Can We Finally Stop Underrating John Jaso?

Dave · October 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

January update: Sigh…

Over at the official team site, Greg Johns weighs in with a piece on the team’s options at catcher for next year. There’s nothing earth-shattering in there, as it contains a bunch of non-committal quotes from Jack and Wedge about how they’re going to sort out the catching situation. The piece focuses primarily on Montero and Zunino at the beginning, then closes with these two paragraphs on John Jaso:

Jaso was a pleasant surprise for the Mariners both as a clutch hitter and capable catcher, but his playing time was limited by his difficulties against left-handed pitchers. The lefty swinging Jaso batted .302 with a .927 OPS in 308 plate appearances against right-handers compared to .119 with a .393 OPS in 53 plate appearances against southpaws.

Jaso caught many of Felix Hernandez‘s starts, including his perfect game, and Wedge gave him more of a full-time role either at DH or catcher as the season played out. But it remains a reasonable debate as to whether Jaso excelled because Wedge put him in the best position to succeed by limiting his exposure to lefties or if he should play every day, no matter who is on the mound.

I’m not trying to pick on Johns here, who I like and who does a good job covering the team’s beat. But, I gotta be honest, the continual downplaying of John Jaso by the local media is getting tiring. Jaso’s playing time wasn’t limited because of his problems against left-handers – it was limited because Eric Wedge didn’t realize that he was actually a good player, and ignorantly kept him on the bench for the first month of the season before an injury forced him into putting Jaso in the line-up.

Let’s not talk about him like some young kid who had a good September but doesn’t have a track record for the team to really know what they have yet. John Jaso is a 29-year-old with 1,048 plate appearances in the big leagues. He has the equivalent of two full major League catcher seasons under his belt, and during that time, he’s hit .255/.359/.395, good for a 116 wRC+. Here is the entire list of Major League catchers who have hit accumulated 1,000 or more plate appearances in the big leagues since 2008 (when Jaso debuted, albeit briefly) and posted a wRC+ of 110 or higher:

Buster Posey – 142 wRC+
Joe Mauer – 139 wRC+
Mike Napoli -133 wRC+
Carlos Santana – 124 wRC+
Victor Martinez – 121 wRC+
Brian McCann – 118 wRC+
John Jaso – 116 wRC+
Alex Avila – 115 wRC+
Miguel Montero – 113 wRC+
Jorge Posada – 113 wRC+
Carlos Ruiz – 112 wRC+
Yadier Molina – 110 wRC+
Ryan Doumit – 110 wRC+

That’s the whole list. Notice how none of them have been pigeonholed as part-timers by their franchises? Every catcher who shows this kind of offensive performance is rewarded with a regular job. Now, let’s look at just the left-handed hitting catchers in baseball, which includes four guys from that list and one regular who hasn’t even been anywhere near as good but is still considered an everyday guy on a contender, and see how they’ve fared against left-handed pitching over this same time frame.

Joe Mauer – 117 wRC+
Brian McCann – 100 wRC+
Alex Avila – 89 wRC+
Miguel Montero – 86 wRC+
A.J. Pierzynski – 85 wRC+

Notice how they’re all significantly worse against lefties than against righties? Mauer’s the only one who even grades out as an above average hitter against lefties, and he’s still not even remotely as effective against LHPs as he is against RHPs. McCann, Avila, and Montero are three of the better catchers in baseball, and all have their problems against southpaws. Pierzynski has been a starting catcher for the better part of the last decade, even despite his problems against left-handed pitching.

Instead of deciding that struggles against left-handers are some kind of deal-breaker, these franchises have realized there isn’t really such a thing as a left-handed hitting catcher who excels against left-handed pitching. Mauer — one of the game’s truly elite players, who is making $23 million per year for the next six years — is the only example in the sport of a left-handed catcher who you feel strongly needs to be in the line-up against most left-handed pitchers. Every other guy on that list can comfortably be platooned, and in fact, most of them have been to some degree.

Again, same 2008-2012 time period, here are the percentages of plate appearances that these five regular left-handed catchers have gotten against RHPs and LHPs.

Mauer: 64%/36%
McCann: 68%/32%
Montero: 76%/24%
Pierzynski: 77%/23%
Avila: 78%/22%

In other words, if we extrapolate out to 500 plate appearances over a whole season, these “full-time” left-handed catchers will get between 110 and 180 plate appearances against lefties. And, really, 180 is artificially high because the Twins use Mauer at 1B/DH against left-handers occasionally in order to keep his bat in the line-up. McCann is really more of the example of what an “everyday” left-handed catcher would expect, and out of 500 plate appearances, he’d face 160 lefties.

Jaso, for his career, is at 86/14, so he’s been platooned more heavily than any of them, of course. But, this idea that he just can’t handle an expanded role falls apart when you actually apply the math. Let’s assume that the Mariners and Rays had given Jaso the kind of workload that Montero/Avila/Pierzynski got, so his platoon distribution was actually 77%/23% instead of 86%/14%. We’re also going to assume he wouldn’t have performed any better against left-handers than he actually did even while seeing them more often (a dubious claim, especially since most of his problems against LHPs stem from a low BABIP, but that’s a separate argument), and that playing regularly wouldn’t improve his overall performance against righties, which has been argued by local beat writers before when we called for Raul Ibanez to be platooned. For now, we’ll just forego both of those discussions which could argue for improved overall numbers from Jaso and just go with what he actually did.

To reallocate his playing time into a more “full time” role, we’re going to simply shift his 1,048 PAs from its current distribution and into one where 77% of his plate appearances come against right-handers and 23% come against left-handers. The redistribution would leave him with 807 PAs against righties and 241 PAs against let-handers, so it moves 90 plate appearances from vs RHP tally into the vs LHP side of the ledger. Now, let’s recalculate Jaso’s total offensive performance after re-weighting his line against each side by his new distribution.

New PA wRC+   Old PA wRC+
Vs RHP 807 125   Vs RHP 897 125
Vs LHP 241 61   Vs LHP 151 61
Total 1,048 110   Total 1,048 116

By playing him like a “regular”, Jaso’s career wRC+ would drop all the way from 116 down to 110. Truly, a crushing blow to his value. If you prefer it in run values, the total negative from not platooning him any heavier than Montero, Avila, or Pierzynski would have cost him a whopping seven runs over the equivalent of two full seasons worth of playing time.

Here’s the reality – the idea that his line is massively inflated because of the way he was handled simply doesn’t add up. Jaso’s overall line is slightly better than it would have otherwise been had he faced a more normal split of righties and lefties, but the gap is not anywhere close to what it’s being made out to be. Even if John Jaso had been put into a Brian McCann-style role, he still would grade out as an above average hitter, simply because his performance against RHPs has been so good.

No, he’s not good at throwing out opposing base stealers, having gunned down just 20% of opponents trying to take a base off of him in his career. But, guess what? A.J. Pierzynski’s only thrown out 23% of career base stealers, and Brian McCann’s at 24%. The Major League average for caught stealing this year was 26%. Jaso is marginally worse at this than most regular catchers, but the gap is in all honestly not very large.

And no, opposing runners simply aren’t taking advantage of Jaso and turning games into a track meet when he’s back there – teams have attempted one steal every 11.4 innings off of him during his career, compared to a league average of one attempt every 9.9 innings off an average catcher.

There is simply no argument to be made that Jaso’s problems against left-handers or his throwing serve to significantly drag down his value to the point where he’s best served in some kind of part-time bench role like he was used this year. His usage this year was a mistake, and one that should absolutely be corrected in 2013.

John Jaso is a Major League quality starting catcher, and based on his MLB performance to date — again, in over two full seasons worth of playing time — he’s showed that he’s probably one of the 10 best catchers in baseball. That doesn’t mean you have to run him out there against every left-hander, but using him like the Diamondbacks used Montero or the White Sox used Pierzynski is completely rational. That’s around 120 starts per year, with a bias towards using his days off when a left-hander is on the mound.

John Jaso is pretty obviously the team’s best hitter right now. He might very well be the team’s best player, even with his moderate power, big platoon splits, and his mediocre throwing arm. While Eric Wedge failed to recognize Jaso’s strengths and simply focused on his weaknesses, that doesn’t mean that we have to do the same. Jaso isn’t a perfect player, but besides Joe Mauer, there are no perfect left-handed hitting Major League catchers. Other organizations have realized that the positives so far outweigh the negatives that they’ve simply found a capable right-handed hitting back-up to start 40 games a year and let their lefty hitting catchers be significant assets to the organization.

The Mariners just need to do the same thing. At some point in the near future, it’s quite possible that Mike Zunino is going to push John Jaso out of the way, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that there’s some kind of sense of urgency to get him to the Majors to fill a gaping hole. The Mariners already have one of the better catchers in baseball and a guy who has done everything possible to deserve a shot as a full-time regular Major League player. At this point, not giving him that opportunity would simply be stubbornness. There are just no other part-time players in baseball that have played this well and not been given the chance to run with a full-time job. When someone performs as well as Jaso has over 1,000+ plate appearances, they get a chance because they’ve earned it.

Wedge might not love Jaso’s skillset. He might prefer a catcher with a cannon arm or better framing technique, or a louder personality who takes charge and looks more like a general behind the plate. None of that should matter. It’s time for Jack to simply tell Eric Wedge that John Jaso is his starting catcher next year, and that the roster will be built accordingly. Jaso has earned that opportunity.

Pretending that he’s just some kind of unproven, unknown entity with questionable value is not an accurate representation of the facts. John Jaso is a very good Major League hitter, and as a left-hander who can also catch, that makes him a pretty rare commodity in the sport. Rather than focusing on what he can’t do, it’s time for everyone to recognize what John Jaso can do, and give him the opportunity show it over a full season.


73 Responses to “Can We Finally Stop Underrating John Jaso?”

  1. Thirteen on October 16th, 2012 2:39 pm


    While I agree with your assessment that Jaso is a better hitter vs. left-handed pitching than his wRC+ splits would dictate, I disagree with your dismissal (based on LD%) of the notion that he’s making weaker contact vs. those pitchers. Batted ball profiles take a long time to stabilize, and you of all people should know that it’s silly to chase unstabilized statistics over sample sizes as small as what Jaso has done vs. left-handed pitching. In small sample sizes scouting usually outpredicts statistical analysis. If we had Hit F/X data, or if line drives were better defined, it would be different, but we don’t and they aren’t. Line drive percentage often has as much to do with scorer’s whims as quality of contact. Remember Smoak’s above average LD% in April?

    Jaso won’t put up a .130 BABIP vs. left-handed pitching given a full season of appearances, but I’m not sure I would expect him to put up a .300 BABIP either.

  2. MangoLiger on October 16th, 2012 2:45 pm


    I know he put up decent numbers in 2010. But he followed that up with not decent numbers in 2011.

    My point is that we don’t know how much weight Wedge puts on Spring vs Recent Past vs Distant Past. We are assuming that because he had a bad spring, and because Wedge didn’t play him much at the beginning, the two must be related. We can’t possibly know that, especially since he had a bad 2011.

    In fact, what if the Mariners thought the found a flaw in Jaso’s 2011 approach and were trying to fix it. Maybe he had a bad spring because he was adjusting to a new swing or something. Maybe Wedge didn’t play him much to start the year because Jaso wasn’t fully comfortable with his new swing/approach/whatever yet. That’s highly speculative, but we have just as much evidence for that, as for the theory that Wedge thought he sucked because of a handfull of AB’s in spring.

  3. stevemotivateir on October 16th, 2012 2:57 pm


    Again, it still comes down to a poor evaluation of talent, no matter what influenced him or what his reasoning was. Olivo’s numbers stunk since he arrived, so there’s certainly an argument for poor talent evaluation there as well.

  4. Typical Idiot Fan on October 16th, 2012 2:58 pm

    If I may, there’s actually little reason to do this. I’m all for getting Jaso in more often, whether that be DHing or catching, for a majority of the games and plate appearances. But, while Jaso’s platoon splits might not be as bad as they have been, the obvious reply is “why would you put him into that position at all when you have a better option?”. Jaso did well against righties, and Montero did well against lefties. Leaving Jaso in there to produce less than what Montero could do against left handed pitchers is asinine.

    Now, obviously we don’t want to just relegate Montero to a platoon bat at this point either, so don’t get me wrong, and maybe Montero isn’t a catcher going forward, but if you’re bugged about what Montero IS going forward, you find another bat that can mash lefties and platoon him with Jaso instead. Let’s come down to brass tacks here a second: the problem isn’t Jaso being platooned, it’s who he’s being platooned with. In this case, Miguel Olivo was his primary platoon partner. While Miguel Olivo has hit lefties better in the distant past, he sucks too much now to be given so much playing time.

    If you want to give Jaso 120 games and ~500 plate appearances, then great, I’m fine with that. But he still needs a right handed partner for the other 42 games, who should primarily start against left handed pitching. Montero fills this role fine, but if you want him playing first or DHing, go find someone cheap who can do that. Just as long as it isn’t Olivo.

  5. gwangung on October 16th, 2012 3:08 pm

    So, basically, we can live with Jaso as a full-time-ish catcher. We find the second coming of Johnny Bench, we can replace, but there are other places we need to be looking for upgrades.

    I can live with that.

  6. Jordan on October 16th, 2012 3:47 pm

    I still think we’d be missing veteran grit and dingers w/ Olivo. + at just a 3 mil. option that is money well spent. The Mariners will definitely work on a new multi-year contract so that Zunino can than go back to rookie ball and work on a new position. If we didn’t re-sign Olivo, we’d be forced to use Zunino in a platoon role and that is a gross misuse of his talents; they are much better spent learning a new position in rookie ball.

  7. Thirteen on October 16th, 2012 4:51 pm

    This team is bad at hitting lefties, and Chone Figgins is better at hitting lefties than John Jaso. We don’t need another righty masher (Jaso), we need someone who can hit pitchers of both handednesses. If we teach Figgins how to catch in spring training, maybe he can be the starting catcher next year, with Jaso as his backup?

  8. stevemotivateir on October 16th, 2012 5:46 pm

    @Jordan and Thirteen

    Nobody’s gonna bite on those here. You gotta come up with something a little more believable and strike when someone’s really worked-up over something, so you catch them they’re more gullible.

    You could probably duke quite a few people over on the Mariner site, though. Maybe even get some insults thrown your way;)

  9. wilchiro on October 16th, 2012 7:56 pm

    I really want to send this in to Zduriencik. It’s true that Jaso is the best player on the roster besides Felix and he deserves full playing time – at least until Zunino is ready, then maybe he can share time at C/1B/DH.

    I hate seeing him sit on the bench. He’s the only hitter on the ballclub that actually gets my hopes up when he comes to the plate.

  10. bookbook on October 16th, 2012 8:36 pm

    The answer to your (rhetorical) question in the headline is clearly “No,” as evidenced by the comments here.

  11. The_Waco_Kid on October 17th, 2012 1:19 am

    Wow, how did this thread get so ridiculous?

    I think we all agree: Jaso is underrated/should have played more last year.

    I hope we all agree: Jaso’s had few AB vs. LHP. It’s not really worth spending a lot on a platoon partner. Let him face LHP a bit more, with a Gimenez-type backup. Hopefully Zunino’s ready sometime in 2013.

    No one may agree, but I’m thinking they may not send Montero down, and that he’ll still get time at catcher. In that case, let Montero and Jaso play every day at C/DH (maybe Montero at 1B too). If they continue their huge platoon splits, platoon them at DH and bring Zunino up to catch. Not a great idea, but it could be good under certain circumstances.

  12. GarForever on October 17th, 2012 6:14 am

    I don’t think Jack gets to give Eric directives like that. I know on paper Eric works for Jack, but I don’t get the sense that Wedge is the sort of manager that takes kindly to being told how to use his guys or make his lineups.

    If that’s true, Mariners35, then one of them desperately needs to be fired, either Z for his inability to hire field managers with whom he can work and/or lead, or Wedge for refusing to respect the organizational flow chart. As Billy Beane once put it, with regard to Art Howe, he wasn’t going to allow “middle management” to dictate how the franchise was run. If Z says “Jaso’s our starting catcher,” and Wedge says “no,” then Wedge needs to be out of a job.

  13. stevemotivateir on October 17th, 2012 7:50 am

    @Gar and 35

    There’s been many articles posted by both Johns and Drayer that talk about the relationship between Jack and Eric. And nearly every one of them mentions how the two of them discuss what’s best for the team on a regular basis. It’s not likely Wedge makes definitive decisions without running it by Jack first, or vice versa.

  14. amnizu on October 17th, 2012 9:19 am

    At risk of sounding like a complete Dave post fanboi. I 100% agree with his opinion on this.

    Giving Jaso the full time starting role with an inexpensive FA or rookie backup frees the organization to explore DH or 1B with Montero at either the MLB or the minor league level.

    It rewards Jaso for a productive season and gives him an opportunity to prove he can hit left handed pitching at the MLB level. It also, is a fairly small overall risk in terms of the total number of at bats he’ll actually see against LHP. Key at bats you can still pinch hit and have enough roster flexibility.

    Finally, it costs close to nothing. It is a great hedge.

  15. GarForever on October 17th, 2012 3:07 pm

    @ Steve — right. I was making a rhetorical point. My sense is they do NOT have a dysfunctional relationship; however, if it were as Mariners35 suggested, well then, that would be a problem!

  16. heyoka on October 17th, 2012 4:01 pm

    Why would we want a catcher who hits well when we’ve got plenty of guys who will take 1 walk a year?

  17. stevemotivateir on October 17th, 2012 6:07 pm


    I understood what you were getting at (and agree). Of course, if either of them has a dumb idea and the other concurs, it’s even worse!

  18. Prosser Steve on October 18th, 2012 12:17 am

    Jaso has more career BB’s than K’s. How many other players in ALL of MLB have done that?

  19. 9inningknowitall on October 18th, 2012 11:10 am

    Jaso is the real deal and although I would prefer that his days off come when the M’s are facing a LHP and not a RHP I have no problem with him facing LHPs on a regular basis. He isn’t going to be taking ABs away from Montero because Montero can DH and maybe even play 1st a little by next year.

    He isn’t taking ABs from Zunino because unless Zunino comes out and hits .900 in spring training with 15 home runs I don’t see the M’s rushing him, even though I think he is an amazing talent. So what does it hurt to have a catcher who gives us solid at bats playing as the every day starter.

    I’m okay with the M’s going out and getting a cheap back up catcher because worse case scenario Montero gears up and catches a few innings which isn’t going to kill this team. I’d even be okay with Montero being the back up catcher as long as he is limited to once or twice a week behind the plate and the rest of the time at either DH or 1st base.

    On a previous note, spring training is just a bunch of practice games. Players experiment with new swings, new pitches and don’t approach games the same way they do during the regular season. Heck that is why player sign autographs during the middle of a game. It is just practice.

  20. Sports on a Shtick on October 18th, 2012 11:38 am

    Jaso has more career BB’s than K’s. How many other players in ALL of MLB have done that?

    Joe DiMaggio did it and Miguel Olivo certainly has not.

    The Mariners traded Josh Lueke for one of the better catchers in baseball. That is amazing.

  21. ivan on October 18th, 2012 6:13 pm

    Hall of Famer Joe Sewell had 842 walks and 114 strikeouts in his 14-year major league career. I don’t know of a bigger ratio than that.

    He hit only 49 HR during that time (this was all after the advent of the lively ball) but finished his career with an .804 OPS.

  22. ripperlv on October 19th, 2012 6:59 am

    The Mariners win the Jaso/Josh Lueke trade!

  23. seattlesonsofbaseball on October 23rd, 2012 9:46 am

    I was wondering why Wedge never converted into a Jaso lover like many of us did. Though, there is one thing I disagree with you on Dave, and that is the comment that you said “Jaso is pretty obviously the team’s best hitter right now, and probably the best player.” I’m sorry Dave, I’d give that to Seager who excelled higher then most expectations with his glove and his bat this last year. But I’d put Jaso right next to him in importance.

    Isn’t it funny though… the two most needed players on this team were guys who weren’t slated to start the season, and injuries put them in… rather then smart managerial analyzations and decisions. What does that say???

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