Center field platoon numbers through the first quarter of the season
With the offseason departure of Dexter Fowler, Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay have stepped up in limited action
When veteran center fielder Dexter Fowler signed with the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason, most supporters understood the significance of losing a player of his caliber. From serving as the lead-off hitter and setting the table, to his impact on the field and being a veteran presence in the locker room, Fowler was an important cog in the 2016 Chicago Cubs.
Nearly one quarter of the 2017 season has passed and the Cubs find themselves at 18–19, or 3.5 games behind Fowler’s Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. It is a start that the Cubs weren’t envisioning and although it is early, there appear to be more holes in this year’s team compared to the curse-breaking champs of one season ago.
Centerfield is not one of those holes. The platoon of Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr. have provided a spark for this team both defensively and offensively. While Almora and Jay have appeared in over 30 games each, neither one has seen over 100 plate appearances as of yet (Jay w/ 80, Almora Jr. w/ 92).
The Cubs are coming off of a 2–1 series defeat at the hands of St. Louis where Chicago only managed to score six runs in the three games. As the team attempts to get back on track against Cincinnati and Milwaukee later this week, let’s see how Jay and Almora Jr. have looked thus far and why both players will be crucial going forward.
Albert Almora Jr.
This is Albert Almora’s first full season in the MLB. He is just one of the many multi-faceted players who has sprung up through the Cubs organization. Known first for his defense, range, and throwing arm in centerfield, Almora also provides some pop with his bat. In 92 plate appearances, Almora is hitting .262 with a .319 OBP and 10 RBI’s. The Jay-Almora playing situation is very similar to the Contreras/Ross/Montero catching situation from a year ago. Each player will get an opportunity with neither one playing everyday, but as Almora gains experience, like Contreras, he figures to be the everyday centerfielder eventually.
Case for more playing time: In terms of WAR, Almora brings positive numbers both offensively and defensively (0.4 oWAR, 0.1 dWAR) in his 33 games this season. His biggest advantage over Jay remains in the field, where he is the team’s best defensive outfielder outside of Jason Heyward.
Case against Albert Almora Jr.: Like a lot of Cubs hitters, strikeouts have been a concern in the early part of Almora’s career. 15 K’s in 92 PA’s isn’t by any stretch the worst on the team, but that is an area he can hopefully improve on moving forward.
Jon Jay signed with the Cubs this offseason after spending one season in San Diego. The eight-year veteran outfielder brings a great amount of experience not to mention a championship pedigree from his days in St. Louis. In limited action, Jay has brought a positive spark to the line-up as a lefty. With Jay, you won’t be getting power with his bat as he hits for average. That, coupled with his patience at the plate, are reasons I could see Jay getting more plate appearances than what we’ve seen thus far.
Case for more playing time: Jay has walked 10 times in his 80 plate appearances, is hitting for a .299 batting average and a .405 OBP. Even though he only has 4 RBI’s on the season, Jay might be a player worth experimenting with at the lead-off spot due to the recent struggles of Kyle Schwarber. Being a left handed bat can provide ample opportunities for Jay against quality righties in the National League such as Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard.
Case against Jon Jay: His dWAR is -0.2 (per, baseball-reference.com) and Almora Jr. is the better defensive player. Even though Jay has a higher batting average and on-base percentage, Almora has a higher slugging percentage, more home runs, hits and RBI’s. I still expect Albert Almora Jr. to get, even if slightly, more playing time and opportunities than Jay will.
One important stat that should be considered is OPS. Jay, .778, and Almora, .712, are 2nd and 5th respectively in that category on the team for players with at least 80 plate appearances. The fact that both guys have consistently gotten on base throughout the first quarter of the season is encouraging even with the overall team struggles. With Jay being a left handed bat, and Almora hitting from the right side, that allows Maddon to play around with line-ups depending on the starting pitcher and team he is facing.
Barring an injury, don’t expect either player to just disappear on the Cubs depth chart. Like the rest of the Cubs regulars, Almora and Jay will play a big role in whether this team can turn things around and make a playoff run.
Nick Konotopskyj is a recent graduate of St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. As a fan of the Cubs, Bills, Sabres and Knicks winning seasons have been hard to come by let alone title contending teams. Finally, the Cubs were able to lift the curse last fall. You can follow him on Twitter here.