The unsinkable Jon Jay

There's no such thing as a "Second Half MVP" award, but if the honor existed, Cardinals' outfielder Jon Jay would be a strong contender in the National League. Jay has gone berserk since the All-Star break. In 138 plate appearances he's batting .384 with a .474 onbase percentage and a .491 slugging percentage. That's a .966 OPS. And those numbers are crazy good. 

Among MLB hitters with a minimum of 125 plate appearances since the All-Star break, Jay is second to Jose Abreu in batting average, first in OBP, and fourth in OPS. The only MLB hitters with a higher second-half OPS are Giancarlo Stanton, Abreu, and Buster Posey. 

And there's something new to the mix ... Jay isn't a power hitter by trade, but his second-half slugging percentage is higher than that of a long list of notables including Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Beltran, Robinson Cano and Jonathan Lucroy. 

Jon Jay ... call him the Angry Bird. And he's making a statement, eh? 

Jay isn't literally angry but there's no question that there'd an "edge" to his game. It isn't just the offense; Jay made two excellent catches in RF to save Thursday's 3-2 win over the Brewers. So obviously all of his hard work to improve has made a difference.

Think about Jay's last 12, 15 months or so. He struggled defensively in center ... he went through some exasperating slumps; as late as July 21st of last season Jay was batting only .247 ... he was streaky ... he batted .192 in the postseason and at times appeared to lack confidence with his play in center ... Shane Robinson started three postseason games in CF in place of Jay, including two in the World Series ... then in December, GM John Mozeliak essentially made a trade to give the Cardinals a new look in center, acquiring Peter Bourjos from the Angels. 

I was one of many who wrote off Jay. I can't be a phony about this. I thought Bourjos should play, and would play. And I assumed Jay's role would be reduced to that of a fourth outfielder. (And by the way: there's nothing wrong with being a fourth OF.)

But there's one thing about Jay that many, including me, have continued to underestimate: his competitiveness.

Jay wasn't supposed to beat out Colby Rasmus for the gig in center -- but he did. 

Jay wasn't supposed to stay around long enough in center to start for a 2011 team that won the World Series, a 2012 team that made it to Game 7 of the NLCS, and a 2013 team that won the NL pennant. 

Jay wasn't supposed to be as prominent in 2014 -- not with Bourjos on the scene, and outfield prospects Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk on the way.

Talk about survival skills. Jay keeps working and working and working  to improve ... he's definitely wired for competition. He's willing to fend off challengers. He doesn't pout or go into the tank. If a GM or a media jackal or even the manager is inclined to move Jay aside, he always has a response. Which basically amounts to this: Forget about it. I won't let that happen. You'll see. 

Jay refuses to say goodbye. By now it's pretty obvious that you can't kick him out of here. And why would you want to? The Jon Jay that we've been watching for the last couple of months is playing the best ball of his career.

Oh, I'm aware of his inflated average on balls in play (.441) since the All-Star break. I'm aware that no one can stay this hot over a really long period of time. I know that Jon Jay -- with all due respect -- isn't Ichiro Suzuki, circa 2004. But right now Jay is hitting like the peak-form Ichiro. It's nuts. Jay's second-half OPS is 75 points higher than the next Cardinal on the list, Matt Holliday. Jay's been that much better than everyone else on the team.

Moreover, the combo of Bourjos in CF and Jay in RF gives the Cardinals plenty of defensive giddyup. They're getting to the liners and flies and drives. You should have heard Brewers Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker raving about the Jay-Bourjos defense during Thursday's radio broadcast. 

We can talk small sample sizes and all of that, but Jay has been one of the best players in baseball since the All-Star break. That is a fact. The Angry Bird won't be shooed away. 

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