What Has Jon Jay Earned?

You wear your socks high on Sunday. You wear your fro, or flat top every day. When something is in flight towards you, you lean your hips into it to deflect it away. Your relationship status is “single” and you are proud of it, because singles are the best. You lift 5 pound weights, because bulky, muscular arms are just showing off.

You are Jon Jay’s biggest fan.

You have his baseball card that shows him with his famous wall crashing catch in front of LaRussa’s immortalized face. You stare at all of those .300’s on the back of the card, and remember that it’s the true mark of a good hitter, stats guys be damned. You have proof. That’s the hitter that 2011 doesn’t happen without his clutch single into left field during the 10th inning of Game 6.

Well, I have news for you. I also have that baseball card. I remember that catch. I love high sock Sundays, I wish that was the look every day. I don’t lift weights, but if I did, I’m sure I could work my way up to 5 pounds.

And I remember that single like you wouldn’t believe. I cherish that single. As amazing as this season has been, even if it ends with another World Series Championship, there is just no way it will compare with 2011 and that fateful, pinnacle of Cardinals fandom.

You remember it too. I know this because you remind me all the time. It’s one of the main arguments for why Jon Jay needs to be playing every day for the Cardinals

There is this concept in society nowadays called “haters.” It’s become the go-to response to dismiss anyone who might disagree with you as an angry, mentally-imbalanced individual that cannot be reasoned with. In other words, it’s a magnificent way to end a conversation without considering the individuals arguments.

Naturally, I get called a Jon Jay hater all of the time. I’m not. At all. I simply value him lower than his promotors do.

For instance, let’s go back to that famous game 6 single for a moment.

Do you want to know why that game 6 single happened?

It happened because Jon Jay was awful. Let’s take a look at Jay’s career.

He came up in 2010, and was on fire. The man hit .431 in 85 July at bats. The Cardinals, so impressed with Jay, traded away Ryan Ludwick. Jay ended the year hitting exactly .300 but without an assured spot in the outfield.

The Cardinals weren’t impressed enough by Jay, and went out to sign Lance Berkman for right field. They had good reason to do this. During August and September, as the Cardinals playoff hopes faded away, Jay hit an uninspiring .244/.309/.314, which is simply brutal for an outfielder.

Thus Jay found himself as a 4th outfielder again. Colby Rasmus, people forget, started 2011 as a very good hitter before sliding down into a multi-year slump that opened another chance for Jay.

And Jay took it, kind of. In May of that year he hit .397. He slugged .590.

I think I need to repeat that, Jon Jay, over a full month, slugged .590. Jon Jay. He hit 3 home runs that month! Jon Jay!

But once again, Jon Jay’s hot start was masking who Jon Jay really is. He hit .280/.324/.396 over the rest of the year. Not a horrible line, but not the offense a team would be looking for. However, in some sort of reverse Heyward, his great start helps shield this reality from people who judge players based upon their entire year.

Jay hit .297 that year-another fine mark, until you consider he was hitting .311 as late as September 14th.

Jay went into the 2011 playoffs in an 8-46 slide, which turned out to be a great thing for the Cardinals.

Jay’s slump continued against the Phillies in the NLDS. He finished the series 2-12, and was benched in favor of Skip Schumacher, whose double was the difference in the 1-0 Carpenter-Halladay day.

Jay became an injury sub for Skip, and he played throughout the NLCS. And he did not do well. He hit .240, which somehow included a 3 hit game. As Skip became healthy, and Jay got worse, he once again was sent to the bench.

Jay started the first 4 games of the World Series, and went 0-14. He was hapless. Skip Schumaker replaced him in games 5 and 6.

In the bottom of the 5th, with the game already a back and forth chaos of drama, Jay pinch hit for the 1st reliever, Fernando Salas to lead off the inning. In a play that won’t surprise anyone watching the Cardinals over the last few years, he grounded out to 2nd. To end the inning, Skip lined out to SS. Tony elected to put the pitcher (Lance Lynn) in Skip’s spot to avoid the pitcher’s spot in the order. This meant Jon Jay was in the rest of the game as the center fielder. Ahh, such destiny would await.

In the bottom of the 6th, Jay, never known for his power, grounded out to the pitcher.

In the top of the 7th, one of my favorite moments ever happened, and it was all thanks to Jon Jay.

With a runner on 2nd, Ian Kinsler singled into center field. Jay scooped the ball on his right side, which meant his weak arm would be even weaker. The runner on 2nd was the pitcher, but would easily score. Everyone in the park knew this. Everyone, except Jay.

Jay decided to airmail a throw home. Well, I assume it was to home, as it didn’t land anywhere near it’s destination. The runner scored without contest, and the speedy Kinsler took this gift and easily ran to 2nd base, putting himself in scoring position. With one more hit, Kinsler would score, and as it would turn out, the Rangers would have won the world series. I, sitting in my arm chair, stood and yelled “No! Damnit Jay!” in pure frustration.

The replays then showed Tony Larussa yelling the exact same thing, clearly audible to the cameras. It was a beautiful moment where I was connected to the Cardinals skipper in having the pure immediate emotion that goes with watching in frustration a game slip away due to ongoing mental errors.

Jay’s defense has always been suspect. Average range with soft hands, Jon Jay often made great catches, sometimes aided by a lack of range that would have made them ordinary catches for other centerfielders. But his hands were soft enough that if he could reach a ball, he would almost always catch it. This ability overcame his arm enough to make him average in centerfield. Sometimes you were excited when he ran one down, and other times you yelled “Damnit Jay!”

Few remember this, but in the bottom of the 8th, Jay had a chance to play hero. 2 on, 2 out, down by 2 Jay stepped to the place and hit a solid single to right. Unfortunately with the runner on 2nd being Yadi, the results were merely loading the bases. The Cardinals would not score-no fault to Jay. It was his 1st hit of the entire World Series. It was the only real sign of life going into his next at bat.

In the bottom of the 10th, the Rangers up by 2, they looked to have the easiest path to the World Series ever. Facing Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, and the pitchers spot – with no available pinch hitters, the Rangers went to the veteran lefty Darren Oliver to finish the game off.

Descalso singled after a long, feisty, fantastic at bat.

And yes, Jon Jay singled too.

It was an 0-1 pitch, and probably should have been ball 1 off of the outside corner. Jay got just enough of it to pop it down the left field line. Any other inning of any other game, and this would have been out 1, however the Rangers, for reasons that will never be understood, were playing Jay extremely deep to prevent him from hitting doubles. This was never a real fear from Jay, he’s never displayed much power, but play him deep they did, and so Jay’s standard, weak fly ball on a bad pitch dropped into left field after all. A blessed single of luck in a game of full of good fortune.

Had the Cardinals lost, Jay’s single would have been forgotten by Cards fans. Instead, his terrible play from September through the postseason allowed him to get a lucky single at the most important time. And people use it as justification for why he should play today. It’s stunning, really.

I don’t say this to slam Jay. He got the hit. I’ll never forget it. In fact, I’ll ALWAYS have positive feelings about Jay because of that moment (and a few others) but that is what happened. It was a lucky hit set up by terrible play.

In 2012 Jay was finally a real starter. You won’t believe this. He got off to a tremendously hot start! Jay hit .400 in April. Then, as streaky Jay continues to prove, he disappeared the next few months which included an injury stint. In August, streaky amazing Jay showed up again, and he hit .355 with 2 home runs. It wasn’t quite an empty .355, but even now his great months were beginning to be sapped of the gap power shown before.

Like 2011, Jay was shut down completely in the playoffs. Jay hit .189, through the playoffs, only now he had a manager that valued loyalty over winning. Jay played every single inning.

In 2013, Jay reversed his usual trends by getting off to a terrible start. His April numbers had the reverse effect and caused Jay to be a punching bag for Cardinals fans, even as his numbers rose. He had a great August, and a good September to finish with decent offensive numbers.

But 2013, for Jay, will be remembered for his much ridiculed defense. It was seen both in the metrics (-.9 dWAR) and in the eyes of fans that he just wasn’t getting to any balls. And if course if Jay didn’t catch a ball, it was impossible to limit runners on the bases with his lack of an arm. This was demonstrated on the world stage where (once again) Jay had a terrible run through the playoffs. He couldn’t hit, (.192 without an extra base hit) and his fielding was mocked by the national press watching what Cards fans had endured all season.

Jay’s time as a starting center fielder again seemed over. The Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos, known as a defensive wizard, in a desperate hope to escape the Jon Jay glove show from the year before.

In response Jon Jay had a career year, sort of. He hit consistently, ending the year with a .303 average. But most importantly, he hit when it was most pleasing to fans. When the club was struggling against lefties – Jay poked singles. He hit a stunning .375 against lefties. I don’t think people realize exactly how stunning this is. Jon Jay is a fine hitter, but in his career, like most lefties, he traditionally hit righties better. Some people seem to have this notion that Jay crushes lefties. He did. For one year. He had some other decent years. But Ty Cobb his .363 for his career. Jon Jay against lefties is not a better hitter than Ty Cobb. Regression HAD to be expected.

The other time Jay hit, is that he somehow became clutch in the playoffs. Jay hit .483(!) during the playoff run, and he did it as empty as a .483 could be. He had 1 XBH. Still, after years of terrible playoff play, suddenly combined with his lucky 2011 single, Jay could be counted on in the clutch.

How short sighted we choose to be. After 2013, the Cardinals sought to replace Jay. After 2014, he was anointed starter from the beginning of the off season and given a two year deal. Yeah, Jay will be making $6.8 million dollars next year. Even after seeing numbers that were so obviously going to normalize.

Then there is 2015. Jon Jay had offseason wrist surgery, something known to sap power from someone who has no power in the first place. He started the year having two worse months than he had for any month the year prior. Before he was disabled for that same tricky wrist, he was hitting:

.248/.330/.267

The .330 OBP is good, and due to an improved eye as well as the ability to get hit by a lot of pitches. The .267 slugging mark, well, it would be awfully hard for you to find a regular with worse power numbers.

Then he got disabled, and in a move that still baffles me Jon Jay went on rehab to single A. He went 0-10. He had yet to get a hit off of Single A pitching, and instead of having him continue his rehab, they brought him back to the majors.

Mike gave him 17 starts over better players over the next month, while Jay hit:

.172/.270/.250

Just plain awful. And it should have been easily foreseen. It should be noted the .250 slg in this time was aided mostly by a single home run. That he hit in…Coors Field. Basically, Jay was actually worse than his numbers suggested.

This brings us to this last week, when Jay was finally healed again. In 13 at bats he tore up AAA pitching, but something happened during this lost season for Jon – The Cardinals discovered they didn’t really need him anymore.

In Jay’s absence, Heyward, Grichuk, Pham, and Bourjos all played Center. And yes, Bourjos was a disaster. Heyward great, but better suited for a corner position. Grichuk was a monster who got hurt. Then there was Pham. Pham had come up in Jay’s stead earlier in the year and played like most rookies getting their 1st chance. On his 2nd call up, things changed.

Pham, over 50 at bats, hit .300/.407/.400.  Considering he actually had better numbers each of the last 2 years in AAA, this was exactly the Pham the Cardinals should have been expecting they had. Pham, also is raved for his defense being the best in the Cards system. Pham in Centerfield may already be better than Jay ever was.

So how can we find this out? Jay went on rehab assignment to Memphis, where he could have stayed on rehab getting at bats for another week. Pham could have continued to show the Cardinals what he had with regular at bats in the majors. It was a major win-win situation. Like with Jay’s 1st rehab assignment it was bungled. And now Jay is back in the majors, and playing just like Jon Jay. He is 2-11 with 2 singles and a HBP. His arm has been…comical. Pham is rotting the bench. Jay has started 3 straight.

And that’s really the question out there to the Jay supporters. How much time should Jay be given?

Consider the 2015 playoff possibilities.

Provided there are no further injuries, you have the following options for 1B:

Adams
Reynolds
Moss

And the following options for the OF:

Heyward
Holliday
Moss
Piscotty
Grichuk
Pham
Bourjos

Now, you are the manager of the Cardinals. You have seen this team struggle offensively all season. How do you align the positions? Adams could come back and hit with authority. If so, you could move Moss to the outfield. But that’s where Holliday and Heyward are on the corners. Maybe Grichuk is playing Center? What happened to Piscotty? Is he at 1st now? Maybe Adams off the bench?

The point here, to me, is that you have to consider what you are testing Jay out for. Realistically, on offense Jay is the worst on the list this year. Even worse than Bourjos. Yes, it’s true, and it’s sadly not close. And Bourjos gets next to no time to play on this team. He’s simply not played well enough.

But Jay plays. Apparently he’s earned it. So how far does his good will go?

Jon Jay is on the wrong side of 30. He is in decline.

His ISO (power metric) has been declining every year since 2011.

His average fielding and terrible arm will only get worse.

His 2015 line is DFA worthy, .220/.308./.260

So who are you going to play Jay over? Grichuk? Heyward? Pham?

Yeah, you’ll say Pham. Look at the numbers. Jay is on his way down. Pham is coming into his own. Pham is literally likely better at every aspect of the game than Jay is.

But maybe you want to give Jay the chance to earn the 5th OF Postseason spot over Pham.

How long are you going to play the struggling centerfielder in September against your closest competitors?  How many more chances has Jay earned before you are willing to say that for at least 2015, it’s over. You have better, healthier candidates that you need to look at and get prepared for a playoff run. How many games against our closest divisional foes are you willing to have with a health and talent question mark patrolling center? At what point are you willing to concede that just maybe Jon Jay’s time has passed?

Even if you never concede he was probably never as good as you thought.

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2 thoughts on “What Has Jon Jay Earned?

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