Poking holes in a manager's lineup card is a daily ritual for many fans. When news is slow and little baseball to discuss in the few hours before a game, the lineup provides easy fodder. No matter what team or which manager, there is likely something to complain about with the lineup. Some player is too high in the lineup, another too low. A mediocre bench guy is playing over the starter, another starter should be getting the day off because he needs the rest. These are relatively easy complaints to make, and there is logic behind them, generally. Many of the lineup decisions can indicate poor strategy for the manager, raising questions about decision-making ability. These are legitimate complaints, but for the most part, they do not matter. Playing inferior players consistently does matter, though, and continuing to play a compromised Jon Jay over a finally healthy Peter Bourjos does not make sense.
Consider the following quotes:
"(Bourjos) just makes it look easier than what it is. He loves to go out there and make those kinds of catches.
"He's a plus-defender who can be a game-changer. He's one of the best I've ever seen."
"We talk about how good his defense is but you see the closing speed in person when you watch that ball go in the gap, very impressive...No, when you look up and see how the ball's carrying and you see how far he is-how much ground he's got to cover. There's not many guys in the league who are gonna make that play."
"He was a game-changer...He's not complacent. He wants to help this team however he can and he wants to go out and prove to us that he wants more. It's nice to see days where he brings everything to the plate."
"There are guys on this team that we just have to get them involved, keep them involved, get them going to where they can be impactful players,"
"He just has a unique skill set...We have some guys who can run in this game. Not many who can run like that."
"He's such a weapon...especially when he's being aggressive like he is now and then putting him out there defensively, too.
"Peter's been an absolute pro the way he has handled the last couple of seasons...Guys have a lot of respect for him."
Starters get days off from time to time, and bench players have to play even if we would rather see the starter or perhaps a different bench player, but every player needs days off and these complaints are more about disappointment in not watching the better player than actual baseball strategy. Putting a player in a poor lineup spot every day over the course of the season can have an effect, but even this effect is likely not large. Putting a hitter who should be sixth in the leadoff spot costs better players 90 plate appearances over the course of the season. Ninety PAs is not nothing, but that is likely going to come out to maybe half a win per season. The real problem is giving inconsistent playing time to players who are not ready to contribute when players who can contribute rot on the bench.
*Note: The current roster does provide something of an extreme case. Moving Carpenter back to leadoff, Peralta up to number two, Wong down to the three spot, and permanently moving Heyward to cleanup is probably worth a full win over the course of the season with the current lineup, but perhaps Holliday coming back will provide an opportunity to put Carpenter back in leadoff. Anyway...
Coming into the season, it was a foregone conclusion that Jon Jay would be the starter in center field. He hit well last season and Bourjos struggled with injuries, although still managed to make a positive contribution overall with incredible defense. Over the first ten games of the season, Bourjos received one start, which I might disagree with, but was consistent with naming Jay starter after signing him to a two-year contract to finish off his arbitration years. Then, Randal Grichuk got injured and Jon Jay looked to be struggling due to offseason wrist surgery that had sapped his strength. Bourjos was set to get an opportunity.
From April 29 to the end of May, Bourjos started 19 of 29 games. Early on in the month, Bernie Miklasz called for more starts for Bourjos:
Matheny should give Bourjos more at-bats to see where this goes. Jay is a hitter of limited power, but the power has dropped to an extremely low level so far in 2015. That doesn't mean it will be this way the entire season. But this is a good time for Matheny to take a longer look at Bourjos.
What did Bourjos do with the opportunity? He hit .278/.333/.430 for a wRC+ of 106 getting a majority of the starts in center field. While I would not put too much stock in under 100 plate appearances as a few games here or there can move the numbers around a lot, if I were the type of person who relied on small sample sizes, the numbers Bourjos put up to go along with great defense should get Bourjos more starts. Bourjos has not been completely bereft of playing time in June. He has received seven of 14 starts this month, albeit two with the benefit of the designated hitter, but with Jon Jay back, Bourjos' has seen droughts in his starts despite a higher isolated slugging percentage than cleanup hitter Mark Reynolds. After making the start on June 20, Bourjos went a full week without one even with Matt Holliday on the disabled list.
Over the past calendar year, Bourjos is hitting is .257/.328/.401 with a wRC+ of 102 while Jon Jay has hit .271/.353/.327 with a wRC+ of 95 over that same time period. Jon Jay has earned a lot of leeway with Mike Matheny and gifting Jay three starts in Miami in front of family and friends is likely part of the reason that Matheny is so well-liked by many in the clubhouse. It is important to rely on track record when making significant lineup decisions, and Jay certainly has a very good track record hitting the ball, getting on base and playing competently in center field, but it is foolish to ignore new information when it presents itself.
Jon Jay managed to succeed in the second half last season on the strength of a .392 despite no power and a wrist issue that was troubling him. After offseason surgery, the wrist is still an issue for Jay. His power is non-existent with just four extra base hits in nearly 200 plate appearances. His BABIP is an absurdly low .257 which is causing in-part, Jay's wRC+ of 61, but even the projections, which see a 70 point increase in his BABIP, do not see Jay as an above-average offensive player moving forward this season.
If the Cardinals did not have any other options, it would be reasonable to keep running Jay out there and hope that he fixes his issue as his wrist gains strength. The Cardinals do have other options. With Matt Holliday on the disabled list, another Matheny favorite in Randal Grichuk has gotten everyday starts. While the jury is still out on whether a player who strikes out 30% of the time and walks less than 5% of the time can make up for those deficiencies with power, at this point we might as well find out. When Holliday returns from the disabled list, it might make sense to start Grichuk in center field a lot of the time. What does not make sense is for the Cardinals to play a player with compromised health when other options are readily available.
Peter Bourjos should never go a week without starting for the Cardinals even when all outfielders are healthy. Until Holliday gets back, he should probably be getting a majority of the playing time. Jay might have earned the starting job with his play last season, but he is clearly not the same player. He's earned the job before, and he might very well earn it again if he can get healthy, but it is time once again to make a request for Peter Bourjos: everyday starting center fielder.