The John Jaso Family Of Hitters
Since Jaso’s value is primarily tied to how well he hits – and he didn’t hit very well last year – I decided to look and see how players with similar skillsets have fared over the last 10 years in order to give us a better understanding of what kind of results should be expected given this particular blend of abilities. To create a list of comparable player seasons, I isolated players who had shown similar skills in approach, contact rate, and power. More specifically, the list includes 34 players who had at least 250 plate appearances in a season, made contact at least 87% of the time they swung the bat, swung at 40% or fewer of the pitches they were thrown, and had an Isolated Slugging mark between .100 and .140.
This gives us 34 guys who match up with Jaso’s offensive profile very well – they’re patient hitters who lack big time power but offset some of that with an ability to put the bat on the ball with frequency. Overall, these guys compiled 16,866 plate appearances in the season in which they showed similar skills as Jaso, so we’re dealing with a pretty good sample of similar players.
Here’s the table of their performances, sorted by wRC+, which shows how far their offensive performance was above or below the league average (which is 100 by definition).
You’ll note Jaso’s 2011 is at the very bottom of the list. Because we’ve essentially controlled for approach, contact abilities, and power, the variable that drives the differences in results is almost entirely the player’s BABIP in that season. Jaso’s .244 mark is by far the worst posted by any of these players, and so naturally, his overall production comes out worse than the rest as well.
The good news? The weighted average BABIP for players showing this skillset was .306, so there’s simply no evidence that these type of hitters are prone to posting lower than average BABIPs as a group. And, while you might point out that Jaso is a slow-footed catcher who should be prone to low BABIPs due to his lack of speed, the comparable player list is peppered with the likes of similar sloths, including Joe Mauer, John Olerud, Daric Barton, Scott Hatteberg, and Mark Grace. There are some fast guys on the list who were able to inflate their BABIPs by bunting and getting infield singles, but this is certainly not just Jaso and a bunch of speed merchants – this offensive skillset is shared by fast and slow players alike.
The weighted average wRC+ of the group, by the way, was 105 – this is a selection of players that are generally slightly above average Major League hitters. The fact that we capped power production at an ISO of .140 means that there’s almost no chance of a hitter having a great offensive season – Joe Mauer’s 132 wRC+ in 2008 is the closest we come, and he’s obviously the very best version of this type of hitter in the sport – but this skillset also has a pretty high floor. Only three of the 34 player seasons resulted in a wRC+ of 90 or below, which shows how hard it is to be an offensive sinkhole when you make contact this often and don’t chase pitches out of the strike zone.
As long as Jaso is able to maintain his contact rates and the level of power he’s shown to date, history suggests that he’s going to be something close to a league average hitter going forward. His 2011 performance is the absolute floor for a player with his skills, and given some natural bounce in his BABIP, he should easily be expected to be a positive offensive contributor next year.
Jaso is exactly the kind of hitter who shows why looking at process instead of results is important. If you just focus on his slash line from last year, he looks like a bad hitter. If you dig a little deeper, however, you’ll realize that Jaso belongs to a group of players who are almost always productive at the plate, and you should expect Jaso to produce at a similar level again next year.