Prior to the season, if anyone had forecast consistency in centerfield for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, they probably would have been referring to Peter Bourjos, not Jon Jay.
Last November, the St. Louis Cardinals made a major trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Dealing away 2011 World Series hero David Freese was hard for many fans to take. Others focused on the promise of biggest name moving the other way, outfielder Peter Bourjos.
At the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up in January, the speedy Bourjos shared his plan to steal 30 to 40 bases for the 2014 club. Many, myself included, figured Bourjos’ arrival also marked the end of Jon Jay’s time as the club’s starter in centerfield.
It did not work out that way at all.
In fact, not only did Jay hold onto his job, he became a consistently solid performer on a Cardinals roster that included a number of other players experiencing down years offensively.
The 29-year-old Jay made 109 starts in the outfield in 2014, including 91 in center. Bourjos made just 65, all in center. In 294 plate appearances, the newcomer swiped just nine bags and finished with a disappointing line of .231/.294/.348/.643. He underwent hip surgery following the season.
Jay’s .303 batting average led the Cardinals, but he finished 34 plate appearances short of qualifying for the National League leaderboard. It is worth noting that the league had only seven .300 hitters for the season, led by Michael Cuddyer at .319.
Batting all over the line up, though most often in the number seven spot, Jay quietly logged an impressive on-base percentage of .372. It was just three points short of OBP whiz and team leader Matt Carpenter. With enough plate appearances, Jay would have joined Carpenter and Matt Holliday (.370) in the league’s top 10. One unusual element of Jay’s high on-base mark is his MLB-high 20 hit by pitches.
Inconsistency, a concern with Jay in the past, was not an issue in 2014. In fact, the left-handed batter went 45 games down the stretch without going hitless in consecutive games, from July 25 to September 18.
Another major area of improvement was his performance against left-handed pitching. A year after he hit .220 and was expected to be benched against lefties in 2014, Jay excelled instead. In fact, his .375 average (33-for-88) was tops among all NL left-handed batters with at least 80 at-bats against left-handed pitching.
In important situations, Jay was far from an automatic out. He batted .327 with two outs (48‐for-147), ranking second in the NL. Albeit in a limited number of opportunities, he excelled with the bases loaded, batting .500 with 13 RBI (6‐for-12). That was tied for fourth in the league. Jay also batted .306 (22‐for-72) in close and late situations, also fourth in the NL.
Jay was especially effective coming off the bench, batting .333 (6-for-18) as a pinch hitter, including two doubles and four RBI.
Defensively, Jay has his same limitations, most notably a below-average throwing arm. Yet overall, he played an adequate centerfield. In the SABR Defensive Index, used for 25 percent of the Gold Glove scoring, Jay ranked fifth among all NL centerfielders this season. His 2.8 SDI score was one of seven positive marks among the 14 fielders ranked at his position. As a point of reference, 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen was second-to-last at -7.1.
All in all, though unexpected by many, Jay delivered a very strong performance in 2014 and should report to spring training camp with many fewer questions about his job security.
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