John Jaso is arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season. MLB Trade Rumors’ Arbitration Projections have him getting 1.7 million dollars. Jaso was without question the Mariners best hitter in 2012 and 1.7 million dollars is without question a bargain. So no one is going to ask whether or not the Mariners should tender him a contract, this is more of a look at Jaso the player and what we can expect going forward.
Jaso’s plate discipline has always been what is attractive about him. In 108 games in 2012, Jaso walked 1.4% more of the time than he struck out. This isn’t surprising when you look at his career numbers (1.2 % more walks than strikeouts). There were just 4 qualified hitters (which Jaso was not, with 361 plate appearances) that had more walks than strikeouts in all of the MLB (Carlos Lee, Jose Reyes, Joe Mauer, and Prince Fielder) in 2012. When you change the qualifying rate to 300 PAs, you get 10 hitters in all with more walks than strikeouts (Jaso, Ortiz, Votto, Hanigan, Chipper, and Utley added to list). None of those players play in the AL West besides Jaso. Out of those players, Jaso is the 4th best power hitter (at least according to the 2012 isolated slugging).
Is Jaso’s 2012 success something we can expect going forward? His .298 BABIP is not crazy, but it is .022 above his career average and .054 above last season (to be fair, I really liked the acquisition of Jaso in the off-season because that BABIP was unsustainably low). Despite a lot of grounders, this year his xOPS off the bat was .893928 with a .784 xOPS overall. So it does seem that his numbers were better than he actually hit. But how much better? If you just look at his ground-ball rate, he actually hit a few more grounders (in percentage terms) this year than he has in his career. Many statistical analysts and sabermatricians don’t trust line drive rates as they feel it is too subjective. They would rather not separate line drives and fly-balls (besides infield pop ups). When you look at a particular players FanGraphs and Baseball Reference page, you notice that their line drive rate is usually different. Jaso is no exception. FanGraphs (which I use for GB/FB/LD) has him with a 25.4 LD% this season while Baseball Reference has him at 22 % (which is still good). So when you see that Jaso’s LD % has jumped from his career norms in 2012, there has to be at least a little bit of a pause.
This year, Jaso’s average batted ball distance was 255.372, which is pretty unimpressive. In 2011, it was actually better, with a 258.869. For his career, it is 256.466. This isn’t really weird when you consider that Jaso’s ISO is just .139 for his career, which is the same as Torii Hunter’s 2012 (247.121 feet per batted ball this year, and one of the biggest trap free agents this off-season). With the bat, Jaso isn’t a power guy, he is an on-base guy. His jump in extra base hits this year was fluky and random. It isn’t something you can expect to happen again in 2013. However, he still looks like a solid hitter thanks to the nice K/BB.
When looking at his numbers, one must remember that Jaso is basically a platoon player. He has a .789 OPS against righties and a laughable .532 OPS against left-handers. This year, Jaso had a plate appearance against a lefty just 53 times and hit a miserable .119/.250/.143. So when people complain about Jaso not being in the lineup when a lefty is pitching, it shows a lack of awareness as to what kind of hitter Jaso is. There are also the defensive limitations that come with Jaso. Due to arm problems earlier in his career, he is a pretty easy catcher to run on. He is also pretty bad at blocking pitches, something that the Mariners had problems with all year (as Olivo and Montero were no better). Evidently the Mariners were not happy with how he performed in the B games in spring training at first base either. In good world (not even a perfect one), Jaso plays mainly as a DH. Obviously with the catcher back ground, he isn’t very fast either. He really is a 1 tool player. It is a really good tool, but it is just 1.
The question is obviously not “will the Mariners tender Jaso a contract”. They will, he is obviously worth 1.7 to 2 million dollars for next year. The real question is whether or not the Mariners will sign Jaso to an extension. In my mind, unless you are going to buy out some of his free agent years, then an extension doesn’t make sense. Jaso is not a free agent until after the 2015 season, when he will already be 32 years old. It would not be wise for the Mariners to be worried about having him locked up for his age 33 and 34 seasons (for example, depending on the length of extension. I couldn’t imagine that it would make any sense to buy out more than 2 years of free agency. I personally think they shouldn’t buy out any of his free agent years). It obviously doesn’t make any sense to buy out any of his arbitration years because he is coming off a career year.
So what role should Jaso have in 2013? First off, he should start against every single RHP. He shouldn’t ever play against lefties though. When the Mariners face left-handed starters, Jaso shouldn’t start and instead be used off the bench. When the opposing team brings in a left handed reliever to face Jaso, they have to pinch hit. If they don’t, he is an automatic out, and his value is all in his bat (which makes having a good RHB off the bench important). I doubt that a Jaso/Montero platoon is what the Mariners had in mind when they made the Michael Pineda trade before last season, but it would be an effective platoon. To go with Jaso’s splits mentioned above, Jesus Montero had a .830 OPS against lefties and a .609 OPS against righties in 2012. I’m sure that the the Mariners do not want to make 22 year old Jesus Montero a platoon player that will start only about 25% of the time, but it would make the team better in 2013 (but perhaps not beyond, as it would surely hurt the growth of Montero). What really hamstrings the Mariners is the fact that both of them are poor defensively. With Olivo surely (at least he should be) gone, the Mariners will only have 2 catchers on the roster (unless they acquire another MLB one, which seems a little fruitless) until Mike Zunino is ready. This makes it hard to platoon the two. This means that the Mariners may have to acquire another cheap catcher for 2013. I hope to have a future post on a few options for the Mariners at catcher.
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays
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