Supreme Court Justice in the Outfield

by Eno Sarris //

Okay, so it’s not only the missing ‘h’ that separates the Cardinal’s Jon Jay from former American supreme court justice John Jay – those 200 years are quite the chasm. But the Cardinals’ version of Jay is taking on a new role, after Ryan Ludwick was traded to the Padres over the weekend. But is he a legitimate fantasy starter in the outfield?

JayGrab.jpgAt first blush, everything seems to rule in favor of Jay’s ability to stick. Looking at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs, he looks like he has power, and the strong batting average helps. A .366/.415/.553 batting line should play on any fantasy team. Even a summary check of his minor league numbers this year (.321/.394/.491) would pass inspection. It’s a heckuva fast start.

A longer look, though, takes some the shine off Jay’s profile. Jay’s batting average on balls in play is an astronomical .424; even the two biggest outliers last year, David Wright and Ichiro Suzuki, had .394 and .384 numbers in 2009. Also, BABIP stabilizes at .300 around baseball every year. So you’ll see Jay’s BABIP, and batting average, come down significantly as natural regression sets in.

Then there’s the minor league record that deserves further review. Minor League has a translator that creates major league equivalents for minor league numbers. That translation says Jay’s Triple-A numbers in 2010 would work out to .276/.335/.406 in the big leagues. Useful, but hardly as exciting as the stats he’s putting up currently.

A flaw in Jay’s minor league numbers is a poor split against
left-handed hitters (.685 OPS versus southpaws). That split comes in
only 439 plate appearances, so it’s not definitive, but it exists.
Though it may be an issue, the Cardinals did start Jay against lefty Zach Duke over the weekend. Then again, there is a threat coming from Allen Craig as well, who actually sports better numbers against lefties (.900 career OPS versus lefties in the minor leagues) and has his own solid batting line down on the farm (.307/.369/.511). Craig has shown more power in the minor leagues and is a threat to Jay’s playing time, as the justice’s batted ball luck evens out. 

Zoom out on the minor league numbers for Jay, and you’ll notice an inconsistent slugging percentage. Just last year, Jay had a .281/.338/.394 batting line with the same Memphis team, numbers which didn’t result in any sort of major league callup. That’s right, Jay was repeating Triple-A this year, which takes his stats down another notch. After three years of college before his pro career, Jay has always been around average age in his leagues, and at both Double-A and Triple-A, he struggled at first before recovering on his second try.

Obviously, Jay is not struggling with his first shot in the major leagues. But you can also see in the numbers that his power is inconsistent, the speed is decent but not elite (he had a career high of 20 stolen bases in Triple-A in 2009), and there is a threat to his playing time on his team. Even as a batting-average specialist, there may or may not be struggles against lefties in his future, and there’s sure to be some BABIP pullback. The ruling of this court is that Jay is a fine pickup in deep NL-only leagues. But in shallower mixed leagues, there are probably better options out there on the waiver wire.

For more on Jon Jay and other outfielders, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

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