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Diamondbacks Free-agent Discussion, #7: Jon Jay

Jay provided outfield help when needed this season. But does he have a role in 2019?

Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Jon Jay arrived from the Kansas City Royals to Arizona this year on June 6, in exchange for a couple of minor-league pitching prospects, right-hander Elvis Luciano and left-hander Gabe Speier. The need arose because of a slew of injuries to the D-backs’ outfield: both Steven Souza and A.J. Pollock had to hit the DL, with a right pectoral strain and fractured thumb respectively. GM Mike Hazen said, “We felt like every marginal move was going to matter, and it’s certainly mattering right now. Given that there’s still going to be some time between when we get a full complement of that team that we put together in Spring Training back together again, we felt like this was too important to sort of pass up.”

Before his arrival, we were seeing an everyday outfield of David Peralta, Jarrod Dyson and Chris Owings which, while serviceable with the glove, was about offensively about as productive as you’d expect. Dyson’s OPS+ this season was 43, and Owings’s 51. On that basis, Jay’s OPS+ of 66 was an upgrade, but it was still well below both his output for the Royals (OPS+ 104) or his career prior to this season (103). The team had “serious conversations” about signing the 33-year-old left-hander during the previous winter, but he ended up going to Kansas City instead. He signed a one-year contract worth $3 million, plus $100,000 for every 25 plate appearances, starting at 250 PA.

Jay would have done well off those incentives, finishing the season at 586 PA over a total of 143 games, the most of both he had seen since 2013. The D-backs got their use out of Jay: if the 101 games after his arrival in Arizona, Jon appeared in 84 of them. His 62 starts came mostly in right field, as a replacement for Souza, but he did start at all thee outfield positions. While solid defensively, he struggled at the plate, hitting only .235/.304/.325 for an OPS of .629. Those two elements roughtly canceled each other out, and Jay was worth -0.3 fWAR for the D-backs, while being exactly at replacement level by bWAR. However, there was one area where Jay’s performance was remarkable.

He was a gurgling vortex of literal suck with regard to baseballs. In only 320 PA, he was hit fifteen times. That’s more than the two next most-hit players on the D-backs (Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt) combined, over their 1,150 PA. Even though Jay missed almost half our games, it was still good enough for fourth on the franchise single-season list, four behind the all-time leader (Justin Upton in 2007). This is clearly a “skill”: Jay has been in the top 10 for the National League six out of the past seven years, is sixth among active players for HBP and has been hit in 2.6% of his PA. Among those with 3,000+ career PA who played in the majors last year, only Starling Marte (2.8%) has been plunked at a higher rate.

Is that sufficient for the team to look once more into signing Jay this winter? With the imminent departure of Pollock as well as Jay to free agency, the team has only four outfielders on the 40-man roster: Peralta, Dyson, Souza and Socrates Brito. We could certainly use an upgrade for the third and fourth spots offensively, with neither Dyson nor Brito likely produce much at the plate. However, Souza is the only right-handed hitter among those, and for the sake of balance, it might make more sense to target another RHB, rather than a left-hander like Jay. He also turns 34 in March, and his season OPS has declined, each of the past three years, so even with the HBP, his output is doubtful.