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Appreciating Jon Jay

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Justice for Jon Jay.

Dilip Vishwanat

Jon Jay is not the top position player on the Cardinals. Jay is not an All-Star. Jay doesn't hit for much power. Jay is not the fleetest of foot. Jay will almost certainly never win a Gold Glove or Fielding Bible award. One-hundred twenty-five games into the 2014 season, Jay is not even truly considered an everyday player. Heck, Jay may not even be a member of the Cardinals in 2015. However, despite all of this, Mr. Jay has proven to be an incredible value to his club since his rookie season (2010).

Let's take a look at various components of Jay's five-year MLB career:

Offense:

2014 statistics:

G

PA

R

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

107 335 39 3 35 .307 .378 .402 .780 .095 .348 124

With 300 plate appearances as the qualifier, Jay is second on the team in batting average, tied for first in on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging percentage (ahead of both Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong). Jay has a wRC+ of 124, tied with Carpenter for the third highest on the team. His ISO is below .100 and the lowest among those who qualified, but as I stated in the opening paragraph, Jay "doesn't hit for much power," and honestly, given his skill-set, he doesn't really have to in order to provide value.

Career totals:

Year

PA

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

2010

323

4

.300

.359

.422

.781

.122

.347

116

2011

503

10

.297

.344

.424

.768

.127

.338

115

2012 502 4 .305 .373 .400 .773 .095 .341 116
2013 628 7 .276 .351 .370 .721 .095 .319 103

2014

335

3

.307

.378

.402

.780

.095

.348

124

MLB OF Averages from 2010 to 2014:

Year

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

2010

.263

.332

.422

.754

.159

.331

104

2011

.261

.328

.416

.744

.156

.326

104

2012 .262 .327 .426 .753 .165 .327 105
2013 .258 .323 .408 .731 .150 .322 102

2014

.259

.323

.401

.724

.142

.320

103

Compared to the MLB averages for outfielders from 2010 to 2014, Jay has been consistently higher in almost every hitting statistic. He started out on par or slightly above in slugging percentage in 2010 and 2011. He fell below the averages in 2012 and 2013, but he is now back on par with the league average in 2014. His ISO has been consistently lower than the league average, and this will likely never change. Even with a down year in 2013, Jay's wOBA and wRC+ were nearly identical to league averages. Yet, in 2010, 2011, 2012, and now 2014, Jay's wOBA and wRC+ have been considerably higher than MLB OF league average.

Offensive "streakiness":

First and foremost, I prefer looking at a player's overall numbers much more than taking a look at small chunks. A baseball season is extremely long, and when game number 162 rolls around and a hitter has a slash line in the .300/.350/.400 range, he is considered, by most fans, a solid hitter. Thus, with the amount of hitting data available for Jay (2,291 PAs), we should have a pretty good grasp on what to expect from him over the course of a 162-game season— roughly .300/.350/.400. However, there are some people out there who knock on Jay for being a "streaky" hitter, and that's perfectly fine, but I wanted to see what was available in the data, too.

Before we get much further into this discussion, it's time for me to discuss what I think people are referring to when they call someone a "streaky" hitter. I settled on a ~50 plate appearance sample size with a batting average of less than .240 as a "slump." I chose 50 plate appearances because I believe that's long enough to show, at the very minimum, a trend in a given player's hitting pattern, while allowing him to normalize from a hot streak or work his way out of a slump. I chose a .240 batting average because K. Wong is currently slightly above that at .244, and most fans aren't considering him in a "slump" just yet, but it's very close.

To get this information, I manually sifted through Jay's game logs from 2010 through 2014, available on Baseball-Reference, and broke each season down into consecutive ~50 PA chunks. By my count, Jay has had 46 of these ~50 PA chunks in his career. Of the 46, he has hit below .240 in 15 of them. Hitting below .240 for 32.6% of these ~50 PA chunks appears to back the general theory that Jay is a streaky hitter. However, if you take a closer look, seven of these (46.7%) occurred in 2013—his down year. If you throw out 2013 as a "bad season," Jay averages roughly two of these ~50 PA "slumps" per season, which, over the course of a 162-game season, doesn't seem all that bad.

Thus, if one wants to consider Jay a "streaky" hitter, that's fine, but the numbers show that this may not necessarily be the case. Plus, looking at the other end of the spectrum, Jay has hit .350 or higher in 12 of these ~50 PA chunks (26%). Returning to my original point, though, I tend to value Jay's overall statistics much more than ~50 PA chunks, and Jay has a career .295/.359/.401 slash line with a .336 wOBA and 113 wRC+.

(My handwritten data collection, excluding last night's data)

Defense:

Despite a large step backwards in 2013, Jay has proven to be solid defensive center fielder. Sure, his range isn't always the best due to poor jumps and curious routes, and his arm is certainly well below average. Yet, since 2010, he has accumulated 3,597.2 innings in center, and defensive metrics (with a 3,500 inning qualifier) show that he is much better than he is given credit for.

He has an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 2.8, which on the surface, really doesn't look all that impressive, but when compared to other MLB center fielders, it is the 8th highest since 2010. Also of note, the seven center fielders ahead of Jay in this category have played, on average, 1,200 more innings at the position. His revised zone rating (RZR), which Fangraphs considers a "simplified version of UZR," is 13th best at .918, and is in the "Great" category according to their rough estimates. Fangraphs rates his overall defense as 8.9 runs above average, which is 9th best since 2010.

Thus, as mentioned earlier, Jay won't be winning defensive awards any time soon, but a closer look at the numbers reveals that he has been more solid in center than we may have originally thought, especially if one considers his 2013 season a mere blip on the radar.

Overall value:

Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, Jay has made $5,094,000 since 2010, and he has accumulated 11.3 fWAR. At $450,796 per one fWAR, that is an incredible value to the organization. I realize Jay is still cost-controlled (aka: hasn't been exposed to the free agent market), and this isn't a fair comparison, but the Cardinals have paid $3,935,185 per one fWAR from Matt Holliday since 2010 (PS, this is probably an even more incredible value, especially for a player making $17 million per season). Only one Cardinal, who has been with the club since 2010, has been a better value for St. Louis (based on $/WAR), and that's Carpenter—$193,559 per one fWAR (wow!). When taking a look at total fWAR accumulated since 2010, Jay is the sixth highest among Cardinals, including those who have since moved on from St. Louis—behind Holliday (21.6), Yadier Molina (21.2), Albert Pujols (18.6), Jhonny Peralta (16.5), and Carpenter (11.8).

Bottom line:

Jay is a pretty-skilled, line drive-hitting (career 23.5 LD%, 4th highest among MLB OF since 2010), hard-working, oft-smiling 29-year-old, who, to some, still looks like he could be playing in high school or college. He is not the best player on the Cardinals, but he certainly is above average. The value he has provided to St. Louis since his big league debut should, in my opinion, be remembered for a very long time, especially if 2014 ends up being his last season with the Birds on the Bat.

Plus, he's Greg Garcia scrappy (54 career HBPs):