D-backs Upgrade to Adequacy with Jon Jay

The Arizona Diamondbacks are currently tied for first place in the National League West with the Colorado Rockies, entering play today with a 32-29 record. If the D-backs don’t feel like a first-place team, that’s understandable: they just endured one of the worst months ever for a major-league club. As both the midway point of the season and the trade deadline approach, however, Arizona is still in reasonably fine shape. They’re projected for a winning season. They have a decent shot of making the playoffs.

To make that decent shot a reality, however, the D-backs were going to need some help in the outfield. As for why that is, I’ll address that below. For the moment, however, the relevant point is that the club required some kind of of reinforcement. Jon Jay might not seem like the solution to a contending club’s problems, but Jay is a decent ballplayer. What’s more, he’s a decent ballplayer who addresses Arizona’s greatest need. So Arizona traded for him, sending a pair of prospects to the Kansas City Royals, as noted here.

D-backs receive:

  • Jon Jay

Royals receive:

Eric Longenhagen wrote a bit on the prospects the Royals are set to receive, so we won’t get into that here, but it appears the Royals spent about $1 million paying Jay and received two players for their troubles, which isn’t a bad deal for them. As for the D-backs, they didn’t necessarily need Jay, but they needed someone like Jay, so the actual thing fits the bill.

Back in February, there was still some hope that the D-backs might be able to bring back J.D. Martinez after his great run last year pushed the club into the playoffs. Martinez signed with the Red Sox, so Arizona explored other options and reached decent solutions rather quickly. They inked Jarrod Dyson to a two-year deal that seemed like a good value for a plus defensive player who can play anywhere in the outfield. Then, a few days later, the team added Steven Souza Jr. in a trade from the Rays. In just a few days, the D-backs outfield had four quality outfielders with A.J. Pollock in center, David Peralta in left, Souza in right, and Dyson getting playing time everywhere.

Move forward to June and Chris Owings has started 34 of the team’s 61 games in the outfield, including 14 of the last 17 outings. Socrates Brito or Kristopher Negron have started in another half-dozen games over the last couple weeks. When Souza went down in the spring with a strained muscle, that was okay for Arizona because they had Dyson to fill in as a starter and A.J.Pollock started the season on fire. Owings, currently projected to be a replacement-level player or worse, was getting some time as the fourth outfielder, but his playing time was expected to be limited.

The team’s outfield situation was looking up at the beginning of May with Souza’s return, but within two weeks, Pollock hit the disabled list and Souza joined him. Since Pollock went down on May 14, D-backs outfielders have taken 236 plate appearances and have a .192/.268/.258 slash line good for a 41 wRC+. It might be comforting to say that it couldn’t possibly get worse, but with Brito and Owings projected more than 30% below average on offense and Dyson also a below-average bat, there wasn’t that much hope that it would too much better, either. Enter the competence of Jay.

The former Cardinal, Padre, Cub, and Royal, Jon Jay is in the middle of a rather Jay-like season. The lefty is in his ninth big-league campaign, and in eight of those years, he’s put up a wRC+ between 101 and 116. If we throw out his disastrous 2015 season, his batting average has hovered between .276 and the .307 of the present. His on-base percentage has been between .339 and the .374 he achieved last season in Chicago. He’s never had any power to speak of, and his ISO hasn’t even broken .100 since 2011, but by putting the bat on the ball with great frequency, drawing some walks, and garnering a decent amount of plunks on his rump, Jay has consistently been an average offensive player. The table below shows line-drive percentage leaders among active players since Jay entered the league in 2011 (min. 2,000 PA).

Line Drive Leaders Since 2011
Freddie Freeman 27.3 % .344 139
Joey Votto 27.0 % .354 160
Nicholas Castellanos 25.8 % .334 107
Joe Mauer 25.5 % .338 114
Matt Carpenter 25.4 % .319 130
Brandon Belt 25.1 % .336 130
Alex Avila 25.0 % .331 107
Jon Jay 24.7 % .344 105
Active Players with 2,000 PA

And where does he hit those line drives? The graph below shows the liners since 2016.

Jay has the spray chart of a right-hander, but he’s made his living just hitting the ball hard to left field. For a D-backs team in desperate need of adequate production, Jay provides just that. Out in the field, Jay’s range is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of average with a below-average arm. He’s continued to play center field occasionally over the past few seasons, but his range is probably best-suited for a corner, and with Dyson on the field, the center-field question shouldn’t come up too often anyway. As for which corner, Peralta has played mostly left field this season, but he’s played a good amount of right in previous years. Peralta might need to make that move again so Jay can take over in left field where his arm would be less of a liability.

Pollock will return at some point in the next month or so. The D-backs likely hope Souza’s recurring pec injury can fully heal, and at that point, Dyson and Jay can both excel as extra outfielders. Until then, Jay takes over at a position of desperate need for the D-backs to keep them afloat in the playoff race until reinforcements arrive.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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5 years ago

Maybe it’s a slight lineup upgrade, but it’s a significant name downgrade from Socrates Brito and Kristopher Negron.

5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

But those guys don’t have Jon Jay’s booty.

5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

whoa whoa whoa. founding father belongs in the trifecta of names above replacement

Free Clay Zavada
5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Socrates Brito is objectively top tier

5 years ago

“Socrates Brito” sounds like either a modern band or a brand of lager to me. I wouldn’t look twice if I saw a band by that name listed on a Coachella poster.

And hearing this in bar wouldn’t surprise me either:

“What’ll you have?”

“I’d like a Socrates Brito, please.”

5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Personally I think that adding a player named after a Founding Father is a very significant name upgrade.