John Jaso Is a Perfect Fit for the Patient Oakland A's
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Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane swung a deal to steal catcher John Jaso from the division rival Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.
According to multiple sources, the A's acquired Jaso from the Mariners and sent pitching prospects A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and a player to be named later to the Nationals—who flipped slugger Michael Morse to the Mariners to complete the three-team deal. The A's then designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment to open up a spot for Jaso (via MLB Trade Rumors, citing a team press release).
The A's were fifth in the league with an 8.9 percent walk rate last season. Acquiring another patient hitter will further enhance the club's ability to draw walks and get on base in 2013.
Jaso is a perfect fit for the A's patient style of offense. In 361 plate appearances last season, he walked 56 times. His 15.5 percent walk rate was good for third best in the league amongst players with at least 350 plate appearances, and his .394 on-base percentage was eighth.
The 29-year-old also put up the best power numbers of his career with 10 home runs and a .456 slugging percentage despite playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.
He's a lifetime .255/.359/.395 hitter, so the batting average and slugging percentage he put up last season are probably going to come down some. The Bill James projection model available on Jaso's FanGraphs player card forecasts him to hit .260/.364/.392 next season. Yet it's also possible that he made sustainable improvements to his offensive game last year that he can bring with him to Oakland.
Jaso will likely form the left-handed portion of the catching platoon with the right-handed hitting incumbent Derek Norris. Norris came over from the Nationals along with Cole, Tommy Milone and prospect Brad Peacock in last winter's blockbuster trade centered around Gio Gonzalez.
Norris hit just .201/.276/.349 over the first 232 plate appearances of his big league career; however, his .271/.329/.477 batting line at Triple-A Sacramento hints at more production to come in the future.
Jaso should get the majority of the playing time against right-handed pitching, but he isn't likely to see the field against lefties. He's hit .270 against righties compared to just .164 against lefties for his career.
Besides struggling to hit lefties, Jaso's other weakness is his defense. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs summarized Jaso's defensive limitations by writing:
"Oh, yeah, and he can catch. Not very well, mind you, but a team doesn’t have to forfeit a game out of embarrassment if Jaso has to go behind the plate for nine innings. His arm isn’t very good, and the Mariners coaching staff has talked about how his fundamentals fell apart if he had to catch multiple games in a row, but he’s capable of squatting behind the plate and catching most things thrown his way."
He's only thrown out 19.7 percent of base-runners attempting to steal against him for his career—well below the most recent league-average of 27 percent. According to Matt Klaasen's defensive ratings, Jaso ranked near the bottom of the league in overall catcher defense last season.
However, despite his struggles behind the plate and hitting against southpaws—which the A's can mitigate with the right-handed hitting Norris—Jaso is still a solid acquisition for the A's. His patience, on-base skills and ability to hit right-handeders will lead to an improvement upon the .204/.262/.325 batting line the A's received from the catcher position last season.
Even if the improved power he displayed in 2012 isn't sustainable, he'll be an upgrade behind the dish. If he does carry forward his offensive improvement from last season, the A's will have one of the best offensive catchers around for the next three seasons.
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