Jon Jay has only been a member of the St. Louis Cardinals since 2010 yet his impact since then and beyond is undeniable. Both directly and indirectly Jay is responsible for the trading of Ryan Ludwick in 2010 and Colby Rasmus this season. And he will undoubtedly have a major impact on what the Cardinals do in free agency this offseason.
The Cardinals made the decision last year by trading away their All-Star and 100 RBI outfielder, and reaffirmed their stance that Jay could be a full time player when they made that decision known far and wide this season by siphoning away playing time from and then trading away their 2005 1st round draft pick in favor or Jay.
The Cardinals belief that Jay could transition from sharing outfield duties to taking them on entirely by himself was a gamble based on a small sample size. It was a gamble the team wanted to make sooner rather than later. It was a gamble that when made looked sure to pay off.
At the time Ludwick was traded in 2010, Jay was hitting nearly .400, with a .396 batting average. Throw that in with his .447 OBP and an OPS at the time of 1.051 and the Cardinals were sold. We were all drinking Jayoraid and it was good. He seemed like a natural fit in the Cardinal outfield and more importantly appeared comfortable with the responsibility that comes with playing every day.
Then came the reality that that playing often is not the same as playing always. As your sample size grows, so does the opponent’s book on you. Of course no reasonable baseball writer, analyst or blogger expected Jay to keep hitting near .400. At the same time, none expected Jay to essentially nose dive after taking over the job full time.
Jay finished the season hitting a very respectable .300, but his average dropped all the way to .298 before a hit in his last game of the season got it back up to .300. Jon Jay finished the 2010 season with a line of .300, an OBP of .359 and an OPS of .780. Not bad at all. But when those numbers are replacing the two year averages from Ludwick of 29 HR’s and 105 RBI it left me wanting a bit more out of a Cardinal outfielder.
Enter 2011. Colby Rasmus is your everyday center fielder to start the season. Something we were all on board with. Jay was back in his 4th outfielder role. As Colby gradually seemed to lose his mental toughness he also began to lose AB’s and then starts to Jay. Jay responded as he did in 2010, by hitting and hitting well.
That brings us to July 26th. By now Rasmus was hitting .246 and had all but lost his job out right to Jay and was sent to Toronto. The full time job was Jay’s again. He had earned it…again, hitting .312 with an OBP of .363. To top it off, Jay was playing a great defensive centerfield as well.
Our fears were over. Jay had earned it, proving last year’s drop off was a fluke. Knowing the money that is potentially to be invested in Albert Pujols, having one less spot to address in free agency would help. The Cardinals had their young, cost controlled centerfielder of the future.
Well…maybe, argh….not so fast. In the twenty games since officially becoming the man in centerfield, Jay’s average has dipped 20 points. After going hitless in five at-bats Sunday, slumping to seven for his last 43 (.163) overall, Tony La Russa decided that it was time for Jay to regroup for a game. He moved second baseman Skip Schumaker to center field.
Again, not what you want to see from your every day CF. We all might need to face the reality that both Jon Jay and the Cardinals are best suited with him as a 4th outfielder. The numbers are not the issue. The issue is inconsistency over long periods of time. If TLR is going to run a guy out there every day he expects more, and he should. Fans expect more, and we should.
Well we are nearing the end of the season and if management is going to cross center fielder off of their free agency wish list they are going to need to see more out of number fifteen. And if Jay is counting on going into spring as THE guy out there, it’s time to start performing a bit more like the guy who used to wear that number.