Danny Jansen’s return brings optimism for a Blue Jays offence struggling with batted-ball execution

Photo credit:Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
11 days ago
Over the last few seasons, hand/wrist injuries have been Danny Jansen’s kryptonite, and that unfortunate trend has continued into the 2024 campaign as he missed the first five series of the year with a fractured right wrist. When available, however, he’s been among the top offensive catchers in the sport.
Despite being limited to fewer than 90 games played each season since 2021, Jansen has made a considerable impact with his pull-heavy power stroke, blasting 43 home runs to put him among the top 10 at his position in that category. That’s a pretty remarkable feat, especially considering he achieved that total in just 754 plate appearances while the nine catchers above him all logged at least 1,100.
Not to mention, Jansen’s game-calling and defence behind the plate are well-regarded, too. Combine everything, and you have a backstop that accounted for 6.1 fWAR over the last three seasons prior to 2024, placing him 10th among qualified big-league catchers (min. 500 plate appearances).
That’s why the 29-year-old’s season-opening IL stint was such a major loss for the Toronto Blue Jays and why his impending return — expected to occur Tuesday against the New York Yankees — is so significant.
The Blue Jays need Jansen’s bat back in the lineup. He isn’t coming in to be their saviour, although the return of his middle-of-the-order presence should positively impact an offence that hasn’t been up to par across 17 games thus far. They’ve seemingly taken a step forward on this current homestand, averaging four runs per game. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement, considering Monday night’s 1-for-10 showing with runners-in-scoring-position.
Toronto’s hitters have been patient at the plate, as they’re tied for third in walk rate (10.6 per cent) while sitting eighth in strikeout (20.5 per cent) and called-plus-swinging-strike rates (26.2 per cent) this season. But it’s been their batted-ball execution that’s fallen short, given their 26th-ranked BABIP (.273), plus near-bottom-of-the-pack barrel (5.4 per cent, tied for 30th) and hard-hit rates (33.7 per cent, tied for 27th) — and this is where Jansen can help.
Look at how he performed on his rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo last week.
The right-handed slugger launched a grand slam to left field (because, of course, he did) in just his third at-bat with the Bisons. In total, he recorded four hits in as many games while driving in six across 14 plate appearances, slashing .308/.357/.615.
Jansen doesn’t generate hard contact as often as someone like, say, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. does, and rightly so. His offensive skill set isn’t designed to perform that way. But he knows how to find the sweet spot in his swing path, as his 11.8-per-cent barrel rate from 2022-23 ranked third among Blue Jays hitters, behind only Matt Chapman (14.9 per cent) and Teoscar Hernández (15 per cent).
Chapman and Hernández, of course, are no longer a part of this team. With Jansen sidelined out of the gate, the Blue Jays’ lineup only has one hitter with a double-digit barrel rate this season, and you can probably guess which player that is — Guerrero (12 per cent).
Along with creating loud-sounding batted balls, Jansen’s return figures to dramatically improve Toronto’s ability to deliver with runners on base, considering he led the club in SLG (.537) and ranked second in wRC+ (142) during RISP situations among qualified hitters (min. 100 plate appearances) from 2022-23.
Now that he’ll be able to contribute in those spots again, his presence should provide a significant boost for a lineup with just one home run with runners-in-scoring-position thus far, joining the Detroit Tigers as the only teams with fewer than two. Adding to their misery, they also sit 28th in the majors in SLG (.305) and ISO (.092) during those situations.
The 2013 16th-round selection, who’ll become a free agent after this season, will also lighten the heavy workload that Alejandro Kirk has assumed in his absence, which has seen him start 14 of the Blue Jays’ first 17 games. And there’s no question he could use a breather, given his early-season offensive woes.
Kirk hasn’t been able to recapture his encouraging performance from spring training, as he’s struggled to a .200/.293/.220 slash line while posting a measly 59 wRC+ across 15 contests. On top of that, he isn’t generating nearly enough hard contact — as evidenced by his career-low 31-per-cent hard-hit rate — and has struck out more times (nine) than he’s walked (seven).
Toronto’s 25-year-old backstop has been much improved as of late, though. It’s a tiny sample size, but he’s reached base safely in seven of his previous eight plate appearances and recorded his first extra-base hit of 2024 a night ago, producing an RBI double that meant the Blue Jays were no longer the only team without an XBH from a catcher this season.
The recent results have looked encouraging for Kirk, who’s earned three walks and produced an exit velocity of 95 m.p.h. or higher on three of the five batted-ball events over his last two games. Those are the attributes that the Blue Jays have been waiting for and need to see more of consistently moving forward.
After all, this team is at its best when both Jansen and Kirk are at their peak.
Toronto rostered baseball’s top catching duo from 2021-22, with Jansen and Kirk primarily responsible for the club’s major league-leading 11.2 fWAR. While they dropped outside the top five in fWAR last season, they still finished with a respectable 4.7 rating for sixth, 1.4 points ahead of the seventh-placed Los Angeles Dodgers.
Through 17 games this season, the Blue Jays have received a minute amount of value at catcher, a position that’s broken even at zero fWAR, tied for 21st in the majors. That isn’t going to cut it for a team that relies heavily on the production of its backstops — both offensively and defensively.
There’s a strong chance Jansen will occupy most of the starting duties upon returning to the lineup, especially if his hot start at Triple-A carries over to the big leagues. But it’ll be crucial to find opportunities for Kirk, too, as Toronto attempts to re-establish one of the game’s most valuable catching tandems.

Check out these posts...