danup is on the road and i am one step behind him --- on a flight this morning and out of pocket all day, so pls excuse my absence from the discussion thread. but i do have the time to toss together this quick post about jon jay, who enters tonight’s action with a .387 / .437 / .624 line in 106 plate appearances. didn’t take that one long to hatch, eh? a few thwacks to crack the shell in half, and now he’s hopped clear. i don’t reckon this chick will be returning to memphis again.
jay’s current batting line is kinda sorta historic. as far as i can tell (and i did a pretty thorough search using Baseball Reference’s play index and game logs), no cardinal has posted a batting average higher than .387 in his first 100 or more plate appearances --- at least, not since 1953, which is as far back as the play logs go. maybe george watkins or ducky medwick or jim bottomley had a hotter bat over his first 100 PA, but you’d have to go to the microfiche to find out. . . . anyway, i'm not partic’ly interested in whether jay has set some sort of weird record. i'm curious about how many similarly emphatic break-ins the cardinals have witnessed --- and what became of the players who compiled them. so here’s a short list of past cardinal rookies whose debuts most resembled jon jay’s:
terry pendleton, 1984
line through 99 PA: .387 / .404 / .452
called up on july 18 after barely two years in the minor leagues, pendleton rapped 27 hits in his first 56 at-bats for a .482 average. the league adjusted to him quickly --- he batted .255 / .288 / .345 in his next 55 at-bats, and .196 in the 56 at-bats after that --- but pendleton eventually counteradjusted. his overall line after the .482 start was .290 / .326 / .400. after his rookie year he only had one really good offensive season in st louis (1987) before eventually emerging as an mvp in atlanta; he lasted 15 years in the big leagues and started for four pennant winners. interestingly enough, jay has now matched pendleton’s .482 spurt --- he’s 27 for his last 56 dating back to may 31.
albert pujols, 2001
line through 102 PA: .370 / .431 / .739
albert wore the collar in only two of his first 25 major league starts. he was at .390 through 92 plate appearances, but a couple of 1-for-5s dropped him to .370 as he crossed the 100 PA threshold. pujols finished april at that figure, then followed up with marks of .333 and .330 in may and june. he slumped briefly (1 for 24) right before the All-Star break but then hit .336 in the second half. he has turned out to be a decent hitter.
willie mcgee, 1982
line through 118 PA: .357 / .376 / .464
i was in the stands for mcgee’s first big-league at-bat in early may 1982; he struck out on three pitches, the last of which was about eyebrow-high. he started the next day and went hitless, but then quietly began collecting singles as a late-game substitute. by the time he made his second start, two weeks after the first, willie was batting .308; he hit .364 over the next month, took the everyday centerfield job away from david green, and held it for the rest of the decade.
hal smith, 1956
line through 102 PA: .370 / .431 / .587
smith made an out in only 6 of his first 18 big-league plate appearances; the other 12 PA yielded 4 singles, 3 doubles, 2 homers, and 3 walks. he kept up a pretty respectable line (for a catcher) over the next 3 months, going .275 / .321 / .376; the grind finally caught up to him in september, when he batted .184. smith was an all-star the following year and again in 1959; a heart ailment cut short his career.
bo hart, 2003
line through 106 PA: .381 / .417 / .536
ah, hart! after his first week in the big leagues he was hitting .514 and slugging .771. i bet not even rogers hornsby could say that. . . . alas, bo’s second 105 PA produced results of .216 / .269 / .299, and the third and final act of 2003 was scarcely better (.235 / .269 / .353 over 110 PA). how quickly this game turned hartless . . . . .
ugh, that was awful. sorry. . . . ok, not sorry.
wally moon, 1954
line through 138 PA: .360 / .464 / .579
moon homered (off paul minner) in his first big-league at-bat; he had two 5-hit games and three 4-hit games in his first half-season, and he won the rookie of the year award. after four terrific seasons in st louis, he moved on to los angeles and won a couple of world series rings.
honorable mention: jd drew (.417 with 5 homers in 41 PA IN 1998), ken reitz (.359 average in 81 PA in 1972), and The Man (.426 in 49 PA in 1941).
except for hart, all of these hot-starting cards became long-term starters, and all (even ken reitz) had at least one all-star season; four of them (pujols, pendleton, mcgee, and musial) would eventually win MVP awards. i'm not predicting any such heights for jon jay, but i do think he has earned --- even in just 100+ PA --- a new degree of credibility. his ceiling appears to be higher than people gave him credit for. jay last appeared on the team’s BA top 10 prospect list in 2008, when he was ranked 10th; despite an outstanding year (.312 /.382 / .463) he fell off the list and came to be regarded as no better than a AAAA player (and maybe not even that). it's still too soon to project jay as a future everyday player (especially as a corner OF), but he’s no longer a longshot to earn that status. far from it. PECOTA liked his chances even before the 2010 breakout, and he clearly has earned the trust of the cardinal field staff. jay has displayed a blend of aggressiveness and plate discipline that other st louis hitters would do well to emulate.
given colby’s presence, it’s probably more likely than not that jay gets his chance somewhere else --- but the thought of time-sharing him in RF with craig next season (and saving ludwick’s salary) can no longer so easily dismissed as an HPGF pikpe dream. it's too damn bad the kid throws left-handed, or a couple years from now they’d have him starting at second base. . . . .