Whenever we go out, the people always shout: “Is it time to pick up Jon Jay for my lineup quick?” And I say: “Probably not if he’s available in your league,” which doesn’t quite make for a good song. But it might make for a good RotoGraphs post.
Yahoo tells us that Jay is available in 91% of leagues, which means that he’s off the board in NL-only leagues and probably not available in eighteen- or twenty-team leagues. And if your 14-team league has five outfielders, should Jay be one of them? For example, my Blog Wars team has Cody Ross and Michael Brantley sharing my final outfield slot. Jon Jay is gone even in that league.
Which probably means he’s not a great pickup if he’s available in your league. He just looks more attractive until you poke around under the hood.
The lifetime .298 batting average does that for a player. But even his biggest strength is no certainty, given the vagaries of the bouncing ball. So far, in 838 at-bats, Jay has a .344 BABIP, which seems too high. He strikes out at a better-than-average rate, so his 15.6% rate in that category does help him put balls in play and avoid the average-killing strikeout, though, so that helps. And then there’s his lifetime .381 xBABIP given his lifetime batted ball mix. All those ground balls and line drives, paired with speed that helps him to a 20% infield hit rate, make him likely to be a high-BABIP player.
So his batting average might be somewhat secure. The problems with Jay’s candidacy for your team begin once you scan past that stat.
Jon Jay is unlikely to ever put up league average power. The league puts up a .145-.150 isolated slugging percentage most years, and Jay has only topped that number twice in his Minor League career. He’s also an extreme ground-ball guy — only four players in baseball (Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Elvis Andrus) had higher ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratios than Jay (2.32 GB/FB in 2011). Jay’s .127 ISO was the highest ISO among players that averaged two or more ground balls per fly ball. If we reach down to a 1.75 GB/FB ratio, we find Howie Kendrick (.179 ISO), Cameron Maybin (.130 ISO), and Michael Young (.136 ISO). That’s not a ton of power.
Maybin’s inclusion on the list should perk some ears, though. An outfielder with a great batting average, Maybin’s recent power within reach, and some speed would be useful in most leagues. Except that Jay doesn’t have Maybin’s speed. He was caught on six of 13 attempts last year, and that sort of success rate won’t lead to more stolen bases. He was caught four of six times in 2010, too. His best Minor League year had him steal 20 bases in 564 plate appearances. That represents his Major League ceiling, and it would take a generous Mike Matheny to allow him to keep taking off in the face of some caught-stealings.
The last of Jay’s unappealing aspects is related to his playing time. On Sunday, Jay took a seat with the Cardinals facing lefty Randy Wolf. With the right-handed Shane Robinson on the team, this could happen regularly. Despite Jay showing a negligible platoon split in the Major Leagues (107 wRC+ v LHP, 110 wRC+ v RHP), he did show them regularly in the Minor Leagues in a larger sample. And obviously his team thinks he should see fewer lefties.
So you’re left with a one-category contributor who will play three-quarters of the time. That’s how you get a composite projection of .288 with nine home runs and seven stolen bases in 437 at-bats. That seems about right for a sixth outfielder in a 14-team mixed league with five OF slots. Or perhaps a batting-average starved team could use him similarly in a shallower league — but any owner should know that they’ll have to platoon their outfielder, and that Jay may not reach double digits in power or speed.
Jon Jay Jingleheimer Schmidt — let someone else sing that song.
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