Position: Center field
2016 Stats: .291/.339/.389, .271 TAV, 1.6 WARP in 373 plate appearances
Year in Review: Jon Jay was the first main acquisition of the Cubs’ 2016 offseason. Jay, as most remember, was drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. His best season in the minors was in 2008 at Double-A Springfield, in which he posted a 4.9 WARP in 427 plate appearances. After another two years in the minors, Jay split time between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis in 2010 and then became a regular from 2011-2014.
Flash-forward to 2016 when Jay had his first season in a new home in San Diego after he was traded for Jedd Gyorko almost a year ago. Jay was brought in to a similar role there: to mentor the younger players of the Padres and to be their everyday centerfielder. Another major plus for Jay was that while he was only able to play in 90 games (a forearm injury derailed it part way through), he did show defensive versatility. This is something the Cubs have especially valued the past few years, and he has experience throughout his career in all three outfield positions.
Jay recovered nicely from an abysmal 2015 campaign, in which he had a negative WARP at -.3 and .214 TAV. This was likely largely due to wrist tightness. It’s a tough injury to battle during the season as it affects your ability to swing, and we’ve seen what it’s done to former Cubs (ie: Jason Heyward) in season.
As you can see above, Jay’s been fairly good across most of the zone during his career. He struggles with pitches low and away that are out of the zone, but this doesn’t creep up too often as he has a good eye at the plate. His on-base percentage for his career is right at the .350 mark which is well above average. It’s not near Dexter Fowler’s .393 OBP from last year, but paired with Almora, the Cubs should be able to recover some of this, and because he’s here on only a one-year deal, he seems to be perfect fit to bridge the gap until Almora is ready to take over. On the base paths, Jay only has eight stolen bases over the past three years so he’s not much of stolen base threat, but he still has above average speed.
Steamer projects Jay for a .269/.333/.360 slash line and being worth .5 WAR in 96 games next season. The biggest projected change from last year is his BABIP—the projections have it down 50 points—which helps us understand why his average is down below the .270 line. As mentioned above, the common projection is for Jay to split time with Almora and to potentially spell his teammates in left field and right field in some instances. And if Jason Heyward’s struggles continue, or if Kyle Schwarber catches, Jay’s time in the lineup should increase.
If this truly closes the door on Dexter Fowler, it was a memorable two years in Chicago. From being traded for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily, to hitting a game-winning home run versus his former club in Colorado, to surprising the Cubs faithful and players by signing late in Spring Training, to homering in Game Seven of the World Series, Cubs fans couldn’t ask for much more from him. But with the addition of Jon Jay, it seems the Cubs are ready to at least partially hand over the keys to their 2012 first-round pick, Albert Almora.
In all, the importance of Jay knowing Almora from their days in Miami and him openly saying he’s excited to mentoring him shows great signs of a productive platoon. If Almora struggles in regular playing time, Jay has the experience to play center field on a closer to full-time basis. And if not, Jay will still provide a lefty bat and a winning attitude off the bench.
Lead photo courtesy of Jake Roth—USA Today Sports