Just two weeks ago, a pretty clear timeshare emerged for the Cardinals' center field position. If there was a lefthander on the mound for the opposition or if Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha were on the mound for the Cardinals, Peter Bourjos received the start in center field. If not, Jon Jay made the start in centerfield. Beginning on April 21, 2014, Jon Jay became the full-time starter, making nine of thirteen starts in centerfield with Bourjos receiving two and recent call-up Randal Grichuk receiving the other two starts.
Playing time has been so scarce for Bourjos that he sat in favor of Jay against the Cubs' lefthanded starter Travis Wood despite having the platoon advantage. Bourjos' slow start at the plate has not helped him receive more playing time, but the decision to elminate his playing time, just like with Kolten Wong, looks like the Cardinals overreacting to a small sample instead of sticking with the plans made by the Cardinals in the offseason.
Two weeks ago, I praised the Cardinals' decision to maximize the abilities of Bourjos and Jay by giving Bourjos starts against lefties and providing excellent defense behind flyball pitchers Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.
While Matheny's in-game tactics have been somewhat frustrating to start the season, this type of decision-making, if continued, shows how advanced statistics can positively help on-field decisions.
Two weeks later, the key part of the above passage is "if continued" as Matheny changed course and stopped giving starts. In addition to the previously mentioned start against Travis Wood, Bourjos has also sat out the last four starts made by Wacha or Miller. Jay has struggled the past two weeks, but his performance during that time is neither evidence for nor against Jay receiving the bulk of the playing time. The small number of plate appearances over a two week period is not enough to reach a conclusion on whether Jay should be the everyday starter. The problem is with the Cardinals changing course so quickly.
Ben wrote about the Cardinals puzzling decision to demote Wong. Twice the Cardinals have abandoned plans made in the offseason due to struggles just one month into the season. Changing course can often be a prudent choice. Closers are sometimes ineffective. Starting pitchers in the minors can sometimes give the major league team a better chance to win than those presently on the big league roster. Sometimes a much-heralded centerfielder is traded to fill multiple roster holes. Plans are not unalterable. However, rarely is the correct decision the one to change plans before having any real idea if the original plan is successful. The Cardinals could have reasons that are not privy to the public, and they are certainly aware of many more factors with which to make decisions. The conclusions drawn here are based on the information we have.
- Jon Jay had a poor defensive season in 2013.
- The Cardinals sought an upgrade in centerfield.
- The Cardinals made a trade to receive on of the best, if not the best, defensive centerfielder in baseball.
- Peter Bourjos, the aforementioned superb defensive centerfielder, made eight of the first ten starts, then found himself in a timeshare, and has now found himself without playing time completely.