Jon Jay and Albert Almora Make One of Baseball’s Best Centerfielders
What if I told you Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay were the second-best centerfielder in baseball? Your initial response would probably be to mimic that pensive emoji thing as you attempted to discern exactly what I was saying. I can’t blame you, as the concept I’m pushing here is both conceptually odd and based on the results of a very small sample.
Given their status as platooning bench players (for now), neither of our titular characters has gotten much of an opportunity to ply his trade on a regular basis. To this point, Jason Heyward has seen more time in center (46.1 innings) than either Almora (41) or Jay (39.2). But despite only 22 plate appearances apiece, the two-headed monster has combined for what would be a team-leading 0.6 WAR (0.3 each).
Their value was on full display Tuesday night when Almora delivered a pinch-hit single to drive in two and was subsequently driven home by a Jay triple to tie the game. That’s just a microcosm of an eye-popping aggregate .405/.476/.513 slash line. Astute observers will point out, rightfully so, that those numbers are based on an entirely unsustainable BABIP that sits well north of .500 right now. These guys can’t keep hitting like this forever.
Almora, though, has displayed increased patience at the plate while maintaining the contact skills that keep his strikeout numbers low. Of course, he’s also prone to the occasional weak grounder to the left side, though sometimes those turn into seeing-eye singles. And the glove, man, the glove is so choice. Jay is a solid veteran presence and appears to be fully healthy after having his last two seasons hampered by injury.
Where this whole thing gets fun — reminder that these comparisons are for entertainment purposes only and are not to be taken too seriously — is extrapolating these guys’ combined WAR out over a larger sample of plate appearances. Using Mike Trout’s 62 PA’s on the season as a benchmark, Jalbert Jaymora would have 0.85 WAR, behind only Trout (1.0) for highest among all centerfielders. Using George Springer’s MLB-high 66 PA’s actually gives us 0.90 WAR, which isn’t too shabby.
Even when we dial it back to actual individual production, both players sit tied for third in the NL behind only Adam Eaton (0.6) and Odubel Herrera (0.4). Jeremy Hazelbaker and his .700 BABIP over 16 PA’s is right there with 0.3 WAR as well.
So what’s the point in all this? Well, nothing. Except to point out that we may be seeing more of this platoon as the season goes on, at least based on various matchups and the health of the surrounding roster. With Ben Zobrist perhaps getting more rest once we hit the dog days of summer, it’s likely we’ll see more of Jaymora in CF as Heyward slides back into his natural role more often.
I believe we’ll also see Almora continue to gain an edge in the overall playing-time mix, if only because of his superior defense. But the bat ain’t too shabby, either. Joe Maddon recently told the media that Almora “has more power than people even realize,” and he could really turn into a threat if he can continue to hone his eye at the plate.
My only real issue with Jay perhaps losing some at-bats over time is that I can’t hear his walkup music, which I think is the best on the team, as often. Jay-Z’s Public Service Announcement is money.
Maddon was dead on when he said, “Both of these guys together make a great centerfielder.” We’ll get the chance to see how they work together — literally, not in the figurative sense I’ve posed here — when they play side-by-side Wednesday afternoon.