If you follow me, you know how I feel about this question, but you might also know that tonight’s game is Jay’s 6th start in the last 7 games, whereas Bourjos has only had 3 starts in that same amount of time. Coming out of Spring Training, Bourjos was declared the starter, but Matheny hasn’t been using him like one lately.
There has been a lot that has been made about Bourjos’ lack of hitting so far this year, but when he was taken out, he was just starting to find his swing, raising his batting average from .000 to .222 in 6 games. Now, he’s sitting at .190, with Jay at .297. That’s great for Jay, and that’s higher than I expect him to be at the end of the year, but baseball has a long season, and eventually the law of averages will come out. I don’t doubt that Bourjos will at least be at .250 by the end of the year. Even if Jay is at .300 at the end of the year, I think 50 points is close enough that Bourjos’ defense will make him a better overall player than Jay.
How can I say that? Well, a few different reasons. First, because Bourjos has more power. Jay has 1997 career plate appearances, and has 26 home runs. That’s a homer every 76-77 PAs, and Jay has a slugging percentage of .402. Bourjos has 1182 career PAs, with 24 home runs, for a home run every 49-50 times up to bat, and has a slugging average of .394. With that extra power and speed, Bourjos could make up for the lack of getting on base by being better than Jay when he does get on base. If you were to take the number of PAs in each of their careers and divide them by their number of total bases (TB), then Jay gets 2.805 PAs per base, and Bourjos sits at 2.808. Nearly identical. Also, Bourjos has more stolen bases in less times on base than Jay. The case can be made that other than hitting for average, Bourjos is a much more well-rounded player at the plate and on the bases, and possibly better or nearly identical.
Secondly, there’s the defense. Bourjos is regarded as a great fielder, but how much better is he than Jay? If you’re looking at their careers, then Bourjos averages a 19.9 UZR per 150 games. A UZR of 20 is considered gold glove caliber. Jay has a career UZR/150 of -0.9 in CF, and -2.7 in the outfield. 0 is considered average, so he’s slightly below average. In this short season, Bourjos has a UZR of 0.5 which projects to 7.8 over the season, well above average. Jay has a UZR of -0.7 in CF and -0.9 in the outfield on the season, which projects to about -21 for a season. all of those season numbers are a little bit skewed and early, but it still looks like Bourjos will be a much, much better defender.
Finally, Bourjos has had a better WAR per game over his career. WAR, like UZR is a counting stat, and so if you play more games, then you have an opportunity to get more (or less) WAR (or UZR). The way to normalize this is to calculate the amount of WAR per game that a player has. WAR is a good way to estimate how well a player plays overall, but it’s hard to compare people in different positions using it. Comparing Jay and Bourjos is easy and nice, though, since they play the same position. Bourjos has played in 368 career games, and has an fWAR of 9.1, for a fWAR/game of .0247. Jay has a slightly higher career fWAR, at 9.2, but has played in 553 games, for a fWAR/game of .0168. For an easier comparison, if Bourjos would have played in as many games as Jay, and we assume his fWAR/game is the same, his career fWAR would have been 13.67. I can feel confident saying that Bourjos is a better overall player so far in both of their careers with that.
Yes, the Cardinals lineup is hurting, and needs to get some hits. Yes, it might be hard to have Bourjos in the lineup with the way Craig, Marp, and a couple of the other guys are hitting right now, but if you don’t let Bourjos get some consistent playing time, then I don’t think his bat is going to get hot. Matheny can say that he’s riding the hot hand at the plate, but Bourjos will never get hot at the plate if this continues. There are more than one way to help your team win, and putting Jay at the plate may give them a chance to score more runs, but putting Bourjos in the field will give them a chance to keep the other team from scoring more runs. I could put together an argument that putting Bourjos at the plate may help the team as well, at least just as much as Jay. If you need to see proof, just look at how fast Bourjos can be on the bases, with exhibit A being yesterday’s run scored from 1st without even a throw.
I certainly hope to see Bourjos in the lineup a lot more in the very near future, and Jay come off the bench. If you really think that Jay is a better bat, wouldn’t it maximize your team to have him as a pinch hitter instead of Bourjos anyway? Bourjos is a better player than Jay, and he wasn’t brought here to sit on the bench.