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Let’s not forget how good Danny Jansen is

There has been plenty of talk this off-season about the Blue Jays catching tandem of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. The Blue Jays were rumoured to be interested in Yasmani Grandal leading to speculation that one of the back-stops could be moved via trade. Adding to that was the fact that the Blue Jays have a wealth of catching prospects in the minors in Gabriel Moreno, Alejandro Kirk and Riley Adams. Reese McGuire has always been regarded as a strong defensive catcher, so seeing him hit .299/.346/.526 this season was unexpected and opened the idea that he could be the starting catcher this upcoming season. Sure Jansen, struggled last season, but I think we are all forgetting just how good Jansen can be and why he was considered a core piece for this team.

To start let’s make a blind comparison:

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+
Player A .207 .279 .360 8.1% 20.6% 68
Player B .247 .316 .366 9.0% 15.9% 73

Stats from Fangraphs

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Player B clearly has the better statistics, but’s close. Both players have similar power numbers and walk rate. Player A is what Danny Jansen did in the big leagues this season and Player B is how McGuire hit while in Buffalo. Yes McGuire hit much better when he got to the majors, but about that…

xBA xOBP xSLG xwOBA xwOBACON xBACON EV
Jansen .247 .316 .418 .314 .358 .319 88.7
McGuire .268 .317 .402 .309 .346 .329 86.0

 

These are each players expected statistics, courtesy of Baseball Savant. xBACON is a players expected batting average on contact, similar to BABIP but includes home runs. xwOBACON is the same expect it uses wOBA instead of batting average. As we can see Jansen wildly underperformed last year and McGuire over performed. Given their quality of contact, we would expect McGuire to get a few more hits than Jansen, but that difference is basically entirely erased by Jansen’s great eye at the plate. Jansen has the higher slugging and wOBA as he has more power, and has the speed (Jansen’s 27.3 ft/s sprint speed ranked seventh among Major League catchers) to leg out extra-bases.

If Jansen hit like he was expected to last season he would have had a similar batting line to that of Travis d”Arnaud. d’Arnaud was a league average hitter last year with a 98 wRC+. If Jansen was a league average hitter, combined with his elite defence he would have been worth about 2.8 WAR. That would have made him one of the top 10 most valuable catchers in baseball. A 2.8 WAR season at 24 years old is difficult to do. Since 2010 only 12 catchers aged 24 or younger have had a 2.5 WAR season.

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The projections see Jansen bouncing back next season. Steamer projects Jansen to have a .321 wOBA and a 99 wRC+, which is the league average hitter he was expected to be last season. Steamer projects his defence to take a step back but still forecasts him for 2.2 WAR. That would put Jansen squarely in the top 10 of all catchers. Given more playing time, Jansen could easily beat that projection. Steamer only has him down for 74 games and 289 plate appearances. Everyone else around him in WAR is projected for at least 90 games and 350+ PA. If Jansen plays as much as he did last year (107 games, 384 PA) with this offensive projection he could very easily be a 3-win catcher. And given the way he hit in the minors there is still some potential that he could be even better than a league average hitter.

Defence is where McGuire’s case to be the starting catcher is made. But is his defence really that much better than Jansen, who was nominated for the Gold Glove, to off-set the difference with the bat?

Runs from Extra Strikes Strike Rate Pop time to 2B (sec) Exchange (sec) Arm (MPH)
Jansen 7 50.2% 2.05 0.77 80.3
McGuire 1 50.6% 1.97 0.63 79.0

 

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Both catchers are excellent at receiving pitches. They each have a similar strike rate, which is the amount of non-swing pitches in the shadow part of the plate turned into strikes. It’s a framing stat and both catchers are above average in that regard. Runs saved from extra strikes is the total run value saved from all those extra strike calls. It is a counting stat which is why Jansen has such a lead here. Where McGuire really stands out is in the running game. McGuire has an above average pop-time where Jansen is below average. McGuire’s exchange time is the fastest among all catchers who caught at least 500 pitches. Their arm strength is similar, but McGuire’s arm plays up because of that quick exchange and pop-time.

With the way the game is today with so many more home runs, stolen bases keep dropping lower and lower. It’s great that McGuire is so quick to get rid of the ball, but it’s not nearly as important as framing. There are other things that go into being a catcher such as game calling, having the trust of the pitcher, blocking balls in the dirt etc. that we don’t have numbers for. McGuire could very well be great there, and even if he is, I don’t think that it would be enough to off-set the potential offense Jansen brings.

One thing we have to remember is that prospect growth isn’t linear. Jansen was rated as a very good prospect as recently as last year. He ended the 2018 season as the Blue Jays third best prospect according to Baseball America behind Vladdy and Bo and was the 42nd overall prospect in baseball. McGuire had some pedigree himself making the back-end of the top 100 in 2013 and 2014 but it was never to same level that Jansen was.

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Danny Jansen has the potential to be one of the best catchers in the league next season. There might be a “competition” in Spring Training for the starting catcher job, but this is Jansen’s spot. His poor season last year was really brought down by bad luck. He is a good defender and if his bat comes around to even just league average, he will be a very valuable player for the Blue Jays and one that should be mentioned with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio as part of their young position player core.