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St. Louis Cardinals tender Jon Jay a contract, but a starting role is up in the air

Jon Jay is back. role TBD.

Rob Carr

How much worse is Jon Jay on defense than the stats say he is? Let’s stipulate that the stats say he was pretty bad last year: Defensive runs saved, which Baseball Reference uses, has him 10 runs below average, and Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him at -7.

10 below is the worst in the NL for any real center fielder—Shin-Soo Choo was at -18, but Dexter Fowler was the only other regular significantly below average. (The AL was worse, apparently.)

Jon Jay was among the very worst defensive center fielders allowed to stay there all year, and he had his worst year yet on offense, and in spite of that he was a useful player —the kind of starter who’s not optimal but is the least of the triage team’s worries.

That’s really Jon Jay whether he’s having a good year or not. He’s got a strikingly consistent baseball card, but it’s made up of streaks and slumps that have shown all over his season-to-date marks; he’s got a solid OBP, but at various times it’s been made up of suspicious batting averages on balls in play and an increasing affinity for the HBP.

2013 was not a good year, but the Cardinals tendered him a contract anyway. And unless you think he was much worse on defense than the D-minus that will end up on his permanent record, he’ll play a major role in 2014.

That might yet be as a trade chit; David Freese netted the Cardinals Jay’s would-be replacement, after all, and Shame Robinson is coming off one of those small-sample seasons that leaves you wondering what else he might be capable of.

But right now the Cardinals outfield is manned by two fragile-before-their-time twentysomethings and Matt Holliday, who inherited a permanent, just-perceptable limp after Albert Pujols died intestate. They could use a 29-year-old left-hander who's been above-average for most of his career and above replacement level for all of it, and if we hadn't watched his down season personally we'd probably be more amenable to watching him bounce back from it. There are other teams that could use Jon Jay more, but if he didn’t already exist our Hot Stove comment threads would have eventually invented him.