Look, it’s not easy to find what you’d call a least valuable player on the St. Louis Cardinals.
With breakouts like Shelby Miller and Matt Carpenter, the perennial contenders are in good shape in just about every area of the game (barring some unfortunate injuries) and are looking poised to make another run at the postseason in 2013. Their success, on the hand, highlights any player having any kind of regression, and the most notable among those is center fielder Jon Jay.
To be fair here, Jay is not exactly having a disastrous season. In fact, with a .289/.385/.400 line in the first half of July, you might even say he’s heating up at the right time.
Yet, there are still expectations to be considered, and those for the center fielder weren’t simply modest ones: as a toolsy player who hit .305 with nearly 20 steals while playing plus defense in a 3.7 fWAR 2012, the Cardinals would have been reasonable to think they’d see more of the same at the very minimum this season, and not someone who is simply a placeholder for super-prospect Oscar Taveras.
Though 91 games and 368 PA, though, that’s what the redbirds have out in center at the moment.
Never mind that Jay’s contact rate has dropped to a career-low 82.3 percent and contributing to a .250 batting average (also a career-low, though the .287 BABIP and 24 percent line drive rate suggests bad luck), but the speed on the basepaths that was a big part in making him an especially valuable player last season is all but gone. With just three steals on the season, Jay will have his work cut out for him to reach double digits.
And despite his recent hot streak, his overall .671 OPS on the season still ranks him second last among all qualifying center fielders, only ahead of B.J. Upton, who no player should want to be compared to right now.
All this might be okay if he was contributing exception defense, but at -8.5 fielding runs above average and -16.5 UZR/150, Jay is also ahead of just Shin-Soo Choo in the former fielding category — and needless to say, that’s not much of a flattering comparison either. No wonder why Jay is one of just two center fielders in the game (guess who the other is) to be below replacement level right now at -0.1 fWAR.
For a St. Louis team where most things on the field have gone right this season, that their center fielder has gone wrong has been a major disappointment in the first half … even if he might just be warming the seat.