I was afraid this would happen when I saw Jon Jay was available, knowing that the Cubs would be looking to add a part-time, left-handed bat in center field. At the time it felt weird thinking about Jon Jay wearing a Cubs uniform and it feels even stranger now that it will be a reality.
I’m not sure why I have such strong feelings towards Jay, and it’s only a compliment to his abilities as a player. It just seemed that any time he came up with an opportunity to really hurt the Cubs, he always rose to the occasion with a big hit to snuff the life out of a game.
The numbers back up that anecdotal evidence, in 90 games against the Cubs in his career Jay has hit: .295/.364/.399 compared to his overall numbers of .287/.352/.384.
While those numbers look nice on the surface, Jay will be 32 to start the 2017 season and has been in decline for the past couple of years. From 2010 to 2014 Jay routinely put up wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 115, meaning he was about 15% better on offense than the rest of the league during that five-year span.
However, in 2015 he fell of a cliff hitting just .210/.306/.257 although in fairness he dealt with multiple injuries during the season, and his BABIP fell to an unfortunate .246 while his walk and strikeout rates stayed in line with the rest of his career. It was reasonable to believe Jay would bounce back in 2016, and while he did, it’s not as encouraging as it appears.
Last year Jay appeared in 90 games and hit .291/.339/.389 but saw his walk rate drop from 8-percent to 5-percent while his strikeout rate jumped from 15-percent to 21-percent. The reason he was able to bring his average back up was his ability to post an unsustainable career high BABIP of .371.
On defense, some call Jay a plus outfielder, but then point to his .996 fielding percentage as evidence. I thought the baseball community had moved beyond fielding percentage as a way to judge a player’s defense but I guess that was too much to ask for. It is reassuring that Jay isn’t a butcher out in the field, but that’s about all his fielding percentage is going to tell us. Most outfielders can catch and field balls.
While the advanced defensive metrics don’t completely back up Jay’s reputation as as plus defender, he has been good on defense more years than not, and should play a solid if unspectacular center field. With a one-year, $8 million contract, that’s pretty much exactly what the Cubs are paying for.
When looking into signing Jay the Cubs front office was primarily evaluating one thing: how will he fit in the clubhouse? On the field the Cubs aren’t asking for much, above average contact on offense and a guy who makes all the routine plays on defense, but the main ingredient they’re hoping he brings to the table is more team continuity.
Early signs are good, as his new platoon mate in center next year is already tweeting at him:
Both Jay and Almora went to high school in Miami and Jay went on to play baseball at the University of Miami. Combining these two Miami boyz (couldn’t resist, but now I feel dirty) in a platoon works for the Cubs on multiple levels.
As far as lefty-righty matchups go, the left-handed Jay has only been slightly better against RHP than LHP, hitting .288/.352/.384 compared to .284/.352/.355. Despite those numbers he has spent nearly his entire career in a platoon with 2320 PA against RHP and just 723 against LHP. Almora has only 117 PA to his name so dissecting the stats isn’t worth much, but one number to note is a .400 slugging percentage vs RHP compared to a .548 slugging percentage vs LHP.
The real value in this move for the Cubs is that both players act as insurance for one another. If for example Almora takes off in 2017, the older veteran in Jay shouldn’t have a problem relinquishing more of his at bats for the up and coming star. On the other hand, if Almora is to struggle in his first extended Big League action, Jay should be ready to take on more of an everyday role.
This was another example of a low cost, low risk move that combines both on-field fit with the upside for continuing to build chemistry in the clubhouse, and I’d expect nothing less from this front office.