drive in runs. It's also important to note how many games each player played and how that affects statistics such as runs.

Now, let’s take a look at the problem that Bernie noticed: Jay’s low batting average on the road.

__________________Road BA____________Road OBP
Mike Trout___________.332_______________.407

Adam Jones___________.277_______________.317
Bryce Harper_________.266_______________.333
Michael Bourn________.262_______________.336
Shane Victorino_______.240_______________.307
Jacoby Ellsbury_______.240_______________.299
B.J. Upton_____________.234_______________.280
Jon Jay_______________.224_______________.289
Curtis Granderson____.223_______________.310

Jay is nearly the worst in both batting average and on-base percentage. But he’s not the worst in either category: Jay hit better than Granderson on the road (just barely) and got on base more often than Upton. It’s not much, but it is something. What about at home?

_________________Home BA___________Home OBP
Jon Jay_______________.384_______________.453
Andrew McCutchen___.329_______________.402
Mike Trout___________.318_______________.390
Jacoby Ellsbury_______.315_______________.333
Matt Kemp___________.304_______________.372
Adam Jones__________.297_______________.352
Michael Bourn________.287_______________.361
Bryce Harper_________.275_______________.347
Shane Victorino_______.268_______________.335
B.J. Upton_____________.258_______________.316
Curtis Granderson_____.241_______________.329

There is no doubt that Jay under performed on the road, but for the 61 games he played at home, he’s beyond comparison. No one is within fifty points of him in either on-base percentage or average. That level of play is incredible. At least in Busch Stadium, there is no bat any team would rather have in their lineup.

Mr. Miklasz did suggest that perhaps Jay’s disappointing road statistics were a fluke and would level themselves out with time, and a quick glance at his career splits seem to show exactly that:

___________________Career Road BA _________Career Road OBP
Mike Trout________________.312___________________.382
Matt Kemp________________.296___________________.354
Jacoby Ellsbury____________.285___________________.338
Andrew McCutchen________.279___________________.362
Shane Victorino____________.272___________________.331
Jon Jay____________________.272___________________.328
Adam Jones________________.268___________________.310
Michael Bourn_____________.266___________________.331
Bryce Harper______________.266___________________.333
Curtis Granderson_________.266___________________.345
B.J. Upton__________________.258___________________.335

Jay’s career batting average on the road is far from amazing, but he puts himself in the middle of the pack, and while his on-base percentage is a little bit lower than everybody else’s, he’s still comparable. Given the small sample size available for Jay, it seems likely that his splits will fix themselves before long.

Now I want to look closely at Jay’s fielding statistics:

Michael Bourn________.995______22.4______3
Mike Trout___________.988_______11.4______3
Bryce Harper_________.979_______9.9______8
Jon Jay_______________1.000______4.0______1
Shane Victorino_______.994_______4.0______9
Jacoby Ellsbury_______.982_______2.9______2
B.J. Upton_____________.990_______-2.4_____10
Adam Jones___________.982_______-6.7______7
Andrew McCutchen____.997_______-6.9______3
Matt Kemp_____________.995_______-8.8______7
Curtis Granderson_____1.000_____-17.8______3

Jay isn’t at the top of the list, it’s true, but his UZR places him decidedly in the upper half amongst these elite center fielders. He isn’t outstanding defensively, but he’s more than adequate.

Jon Jay is also in the middle of the pack as far as WAR is concerned. He’s good, but not great:

Mike Trout_____________10.7
Andrew McCutchen_____7.0
Michael Bourn__________6.0
Bryce Harper___________5.0
Adam Jones____________3.4
Jon Jay_________________3.2
Curtis Granderson______2.7
B.J. Upton______________2.6
Matt Kemp_____________2.3
Shane Victorino_________1.1
Jacoby Ellsbury_________0.8

Jay's statistics make him a decidedly decent player. He's an above average fielder and an above average hitter who excels at getting on base. But that's not the end of the story.
The really interesting thing about these players is their price tags. These are the 2013 salaries for each player:

_________________________2013 Salary
Matt Kemp_______________$20,000,000
Curtis Granderson________$15,000,000
Shane Victorino__________$13,000,000
B.J. Upton________________$12,450,000
Jacoby Ellsbury__________$9,000,000
Adam Jones______________$8,500,000
Michael Bourn___________$7,000,000
Andrew McCutchen______$4,500,000
Bryce Harper____________$2,000,000
Jon Jay__________________$504,000 (2012)
Mike Trout______________$480,000 (2012)

Players such as B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino, who underperformed Jay both in terms of UZR and WAR (Upton also had a worse on-base percentage on the road than Jay), will make eight figures in 2013. Jon Jay will likely make six. For that matter, every player other than Jay and Trout will make at least two million dollars a year. And these aren't players failing to deliver on huge contracts that their respective teams now regret; they're being paid for how well they play right now. Bourn, Victorino, Upton, and McCutchen all have brand new multi-year contracts ranging in value from 39 million to 72.5 million. The market is saying that a center fielder of Jay’s caliber is set to make somewhere between 7 and 20 million dollars a year. The Cardinals are paying him half a million.

I concede that there are better center fielders out there, but I deny that there are any who can perform as well as Jay offensively or defensively for as little as St. Louis pays him. The player with the most comparable stats is Bryce Harper: he has a Rookie of the Year Award and is destined for stardom (and a huge contract to boot). Jon Jay has never won a league wide award and will probably never be up for a big payday. He’s an inexpensive center fielder who consistently outperforms expectations. He at least deserves a little recognition from the Cardinal Nation.

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