Writers Note: I wrote this last week for Royals Review. Jay was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday evening. Hopefully I can get a piece up on the trade sometime soon.
When the Kansas City Royals signed veteran outfielder Jon Jay back in March, it felt like a move made out of necessity. The Royals needed a center fielder and were also looking to add another left-handed bat to a very right-handed heavy lineup. Jay checked off both of those needs and came on a very team friendly, one-year deal.
But expectations weren’t huge. The book on Jay was pretty simple: he will get on base, won’t hit for much power, not much of a base-stealer, and his defense is average at best. For the most part that is exactly what Kansas City has gotten from him so far in this 2018 campaign.
The good news is that Jay has been getting on base as advertised and on a consistent basis. Going into play on Tuesday night, Jay was hitting .305/.361/.362 and was leading the team in hits. Jay has the third best strike out rate (15.4%), on-base percentage (.361) and led the team in batting average on balls in play (.366) on the team. All of those numbers are in the ballpark of what he has done over his career and are a good sign that he should be able to continue on his current pace.
Jay is also putting the ball in play more often this year, as he is sitting on an 83.0% contact rate. To add to the good news, he is also hitting the ball harder:
So while he might be putting the ball on the ground at a higher rate this year (58.5%, up from 47.1% in 2017), it is not hurting him because he is hitting the ball harder when he does make contact. From the chart, it also shows he is barreling the ball more often (1.7%) while essentially keeping the same exit velocity (83.9% compared to last year’s 84.0%).
To add to the positives, there is still room for Jay to improve even more on his ability to get on base. Jay’s walk rate is a bit lower this year than last year (7.3% to 8.5%) and if he could hit a few more line drives (down to 22.2% this year) he might be able to get more doubles (he did get three on Monday night against Minnesota) and increase his extra base hit total.
You also probably noticed his almost non-existent power numbers, which are on life support at best right now: .362 slugging percentage, .057 ISO and ten total extra base hits. The good news is that Jay has never been a power hitter and the Royals don’t pay him to “hit bombs”. Jay’s bread and butter is to find a way to get on base and so far this year he is doing his job.
The unfortunate part is that the Royals just aren’t taking advantage of Jay roaming the basepaths. Jay has been on-base 83 times this year (64 hits, 17 walks, 2 hit by pitch) yet has only scored 23 runs, or 28% of the time (he has been between 32-40% throughout much of his career). Obviously this doesn’t fall in the lap of Jay, as it is more a commentary on how the Royals offense deals with runners on base (.243/.311/.353 with runners on base, .218/.306/.320 with runners in scoring position). But it does make you wonder what could be if the Royals offense wasn’t so punchless.
The good news is that if Jay can keep up his production, Kansas City should be able to flip him at the trade deadline in July. There is definite value in a hitter like Jay and there should be at least one contending team interested in his services. It won’t garner the Royals a top-flight prospect, but Jay should bring the team a player they can work with.
While Jay overall might just be an average hitter (101 wRC+ this year, 105 over his career), there is value in a guy who just finds a way to get on base. While the Royals have a number of powerful bats in the middle of their lineup that can go yard, it means very little if you don’t have someone at the top of the order who is on base ahead of them.
Jay might not bowl anyone over with his consistent hitting, but without him the Royals might have struggled even more these first two months of the season. His hitting might not be powerful enough for some, but it’s exactly what Kansas City needs right now at the top of their lineup.