Who Should Be the Cardinals’ 2015 Center Fielder?

With the Cardinals season recently finished, and the end of season press conferences over, one thing was made clear for the 2015 season in St. Louis: center field was Jon Jay’s to lose. I have a few problems with this. First of all, I hate guaranteed starting jobs. I’m not saying it will happen, but it is very easy for players to fall into more of a relaxed state when they know they don’t have to fight for their playing time. As we saw in 2013, when Jay had no competition for the job, he’s not immune to becoming too relaxed in his play. Second, I still am not convinced that Jon Jay is the best center fielder on our team.

Let me make one thing clear: this is not an anti-Jay piece. I really enjoy having Jay on the team, and I think he’s a very solid piece to the team. I would love for the Cardinals to retain Jay, I’m just not sure I want him to be our starting center fielder.

Jay has generally been pretty consistent in his play throughout his career. He has 5 seasons with over 300 plate appearances since 2010, and he wRC+ over that span have all been between 115 and 116 with the exception of 2013 – a season which seems to be pretty unlucky as his BABIP dropped 30 points despite his batted ball profile remaining mostly the same. At this point in his career, it seems like we know (mostly) what type of player Jay is – an above-average hitter, with limited power, and basically average skills everywhere else.

While there is value in being average to above average everywhere, the Cardinals have another center fielder that seems to be mostly average at the plate, but has elite skills when it comes to base-running and fielding. Peter Bourjos, for his career, has posted a wRC+ of 94 – just six percent shy of being a league average hitter. While you could argue that it’s mostly driven from 2011, you could also argue that was also the only season in which he’s received consistent playing time for a full season. On top of that, Bourjos was a league-average hitter or better at every stop in the minors on his way to the big leagues – so it’s not impossible to say that he could be a league-average hitter in the majors. Add into that Bourjos’s great speed (he’s been roughly five runs above average on a 600 PA rate throughout his career) and his elite defense, and Bourjos starts to look like a great candidate.

This year, Jay got nearly twice as many plate appearances as Bourjos, and produced roughly twice as many wins as Bourjos – which makes sense. When grading them on equal scales (WAR/600), the two center fielders produced identical 3.2 win values – which brings me to the next point for starting Bourjos.

The Cardinals have long been looking to improve their offense on their bench. For years the Cardinals have had one of the weaker benches of postseason contenders, and every year they look to improve upon that. With Jay providing a clearly better bat (his career wRC+ is nearly 20 percent better than Bourjos), it seems like a good (cheap) way to improve the bench without hurting the starters. Bourjos provides similar (if not better) value to the everyday line-up, while Jay gives the Cardinals a solid bat to come off the bench.

While it’s unlikely we see this happen, barring Jay returning to his 2013 play, it seems like a reasonable route to efficiently take care of a problem so that the front office and focus on other areas of concern (the bullpen, other bench bats, back-up catcher). Mozeliak has an opportunity to make a quick, relatively cheap fix to an area of concern for his team – I just hope he and Matheny will let that happen.



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KK-Swizzle
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KK-Swizzle

I’ve been a fan of Bourjos for quite some time now…seems like the teams he’s played for have undervalued him. I understand that he can be frustrating/inconsistent with the bat, but his speed and defense or so elite that he doesn’t need to hit even remotely well to be a league average player. Bottom line: he should be starting somewhere for someone, preferably an organization that appreciates his skill set!

Matthew Cornwell
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Matthew Cornwell

Bourjos should be the CF and maybe Jay should be the RF unless a trade is made. :(. I can’t see Grich ever being a starter vs. RHP.

Spit Ball
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Spit Ball

Plenty of plate appearances to go around between Bourjos, Jay and Grichuk. Bourjos can MAN the majority of center field time and they can play the matchup with Grichuk and Jay. I’m not a big believer in Piscotty but let’s see if the Cards go after some kind of helpful left-handed outfielder in the off-season. RIP OSCAR TAVAREZ, we barely knew ye.

Ben Cerutti
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Ben Cerutti

Taveras.

bmarkham
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bmarkham

Indeed. Due to a very unfortunate circumstance, A Jay and Grichuck platoon in right makes the most sense to me, with Bourjos manning CF most nights. Grichuck can’t hit righties to well yet but should already be able to hit lefties well. Jay doesn’t really show a platoon split and can spell Holliday or Bourjos when needed.

When describing Bourjos value, I always come back to a quote from LaRussa about Molina. Molina was a horrid hitter in his early days,but and when asked if someone else should be starting catcher over Yadi, TLR replied “He is so valuable defensively that any offense we get from him is just a bonus.” Bourjos fits the same description.