ST. LOUIS — First-year Cardinals manager Mike Matheny doesn’t know all the particulars of how voting for the Gold Gloves work. But he knows his center fielder Jon Jay should be among those getting serious consideration for the award.
In his first full season as the St. Louis Cardinals’ everyday center fielder, Jay has continued to impress with highlight reel catches on a seemingly nightly basis. But whether or not the 27-year-old has been around long enough for others to notice remains to be seen.
“I’ll lobby for him however I can,” Matheny said recently. “I’ve been more than impressed.”
Jay has made at least four running catches near the wall in the past few weeks and continues to track down balls in the gaps with ease. He made a nice running catch Monday night in Pittsburgh near the wall in right-center despite starting on the left field side of center when the pitch was thrown.
Working against the left-handed Jay is the fact that he missed a month earlier in the season while on the disabled list with an injury that happened when he slammed into the wall in late April. A rare miscue, Jay reached the wall a step before he anticipated and slammed his shoulder awkwardly into the center-field fence.
But the injury makes his recent play even more impressive. Some young players may become hesitant near the wall after suffering a serious injury on a similar play. But Jay charges back toward the wall as if nothing ever happen. And he’s been making play after play of late.
“You can’t think about it,” Jay said. “This game, you have to play it hard and that’s how I play it. I’m not thinking about that. I’m not thinking about how I got hurt last time and stuff. I learned from it and I’m trying to go out there mentally ready.”
According to the website FanGraphs.com, Jay ranks sixth among National League center fielders with 57 “out of zone” plays, or plays that would be considered tougher than average for a normal center fielder. But Jay has played only 695 innings, 200 fewer than any of the five players ahead of him.
Compare Jay’s 57 “out of zone” plays in 695 innings and his percentage of plays per time on the field would move him to No. 1 on the list. Currently, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Cameron Maybin, Shane Victorino and Andrew McCutchen rank ahead of him. Only Bourn and Victorino have won Gold Gloves in their career.
Also working against Jay is the fact that it usually takes an extra year or two for a deserving player to win. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who has won four consecutive Gold Gloves, didn’t win his first until 2008 despite being seen as the best defensive catcher in the league for at least the two previous seasons.
Still, his manager thinks he’s been one of the best defensive outfielders he’s seen this season and hopes others take notice as well.
“I can’t imagine that he won’t get some consideration, only because of the highlight reel catches he’s been able to make and that consistency,” Matheny said. “He’s making the plays he needs to make.”
The first-year skipper challenged the fact that Jay doesn’t have the playing time the other top outfielders do saying: “He’s played a lot too. He wasn’t shut down that long, and he’s made enough good plays that have gotten national attention too that people will take a look at the statistics.
“I just have a hard time coming across, as you kind of go through the league, many guys that are better.”
The decision rests with the managers and coaches of the National League. The managers and coaches of each league vote on the awards, and they aren’t allowed to vote for their own players.
Matheny admits that even though it shouldn’t, “offense always counts” when it comes to the Gold Glove awards. And while Jay may not have the home runs or RBI that some other candidates have, he’s hitting a respectable .312 following a 1-for-4 night on Tuesday.
But the award is for defense, and Jay has done plenty of late to throw his name in the hat.
“When you talk about the impact defensively a player has made,” Matheny said, “I just can’t imagine anybody is having more of an impact than he is.”
At some point, Jay appears destined to win a Gold Glove. Whether or not the coaches around the league feel impressed enough to make it happen this year remains to be seen.