Regarding John Jaso’s Slow Start

After writing a piece defending Matt Joyce, I’ve gone back and forth on writing one expressing concern about John Jaso. It’s only 25 plate appearances and Jaso’s line to date (.125/.160/.208) is poor, but I’ve had some worries about him dating back to last season when I threw a Mike Scioscia comparison upon him. (Scioscia was of similar stature and skill set back in the mid-1980s for the Dodgers. He never hit for much power, but put the bat on the ball and had fantastic strikeout-to-walk ratios.)

Jaso runs the bases pretty fluidly for a catcher, but I don’t think anyone would call him fast, so his groundball rate last season is a wee bit concerning (46.3 percent), he isn’t much of a slugger either (.115 ISO), meaning his game is all about working walks and hitting singles. Jaso’s approach is probably the thing that people dislike the most. I do believe he is disciplined about the strike zone, but sometimes he seems to border on passive.

I don’t mean this is in the sense that he’s not swinging at hittable pitchers, but he fell into a pattern last season where pitchers could throw him just about anything on the first pitch and he would take it. Baseball-Reference actually has him swinging at 13 percent of first pitches in 2010. So far, he is over 24 percent in 2011, which is close to league average. B-Ref also has 65 percent of the pitches Jaso has seen labeled as strikes, versus 58 percent in 2010.

The thing about Jaso is that he will have to hit a few doubles or a homer or two to keep pitchers honest. It’s just how it works with these slow-running, slap-hitter, walk types. Pitchers will try to reach a few too many times into the cookie jar for easy strikes, and Jaso has to make them pay. After he does that, they’ll recede and throw enough junk that he can take his walks. Take last year’s walk and ISO rates per month:

April: 25 percent, .240
May: 10.8 percent, .091
June: 18.4 percent, .098
July: 9.4 percent, .088
August: 14.1 percent, .136
September/October: 14.5 percent, .113

That’s not a perfect correlation, but I think it makes my point. Eventually, pitchers are going to do the same thing to Sam Fuld, just like they’re doing to Jaso and just like they’re doing to Brett Gardner in New York. As soon as Jaso puts the fear of lumber back into them (which he almost did last night), then the swarm should pass for a little while, only to restart the cycle.

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