Arkins: Jon Jay, Best Fit For M’s?

According to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, momentum is developing towards a possible deal between the Seattle Mariners and free agent outfielder Jon Jay. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Seattle needs a replacement for Jarrod Dyson; also a free agent.

Last season with the Chicago Cubs, Jay was the prototypical fourth outfielder; a role he’d likely fill with the Mariners. The native Floridian appeared in 141 games, splitting time between all three outfield positions.

Still, some Seattle fans may wonder whether Jay actually represents an upgrade over Dyson.

With that in mind, let’s discuss the duo’s similarities and differences. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of their stat lines for the last three seasons.

Jarrod Dyson v Jon Jay (2015-17)
Player PA  HR SB BB% SO% AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ BsR
 Dyson  952 8  84 7.1% 13.8% .260 .327 .370 .697 90 17.3
 Jay 1052 5 8 7.1% 18.4% .275 .346 .354 .699 90 5.3

Source: FanGraphs

On the surface, Jay and Dyson profile similarly at the plate. They have an identical wRC+ and walk rate. Moreover, each player enters their age-33 season next year and is a left-handed hitter.

Jay has proven more adept at reaching base with a higher OBP, while the former Mariner holds a 16-point lead in slugging percentage. In the end though, each has a near-identical OPS.

While their overall offensive production is relatively similar, Jay holds a decided edge against left-handed pitching.

Dyson & Jay vs. LHP (2015-17)
Player PA BB% SO% AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+
Dyson 139 6.5% 12.2% .225 .306 .283 .589 66
Jay 265 9.4% 17.7% .287 .370 .326 .696 96

Source: FanGraphs

Prior to joining Seattle last January, Dyson primarily faced right-handed pitching in a part-time role with the Kansas City Royals. The Mariners originally intended on using “Zoombiya” more regularly. However, struggles against lefties led to a center field platoon arrangement with right-handed hitting Guillermo Heredia.

Conversely, Jay’s career history suggests he’s capable of delivering even platoon splits.

Jon Jay Career Splits
Split PA AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+
v RHP 2652 .289 .354 .392 .746 107
v LHP 824 .288 .359 .353 .712 101

Despite Jay’s clear-cut advantage over Dyson against southpaws, the former Cub lags well behind in two categories — base running and defense.

Using the FanGraphs comprehensive base running statistic (BsR), Dyson ranks seventh best among outfielders with 950-plus plate appearances since 2015. On the other hand, Jay comes in at number-42. Not bad, but not top-shelf either.

Dyson maintains an even more impressive advantage using a more conventional metric — the stolen base.

Last season with Seattle, Dyson swiped a team-leading 28 bags in 111 games. Jay has stolen 24 bases in 607 games since 2013. Furthermore, each player’s foot speed is considerably different.

Dyson’s Sprint Speed this year was 28.8 feet-per-second, best on the Mariners; league-average was 27 feet-per-second. In contrast, Jay was at 26.6 feet-per-second, which would’ve placed him between Taylor Motter (26.7) and Kyle Seager (26.5) with Seattle.

In the field, Dyson is an elite-level defender with superb range and a strong throwing arm. While Jay is capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, advanced metrics peg him as a fringe-average glove.

At this point, I suspect some fans are saying they’d rather have Dyson. After all, the native Mississippian is dynamic on the base paths and in the field, while Jay is closer to average in both facets of the game.

That’s an understandable reaction. However, there are factors supporting Jay as a potentially better fit for the Mariners going forward.

Clearly, the key component of Dyson’s game is his blazing speed. But, he’s 33-years-old and bound to lose a step. As Mike Petriello of MLB.com notes, the eight-year veteran already has in each of the past two seasons.

Jay’s immunity to pitcher handedness would help manager Scott Servais manager preserve in-game lineup versatility. The third-year manager would be more apt to stick with Jay rather than use a pinch-hitter when confronted with left-handed one-out guy (LOOGY).

If he inked a deal with the Mariners, Jay could form a center field platoon with Heredia. Another possibility is Mitch Haniger sees the majority of center field action.

Under such a scenario, Jay (or someone similar) along with Heredia could form a rotation to periodically spot Haniger in center field and see additional playing time in corner outfield spots.

I’m not suggesting the Mariners shouldn’t pursue Dyson or that he has no value. Perhaps, he returns to Seattle. His defensive prowess and dynamic base running are valuable commodities.

Still, there’s a risk with such a strategy. Especially with a player on the wrong side of 30, who’s appeared in 120-plus games in a season just once.

Yes, Jay is also thirty-something. But, his game is far less dependent on foot speed. The time will come when center field won’t be an option for him, although there’s a decent chance the former second round pick’s hit tool ages better than Dyson’s.

It’s possible economic factors could be the determining factor for clubs trying to decide between Jay and Dyson. I’d be more comfortable giving Jay a two-year deal than Dyson for the reasons I’ve already discussed.

Having said that, the Mariners likely need more than just one of these veterans for their outfield rotation. The organization’s depth and versatility is far worse than it was last April.

Seattle started last season with six players capable of playing center field — Dyson, Haniger, Heredia, Leonys Martin, Ben Gamel, and Boog Powell. Only Haniger, Heredia, and Gamel remain with recent acquisition Kirk Nieuwenhuis representing minor league depth more than a viable big league option.

That said; it’s two days after Thanksgiving. I suspect signing Jay, Dyson, or a similar veteran would only be an opening salvo; not the final outfield-related move for Seattle.

Thanks to general manager Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners are certain to continue improving their roster between now and forever.

Hot stove season is so much fun.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins