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The curious case of Jon Jay

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One hot month landed the Royals two young arms

Kansas City Royals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Less than a month ago, I was drafting a blog post about Jon Jay and the devaluation of the hit tool. He was hitting .290 with a .350 OBP and was one of the hottest hitters in baseball. Yet, as of May 24, he had an OPS below .700 with a wRC+ of 91 and a wOBA of .307. Despite being a .290/.350 player, Jay wasn’t actually an above league average hitter because his power tool was a black hole.

Then Jay took it up a notch. He was already having one of the hottest months in baseball, hitting .346 through May 27. However, his ISO was still an anemic .048 and he was slugging under the .400 mark. The power black hole was still, more or less, a black hole. That changed on May 28 when Jay put together his second four-hit game of the season, with three of them being doubles.

That single game brought Jay’s SLG% up nearly 30 points, from .337 to .362. Up until that game, Jay had just seven extra-base hits, with five doubles and two triples. In his last eight games as a Royal, Jay nearly doubled that with four doubles and his first homer of the season, slugging .606 during that span. He also continued to be a multi-hit machine during that period, hitting .394, and bringing his season average up to a season-high .311 on June 4.

It wasn’t long after that, just two days in fact, that Jay was shipped off to Arizona for a pair of minor league pitchers. One of those pitchers, Elvis Luciano, is an 18-year-old right-hander who was the 28th ranked prospect in the Diamondbacks system according to Baseball America. According to Fangraphs, he has a 55-grade curveball and sits anywhere from 90-94. Author Eric Longenhagen also added that he is “only 18 but isn’t especially projectable, physically.” There is some upside to Luciano and his counterpart Gabe Speier is a lefty who has been fairly tough on fellow left-handers out of the bullpen.

I don’t want to speculate that Jon Jay wouldn’t have been traded without that little week-long run of power hitting glory. Right field has been a black hole for the Diamondbacks, with Chris Owings, Jarrod Dyson (ugh), and Steven Souza combining to hit just .186 with a wRC+ of 43.

Dyson’s defense has been very good, as always, and he is also 6th in the NL in stolen bases, but the Diamondbacks clearly needed a right field fix. Given what the Diamondbacks have gotten offensively for their right field merry-go-round, .290/.350/.340 from Jay would have certainly been an upgrade. That is especially true when you consider that Jay is currently playing the best defense of his career.

It is clear, however, that his late surge nudged Dayton Moore in the right direction and gave him an opportunity to deal Jay while he was a commodity. Given that they spent just $3 million on Jay and had limited expectations for him on the season, it’s hard to be disappointed with this outcome.

It reminds me of how I used to manage my old Madden 2010 franchises. The first thing I would do as the new GM of whatever poor team hired me was sign Edgerrin James and Plaxico Burress, only to trade them for first-round picks almost immediately.

These aren’t first round picks but for less than half of a season out of Jay, the Royals got two young arms in return, much due to his late May surge.

Jay almost certainly won’t be the last Royal traded and his haul won’t be the flashiest. But thanks to a hot May, that haul is exponentially better than what it would have been just one month earlier.