John Jaso Will Not Cool Off

Dave · September 18, 2012 at 12:32 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Mar/Apr 20 5.0% 15.0% 0.333 0.286 164
May 67 13.4% 10.4% 0.161 0.240 103
Jun 52 17.3% 19.2% 0.140 0.406 162
Jul 65 15.4% 16.9% 0.200 0.333 164
Aug 81 19.8% 11.1% 0.188 0.264 146
Sept/Oct 44 15.9% 9.1% 0.139 0.290 145

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:

Robinson Cano, 192 wRC+
Joey Votto, 189 wRC+
Miguel Cabrera, 175 wRC+
Mike Trout, 173 wRC+
Andre Ethier, 164 wRC+
Prince Fielder, 164 wRC+
John Jaso, 160 wRC+

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.

Player Ahead Behind Even
John Jaso 38.3% 26.4% 35.9%
AL Average 28.6% 35.1% 36.2%

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.


17 Responses to “John Jaso Will Not Cool Off”

  1. spankystout on September 18th, 2012 12:52 pm

    Jaso is awesome! Olivo is not.

  2. Westside guy on September 18th, 2012 1:51 pm

    I have been a bit disappointed Jaso hasn’t been given much of a chance to face lefties. His numbers are really bad against them, but it’s such a small sample size. It seems like this month would’ve been a perfect time to give him those ABs in a situation where the team isn’t playing for anything meaningful.

  3. Mariners35 on September 18th, 2012 1:51 pm

    Excellent write-up.

    I’d be very curious to see a similar explanation, a full post, of Kyle Seager’s success and possibilities. I’ve seen in a few places in comments of posts or in Fangraphs chats about how you think Seager is having a career year, he’s likely hit his ceiling, he’s going to regress, etc. etc.

    Since Seager seems to get a lot of love among M’s fans this year, it’d be interesting to see a post similar to your Jaso post here, laying out the statistical case and skillset case for why you think Kyle will not continue to be a 3+ WAR player year over year. I’m not fixated on the 2-out RBI thing or any other kind of clutchiness. I’m just wondering why you think this is the peak of his defense (which by eye seems average to above average at 3b) or his offense (3.8 fWAR, 7th among all ML 3b; 108 wRC+, basically same as Hanley Ramirez).

    I.e. for Jaso, you sum it up as “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.”. What are the big red flags for Seager? Why will Seager likely be anything less than he has been?

  4. Dave on September 18th, 2012 2:03 pm

    Short version – Seager’s WAR includes nearly half a win of estimated defensive value from his 15 games at second base, which is of course completely unsustainable, and it’s unlikely he even plays much second base in future years. Seager’s a decent defensive third baseman, but between his UZR and the position adjustment factoring in some 2B playing time, he’s basically up +1 win on defense this year. I don’t see Seager as an Adrian Beltre type defender at third base who can sustain that kind of defensive value.

    In terms of offense, it’s hard to see where you’d project much improvement. He’s not really a high contact hitter who should be striking out less than he has been, nor does he take a lot of pitches, so his walk rates probably won’t increase all that much. And, as a 5’10 guy with a slight frame, there’s a limit to how much power he’s going to hit for. He could make some incremental gains in these areas, but there isn’t one area where you can point to and say “he’s got a lot of room for growth there”.

    Seager’s a guy who does everything decently. That’s certainly useful, and I don’t think they should get rid of him, but it’s also not a skillset that has a lot of room for improvement. He can’t just go get taller and stronger over the winter without also getting bigger and slower, so even if he adds power, it will probably just come at the cost of some defensive value and speed.

  5. Milendriel on September 18th, 2012 2:12 pm

    One thing I’m confused about: Fielder’s wOBA is 13 points higher than Jaso’s, yet the wRC+ gap is only 2 points. Is there a positional adjustment applied to wRC+?

  6. Dave on September 18th, 2012 2:18 pm

    Park factors.

  7. Milendriel on September 18th, 2012 2:20 pm

    Ooh, forgot about those! That makes a lot of sense, thanks.

  8. PackBob on September 18th, 2012 2:27 pm

    Off and on we hear about pitchers not liking catchers, or not liking something about a catcher’s approach, but rarely any specifics. Just what are the Mariner’s pitchers grumbling about with Jaso’s catching? Is it something that need’s to be fixed? Is it something that can be fixed? Is it a comparative thing (e.g., Olivo does “this” better).

    Or maybe more importantly, with Jaso’s good hitting, does it have any negative affect on pitcher performance?

  9. 9inningknowitall on September 18th, 2012 2:39 pm

    I really agree that Jaso is someone that should be given far more time behind the plate. Even if Zunino gets called up next season I can see him being slowly broken in by facing the lefties while Jaso faces the righties. With Montero being moved to a 1b/DH/3rd string in case of emergency back up catcher role, I think that it would be a good step for the M’s.

    Also about your Seager thoughts I agree that I don’t see him improving a lot more than where he is at but having someone of his current skill set is still useful. Even if the team gets a stronger 3rd baseman Seager has the ability to play a role like Bloomquist did, but better.

  10. miscreant on September 18th, 2012 3:01 pm

    It’s the beard. Take away the beard and Jaso is nothing but a sub Mendoza line hitter.

  11. Thirteen on September 18th, 2012 3:12 pm

    Re: Seager, isn’t there a potential for big upwards regression in his Safeco stats? He’s such a fly ball hitter that it’s easy to see why Safeco and cold weather might affect him particularly badly. Nothing about his road numbers seems particularly unsustainable, but the overall BABIP is low because his Safeco BABIP is an unsustainable-looking .240. Perhaps the splits are in part luck-based, but I feel like Seager’s offense is better than wRC+ gives him credit for because the bad weather at Safeco made this year’s park factor worse for hitters than it has been historically. Next year, if the park effects return to normal, his offensive WAR production should take a significant step forwards even if his underlying performance doesn’t improve, as he stops getting abused by the park and the park factors are bumped down by this year’s numbers. Right?

  12. Kazinski on September 18th, 2012 4:36 pm

    I think Jaso should start getting some reps at 1b, in preparation for Zunino getting here. We’ve got a big hole at 1b, and we’ve got 3 catchers that should be above average hitters. There are about 650 PA’s a year available at the catchers position, when Zunino gets here he should be getting about 400 – 450 of those PA’s, plus another 50 or so at DH/PH. Jaso and Montero can split the other 200. Jaso should be totaling about 450-500 PA, since he’ll probably sit against a lot of tough lefthanders. Montero should also be getting about 500-550 PA.

    That would fill the catchers slot and 80-90% of the PA’s at 1b and Catcher. It seems to me that rather than try to find a replacement for Smoak, any over capacity at the catchers position should be used to fill the hole at 1b.

  13. californiamariner on September 18th, 2012 5:08 pm

    All the more reason for Montero to learn first base. I wish they would have let Montero get some game action during these last month of meaningless games. There’s simply not gonna be enough room for Montero, Jaso, Zunino to all catch/DH.

  14. bookbook on September 18th, 2012 5:34 pm

    Every so often, a Seager-type just exceeds his tools. The M’s would be well-served to play it out and see if he does. We fans would be well-served to just think of Seager as a Bloomquist superheavy, and be pleasantly surprised by anything beyond that.

  15. _Hutch_ on September 18th, 2012 5:46 pm

    The bat is legit and Z and the front office deserve a lot of credit for acquiring a legitimate major league starter for next to nothing. Consider it the anti-Morrow trade.

    Simply going by my not-so-finely trained eye, the defense is a question. His arm seems worse than Montero’s and his pitch blocking not much better. If we assume that Zunino becomes what we hope he will (don’t count your chickens before they hatch, etc.), Jaso needs another position to play just as badly as Montero. I know the reviews were spotty when he tried in ST, but I think he should get reps at 1B just like Montero will presumably get. He may not be a natural athlete but it seems like he has a better chance of being a passable 1B than Montero, who moves like Mo Vaughn.

  16. stevemotivateir on September 18th, 2012 6:18 pm


    Some quick sample stats for you-

    Jaso in 40 games catching has 238 put-outs in 253 total chances, 0 errors, 3 passed balls, 23 stolen bases allowed, 7 caught stealing.

    Montero in 51 games has 376 put-outs in 398 total chances, 3 errors, 6 passed balls, 50 stolen bases allowed, 10 caught stealing.

    He’s a better defensive catcher than Montero in nearly every way. Train your eye to look at stats!

  17. Paul B on September 18th, 2012 7:58 pm

    Olivo has more ABs than Jaso. Thanks, Eric Wedge!

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