Jay or Bourjos?

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.


  1. Long Live LaRussa

    I completely disagree with your rationale. Throughout the LaRussa-Matheny era, managers have consistently got creative to get more impact bats in the lineup at the expense of defense with great results. People like you scoffed at the idea of Lance Berkman being asked to play outfield here after not playing there for over 5 years (he was even DH-ing for the Yankees for half a season), but guess what? It worked. Skip Schumaker was converted from an outfielder to a 2B to manufacture more offense. Matt Carpenter was converted to a second baseman last year despite being better suited to be a corner outfielder or 3B. We even tried Joe Mather at 3B back in the days. And if I remember correctly, play a few games at 3B during his last year here in 2011. Now I don’t care what those sabermetrics stat say. Why stray from strategy that has worked in the past?

      • Ben Chambers

        I would actually be ok with a position change for Jay. If it wasn’t for Craig and Holliday holding down the corner outfield spots, I would want Jay in one of them.

        The problem with Jay is that he’s not an “impact bat”, and it’s not really better than Bourjos’ bat, either. He’s a career .300 hitter, but I think he’s actually slumping a little, and he’s going to be around .275 at best this year. He’s got less power than Bourjos and less speed. Bourjos could be a big impact on the offensive side if he’s given the chance. Before Jay got the start in the first game in Milwaukee, Bourjos was hitting .368 in his last 5 games. That’s really the point that I am trying to make, the bats are fairly even and Bourjos’ defense is much better than Jay’s, so it’s a no-brainer to play Bourjos and sit Jay.

      • Ben Chambers

        For the record, I was all for those position changes when they happened. (I have only been active on this blog and Twitter, etc for about a year, though).

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  4. Marilyn Green

    I am just as unhappy with the Jay/Bourjos situation as you are. Jay is a poor defensive center fielder, with a weak arm and little range. As a hitter he is very streaky, and his high BA over his career has been heavily BABIP dependent. However, circumstances have conspired against Bourjos. His slow start has been compounded by the same from other keys players such as Craig, Peralta and Wong, and to a lesser extent Holliday and Carpenter, who have not been themselves at all. Ordinarily if the rest of the offense were operating on all cylinders, Matheny could afford to play Bourjos and allow him the needed at bats to get acclimated at the plate. Then he could have Jay as a bench bat. But that is not the case, and so anyone who is hitting is needed in the lineup. Bourjos is going to have a tougher time now when he finally does get to play, because sitting on the bench all this time will delay his acclimation to the new league and new pitchers even further. It is the worst of all possible worlds.

    • Ben Chambers

      I don’t know if there’s a way to agree with you more. It’s nights that I see Jay gong 0-3 and 1-4 that it’s all I can do to yell through the TV at Matheny that Bourjos can easily do that too. I am also hoping that Bourjos can have a catch like Holliday’s last night to show that defense can prevent runs just as much as offense can create them. I credit Holliday with 4 runs in that game, 2 taken away, 1 scored, and 1 hit in. The same can also happen to Jay, giving up a double in Milwaukee that I thought Bourjos had a chance to get to, the run that scored was a negative run on Jay, but I don’t think Matheny or many other baseball people see it that way.

      • Marilyn Green

        What makes you think that a manager who thinks Daniel Descalso is a good fielder would recognize that Jay is a bad one? It’s a small sample size, but right now Jay’s UZR/150 is -21.1 while Bourjos’ UZR/150 is +7.8. The difference is startling. Over time Jay’s hitting will slow and his bad defense will catch up with the team.

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