The John Jaso Family Of Hitters

Dave · November 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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).

Season Name PA Contact% Swing% ISO BABIP wRC+
2008 Joe Mauer 633 0.908 0.358 0.123 0.342 132
2010 Daric Barton 686 0.882 0.349 0.131 0.316 126
2010 David DeJesus 394 0.887 0.386 0.125 0.355 125
2003 Scott Podsednik 628 0.878 0.369 0.129 0.361 122
2010 Brett Gardner 569 0.906 0.31 0.103 0.34 120
2009 Denard Span 676 0.898 0.396 0.104 0.353 118
2007 Joe Mauer 471 0.887 0.362 0.133 0.319 116
2010 John Jaso 404 0.884 0.336 0.115 0.282 116
2009 Marco Scutaro 680 0.934 0.345 0.127 0.304 112
2006 Brian Giles 717 0.933 0.372 0.134 0.272 111
2011 Marco Scutaro 445 0.947 0.376 0.124 0.312 110
2004 Scott Hatteberg 638 0.921 0.367 0.136 0.285 107
2006 Maicer Izturis 399 0.901 0.377 0.119 0.313 106
2010 Jeff Keppinger 575 0.929 0.387 0.105 0.298 105
2009 Craig Counsell 459 0.893 0.382 0.124 0.317 104
2004 Dave Roberts 371 0.882 0.383 0.125 0.282 103
2011 Brett Gardner 588 0.914 0.355 0.11 0.303 103
2007 Maicer Izturis 374 0.889 0.397 0.116 0.308 101
2009 Scott Podsednik 587 0.911 0.391 0.108 0.341 99
2009 Brett Gardner 284 0.878 0.342 0.109 0.311 99
2004 D’Angelo Jimenez 652 0.886 0.35 0.124 0.308 99
2004 John Olerud 500 0.89 0.356 0.115 0.281 98
2003 Scott Hatteberg 622 0.892 0.336 0.129 0.261 95
2011 Alexi Casilla 365 0.877 0.386 0.108 0.294 95
2011 Michael Brantley 496 0.899 0.383 0.118 0.303 93
2006 Jamey Carroll 534 0.915 0.382 0.104 0.339 92
2010 Marco Scutaro 695 0.948 0.375 0.112 0.295 92
2011 Sam Fuld 346 0.901 0.372 0.12 0.276 92
2005 Craig Counsell 670 0.911 0.36 0.119 0.276 91
2002 Mark Grace 348 0.881 0.399 0.134 0.258 91
2007 Dave Roberts 443 0.891 0.392 0.104 0.308 88
2009 Jeff Keppinger 344 0.914 0.383 0.131 0.266 84
2011 John Jaso 273 0.886 0.367 0.13 0.244 82

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.


33 Responses to “The John Jaso Family Of Hitters”

  1. Carson on November 28th, 2011 1:00 pm

    Nice piece.

    Hopefully Jaso sticks with the approach and gets off to a nice start so we don’t see the Eric Wedge “be aggressive” preachings change what he does.

  2. Mariners35 on November 28th, 2011 1:20 pm

    Karmically speaking, even though they play different positions, I’d expect a Jaso rebound next year to be compensation for Casey Kotchman doing well with the Rays.

    The research in this post, and the previous bit on Jaso, certainly does make it seem like he fits very well into the sensible USSM vision. I.e. sprinkling unremarkable but reliable 1 or 2 WAR players among multiple positions, to create a nice stable foundation, rather than going for one big Fielder-sized splash and a lot of prayer.

  3. robbbbbb on November 28th, 2011 1:28 pm

    Any comp list that has Joe Mauer appear on it is pretty good. Any comp list that has Joe Mauer on it twice is lovely.

  4. goat on November 28th, 2011 1:32 pm

    I liked this deal when I first heard of it, and this makes me like it even more. I think it’s reasonable to project at least league average catching next year for a combined cost of under $4M. And perhaps even better and cheaper beyond that.

    I did have one question: why 87% on contact rate and 40% on swing rate? If you tweak those numbers just a little bit you end up with about 4 years of Chone Figgins. Granted they were good years, but apparently that wasn’t something he could sustain (there may even be something in the decline that could be predicted by Figgins sudden drop in ISO a few years before? I don’t know, just a speculation). Jaso’s contact rates aren’t much above 87% either year, so I’m wondering if this would look a bit different if it was dropped to say 85%, or if there’s a reason to cut it off at 87%.

    I like it, but somehow (illogically, perhaps) afraid it won’t work for some reason.

  5. Pete Livengood on November 28th, 2011 1:34 pm

    Seems like a reasonable bet for a bounce-back year and – given how he hits LHP and Olivo and/or Moore hit RHP – a good potential platoon partner for the M’s at catcher. Like everybody else, I love the deal, and this kind of back-up research is a good illustration of why I admire this front office’s approach (even when things don’t work out that well…).

    I’d be even higher on this trade, given it’s “buy low” approach, if we hadn’t simulataneously sold low on Lueke, but the reality is that Z and Friedman are both smart GMs who likely see past the down year and have reached a fair deal based on a fair evaluation of both players. The M’s dealt from a position of relative strength and got back an interesting option for very little $$ outlay at a position of need. Hard to find any fault with this, IMO.

  6. Boy9988 on November 28th, 2011 1:50 pm

    Very nice piece. I was really worried about this deal when I first saw it. I thought giving up a talented young reliever for a player with the major and minor league numbers Jaso had was a terrible idea. But after thinking about how high powered relievers kinda grow on trees in the minors and as you have shown, Jaso is actually not too bad with the stick, trading an unproven bullpen arm for a respectable hitting catcher is a no brainer. This piece just goes to show that he is all the more likely to be a better hitter than we have seen.

  7. bat guano on November 28th, 2011 1:58 pm

    Great stuff Dave. This confirms that Lueke for Jaso is a good gamble by the front office. Let’s hope it works out (and that they have a few more tricks up their sleeves this offseason).

  8. charliebrown on November 28th, 2011 2:02 pm

    This looks like a pretty good deal to me too, but I have a hard time getting excited over a league average hitter.

    I know league average hitting from our catcher is a pretty decent upgrade, but he’s still just league average. I think the Mariners need to bring players that are significantly better than this in order to avoid the doom and gloom that the ZIPS projections have forecast.

  9. Dave on November 28th, 2011 2:08 pm

    I did have one question: why 87% on contact rate and 40% on swing rate?

    I was trying to set the bar low enough so that Jaso cleared it comfortably but still created a list of players with mostly comparable skills. Going down to an 85% contact rate starts to get you into a group of players who strike out quite a bit more than Jaso does.

    That said, the exact filters don’t really matter much. I adjusted the filters to show players between 86% and 90% contact rate, which throws out some of the elite contact hitters like Scutaro, Hatteberg, or a couple of Mauer’s best seasons, and the results are basically the same – the group has a 101 wRC+ overall.

    Essentially, the conclusion is that these hitters are average-ish. The super high contact guys can be a bit above average, the lower power guys can be a bit below average, but overall, they’re basically average.

  10. greentunic on November 28th, 2011 2:11 pm

    League average hitter out of a catcher spot? Sign me up!

    I’m just skeptical with ANYTHING nowadays after the frightening Figgins fiasco. I thought he was the very definition of “money in the bank” when it comes to skillset and track record when we signed him.

  11. hookemdevils22 on November 28th, 2011 2:13 pm

    Excellent post. Let’s hope that the move pays off and brings the team closer to being ‘average’ rather than ‘poor’.

  12. thurston24 on November 28th, 2011 2:17 pm

    I’m happy with the acquisition, the Mariners had a noticeable hole in the system for catchers. This allows for a reasonable player to eliminate a gaping hole for a few years. Also he is 28 and entering his prime, so it is possible that he may improve some more. I will take league average for a catcher who could become better than league average any day.

  13. Steve Nelson on November 28th, 2011 2:23 pm

    greentunic on November 28th, 2011 2:11 pm

    League average hitter out of a catcher spot? Sign me up!

    My thought as well.

  14. The_Waco_Kid on November 28th, 2011 2:26 pm

    Great post, Dave! Useful info.

  15. Lantern on November 28th, 2011 2:42 pm

    “That said, the exact filters don’t really matter much. I adjusted the filters to show players between 86% and 90% contact rate, which throws out some of the elite contact hitters like Scutaro, Hatteberg, or a couple of Mauer’s best seasons, and the results are basically the same – the group has a 101 wRC+ overall.”
    I think this is a FAR more accurate way to compile the list. To understand my point would it make sense to compile a list of players UNDER 89%? Of course not and it also doesn’t make any sense to include players over 90%. The over 90% players may not distort the numbers much but notice the comments on here and people are very excited about some of those players. That distorts perception.

  16. Dave on November 28th, 2011 2:47 pm

    No one’s perception is being distorted. There’s a natural ceiling that made capping contact rate at the top and swing rate at the bottom meaningless, as Jaso is close enough to the top tier of those categories that there aren’t really any examples of players who are drastically above him in those areas.

    Seriously, throw out Mauer if you want. Throw out Scutaro if you think his contact rate is too high. It doesn’t mater. The results are the same.

  17. Celadus on November 28th, 2011 2:53 pm

    This looks like a pretty good deal to me too, but I have a hard time getting excited over a league average hitter.

    charliebrown: Historically, a league average hitter compared to all positions is an above average hitter for a catcher.

    So, perhaps not dramatically exciting, but a bit better than meh.

  18. charliebrown on November 28th, 2011 3:04 pm

    Celadus: I know, and I know it’s an even bigger upgrade over Olivo.

    Still, upgrading to average tastes like mashed potatoes without gravy. A bit better than meh is about right.

  19. jkcmason on November 28th, 2011 3:19 pm

    Good Article Dave, It was interesting to read about Jaso comparables. The patience, contact, and power make this appear to be a good move, but is their another aspect that could be added to the filter showing how well the ball was struck?

    I am not sure if it is just the small sample size of Jaso compared to everyone else, but It appears that his Line Drive % sits around 17% while most others on the list are over 20. I know that ISO brings a little of this to the table, but would line drive % be a decent measurement for how well the ball is struck? Do any of the comparable players seem to fit with Jaso in that mold?

    I don’t have a lot of experience at stat analysis, so I could be barking up the wrong tree.

  20. goat on November 28th, 2011 3:21 pm

    That said, the exact filters don’t really matter much. I adjusted the filters to show players between 86% and 90% contact rate, which throws out some of the elite contact hitters like Scutaro, Hatteberg, or a couple of Mauer’s best seasons, and the results are basically the same – the group has a 101 wRC+ overall.

    Thanks. I didn’t know if he was perhaps a bit on the low end of that contact rate, and someone else might drag it down. It would make sense to throw out a few of the better contact rates if you did lower the bottom a bit more, so this makes sense, and it produces about the same result. Regarding some of the other comments around this idea, I also think the ISO range helps to keep from distorting the overall picture too much.

    It almost seems like this could be as good as the Brendan Ryan acquisition last year: minor league relief pitcher and change turns into a league average regular. (And for people worried about Wedge still playing Olivo way too much, consider what happened with the veteran versus the new young player in that scenario last year.)

  21. robbbbbb on November 28th, 2011 3:24 pm

    I’ll note something, however: If Jaso ends up being a league-average hitter, he probably ends up as a league-averagish player. As has been noted elsewhere (specifically check LL for some details) Jaso’s probably a below-average defensive receiver. He’s going to give back all the positive offensive value in defensive value.

    That said: a league average player for a middle reliever is always a good deal. And the M’s had a hole at catcher that needed repair.

  22. diderot on November 28th, 2011 3:48 pm

    An anticipated wRC+ of 105 among last year’s catchers puts Jaso in the same stratum with Hanigan, Ruiz and Martin–for the price of Lueke.

  23. nathaniel dawson on November 28th, 2011 4:34 pm

    A weighted average really doesn’t tell the whole story, as the better hitters and those players that are going well are going to get more playing time. Only those players that are good enough hitters that teams will stick with them a while are going to show up on the list. Jaso himself is a good example of this; when he was hitting well in 2010, he got 404 plate appearances, when he wasn’t going so well in 2011, that dropped to 273.

    I agree, though, a guy that can be selective, make a lot of contact and draw some walks can be a good hitter without having much power, and having that for cheap as a backup catcher is a good thing to have.

  24. Matthew Carruth on November 28th, 2011 5:04 pm

    It changes nothing Dave, but I think your list is minorly off. Looks to me like 2006 Dave Roberts (90%, 29%, .1002) qualifies as well and had a 113.5 wRC+

  25. Dave on November 28th, 2011 6:06 pm

    Looks like my use of the greater than (and not greater than or equal to) filter tossed him out of the sample. But, yeah, there’s another example.

  26. TomC on November 28th, 2011 7:50 pm

    I agree with Dave that this looks like a good deal.

    But doesn’t this show why it is a bad idea to waste draft picks (at least reasonably high ones)on potential relief pitchers? If replacement level catcher > middle reliever then why draft middle relievers? cough Josh Fields cough first round pick cough.

  27. NBarnes on November 28th, 2011 7:55 pm

    I’ll note something, however: If Jaso ends up being a league-average hitter, he probably ends up as a league-averagish player. As has been noted elsewhere (specifically check LL for some details) Jaso’s probably a below-average defensive receiver. He’s going to give back all the positive offensive value in defensive value.

    A league average hitter playing at catcher with below average defense is going to have a comfortably above average total value. Catcher defense is less important than people give it credit for, and catchers that can hit at all are rare.

  28. Mariner Analyst on November 28th, 2011 9:44 pm

    Hey Dave,

    I’ve been reading a lot of comments by Rays fans on the MLB message boards and I’m not liking what I’m hearing regarding Jaso’s overall defense. There are a lot of comments like “terrible at blocking pitches in the dirt”, “Rays pitchers were not happy with the way he called the game”, “can’t handle pitchers”, and “very shaky behind the dish.” In looking at his overall defensive stats and the fact that the Rays were tied for the 7th Best overall ERA this past year though, I find all of that very hard to believe. Can you tell me, are those fans right in their perceptions … or is this more akin to how one starts to feel about an ex-girlfriend once you’ve been dumped? Are these guys right that he’s shaky behind the dish and can’t handle a pitching staff? An inquiring mind would love to hear your .02.

  29. Dave on November 28th, 2011 9:53 pm

    Here’s what we know about Jaso as a defender – he has a bad arm. That’s about it. Everything else you read about his framing, pitch calling, work with pitchers… that’s all just talk at this point. No one is all that close to figuring out how to evaluate catcher defense with any authority – work is being done on the subject, but it’s extremely preliminary, and conclusions shouldn’t be drawn at this point.

    We can be pretty sure that Jaso isn’t Yadier Molina, but we can’t say much beyond that.

  30. The Ancient Mariner on November 29th, 2011 3:57 am

    Actually, I thought we didn’t even know that — I’ve seen comments that his arm is pretty good, that his poor performance in throwing out runners is the result of bad footwork, not a bad arm.

  31. Mariner Analyst on November 29th, 2011 5:53 am

    Thanks for the thoughts Dave. That’s kind of what I thought.

    Jaso shared that he had a groin and oblique injuries last year. I know that everyone deals with injuries in this game, but I think that might affect defense — especially for a catcher. I’m hurting just thinking about getting down in a catcher’s stance with a groin injury — to say nothing about trying to block balls in the dirt.

    The reason that I asked all that is because I’ve been trying to put myself in Tampa Bay’s position and ask myself, “Why exactly did they make such a move?” How does this trade make sense from a Rays point of view? I mean, unless the Rays have some medical report in their possession that reads like a Stephen King novel, I don’t get why they chose to trade away Jaso — especially for a guy like Lueke. Catching (particularly young catching) is at such a premium in this league. They are hard to find and once you do, you don’t let them go. Relievers, on the other hand, in all honesty are a dime a dozen. Putting aside all the off the field concerns surrounding Lueke, I’m still not understanding this from a talent point of view. I know that he flashed closer stuff and that the organization viewed him as potential closer as well. Well unless the Rays saw Lueke as a future Mariano Rivera or something, I’m not understanding this from their point of view. Jaso’s not arbitration eligible yet. Unless they view his defense and game calling as absolutely unacceptable … unless he has some sort of waving red flag injury … unless he’s making a lot of money or very likely could be (which he’s not) I have to admit I’m a bit stumped. Unless the PTBNL is an impact player (which I’m doubting) I kind of feel like Zduriencik fleeced the Rays a bit on this deal.

  32. gwangung on November 29th, 2011 8:27 am

    Hm. So, what are the park adjustments here…isn’t Tampa moderately harder on lefties than Safeco?

  33. MKT on November 29th, 2011 10:36 am

    Wonderful stuff. To me the real question though (granted it’s a ton more work so this is not a request, it’s more of a rhetorical question): how did those comparable hitters do their NEXT season? There are two elements of uncertainty here: plain old white noise which causes every player’s performance to vary from year to year. But the one that I wonder about is what happened to these players’ Contact%, Swing%, and ISO their next seasons? What is the probability that Jaso will maintain his “membership” in this group, vs. changing (due to altering his approach, coaching, or improving thanks to experience or declining thanks to aging) and moving himself into a different group of comparable players?

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