John Jaso Will Not Cool Off
John Jaso homered again last night, his ninth home run of the year. Hitting nine home runs might not sound like much, but keep in mind that Jaso only has 329 plate appearances this year, since he spent April on the bench and doesn’t play against left-handers. And, of course, John Jaso does things besides hitting home runs, like drawing walks, hitting doubles, and avoiding strikeouts, so he’s a much better hitter than his raw home run totals suggest.
And, at this point, his continued production throughout the season suggests that he might just be a better hitter than anyone has given him credit for. While there was some thought that his early success would be exposed as a fluke through additional playing time, that simply hasn’t proven true in any way, shape, or form.
His walks are up, his strikeouts are down, his power is basically holding steady, and his BABIP fluctuations are pretty normal. September is the fourth consecutive month where Jaso is running a wRC+ over 145 – for comparison, Prince Fielder‘s wRC+ this year is 146.
I posted an older version of this list a few months ago, but again, here are the batters who are hitting right-handed pitching better than John Jaso this year:
Jaso is hitting right-handers better than Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, and Ryan Braun, to name just a few. And while his track record suggests that this is likely a career year, there’s just nothing in his profile that looks like a big red flag for why this can’t continue.
We know that Jaso only swings at strikes, posting the fourth lowest O-Swing% in all of baseball at 20.8%. While this kind of patient approach at the plate has come under fire for its passiveness in local media coverage over the past year or so, the reality is that not chasing pitches out of the strike zone is directly responsible for Jaso’s production. Here are the percentages of his plate appearances this year that have ended in either a batter’s count, a pitcher’s count, or an even count, with the league average in the next column.
If Jaso had league average rates of hitters and pitchers counts, he’d have had 31 more plate appearances end with a pitcher’s pitch, rather than a hitter’s pitch. How big a deal is that? The league average hitter in the AL this year hits .299/.464/.512 when ahead the count, but just .206/.214/.308 when behind in the count. So, essentially, Jaso’s patience has resulted in 31 plate appearances where even an average hitter performs like an MVP candidate instead of like a decent hitting pitcher. And since Jaso is a better than average hitter, he’s received even a larger benefit, hitting .261/.568/.536 when ahead in the count compared to just .226/.233/.321 when behind in the count.
This is absolutely a repeatable skillset. This isn’t Mike Carp getting a bunch of balls to fall in last year. This is more Michael Saunders driving the ball to left field. This is a real thing, and a proven way of success for Major League hitters. It’s overly simple, but letting pitchers fall behind in the count and then whacking their fastball is basically the best plan any hitter can have at the plate. And that’s Jaso’s plan, which has been exceptionally productive and consistent this year.
Jaso’s not a perfect player. His problems against lefties mean that his overall numbers would decline if pushed into an everyday role, and apparently pitchers still grumble about the way he catches the ball, but yet the pros so far outweigh the cons that Jaso has established himself as one of the better catchers in baseball at this point. Even just taking his career numbers, he has a 115 wRC+ in 1,000 trips to the plate, which only eight catchers with 300+ PA have been able to beat this year. And if any of his power improvement this year is real, maybe he’s more of a 120 wRC+ guy, which puts him in the same category as guys like Miguel Montero or Carlos Santana.
We talked about Mike Zunino last week, and how he’s showing that he might get to Seattle at some point next year. But, while we can be excited about what Zunino might be pretty soon, we should remember that the Mariners currently have a pretty good catcher right now, and one who deserves a dramatically expanded role next year. John Jaso is this team’s best hitter, and is a well above average Major League bat. He should be in the line-up against every right-handed pitcher, and with frequent pinch-hitting appearances, he should probably be pushing 500 plate appearances next year.
While there’s been a lot of focus on the guys who haven’t developed this year, John Jaso is the thing that has gone most right for the Mariners. They have a catcher of the future coming, but they also have a catcher of the present that’s already here, and deserves a chance to show what he can do as the primary catcher of a big league staff. If Zunino forces his way onto the roster next summer, then they’ll figure out what to do with too many good catchers. For right now, though, Jaso has established himself as a key piece of the team’s future.