At Razzball, we eschew paying for catchers. As Grey so eloquently wrote in his Top 20 catchers, the numero uno catcher was “The cream of the crap.” They are more susceptible to injury, take days off, and the best are not even top 50 hitters for fantasy. With that said, leagues require you to roster one, while some are sadomasochistic and dedicate two roster spots to the position. Sure, you can say F it and leave those spots empty if you so choose, but then you’d be the modern day T-Rex, whose arms and hands shrunk due to hubris. At least that’s my non-scientific conclusion. If there are any paleontolgists in the house, comment below. Anyways, over the past seven days, Danny Jansen of the Toronto Blue Jays has been the #5 hitter and added in 6.4% of ESPN leagues. Trash or treasure?
From the start of the season to June 22nd, Jansen had a .166 batting average and hit 2 home runs with an ISO of .071. Since June 23rd, he’s clubbed 6 homers with a .386 batting average and a whopping .545 ISO! Has anyone checked the hat size on Jansen lately?
Let’s dig into the numbers. The walk rate has been 2.2% and he hasn’t struck out in 45 plate appearances. 911, what’s your emergency? There’s been evidence of some suspicious activity in the neighborhood. On the year, Jansen has struck out 19.5% of the time. In addition, he posted a .169 ISO and has topped the .200 mark just twice in the minors. <insert red flags here> Let’s dig further.
The ground ball rate has plummeted 12%, while he’s hitting 9% more fly balls. The line drive rate has also ticked up 3%. He’s pulling the ball more (7% increase) and the hard hit rate has increased 8%. Hmmm, maybe it’s not fluky after all. When I look at the plate discipline numbers, the chase rate has remained the same, but he’s swinging at way more pitches, especially in the strike zone (67.2% vs 80%). The contact rates have all sky rocketed: 10% increase in the zone, 18% increase in general, and 22% out of the strike zone. Damn. In addition, the swinging strike rate has plummeted from 9.7% to 2.2%. That’s just silly.
These are obviously unsustainable numbers, but how can we explain these improvements?
The first thing I found was that pitchers were being more aggressive with Jansen. The fastball usage went up 3%, but more importantly, they were challenging him more in the zone. Six of the nine zones showed an increase, with a couple by more than 4%. That makes sense, as Jansen was so putrid to start the season that there was no fear to challenge him. Now, the sample size is super small, so we won’t know if the changes are real until that gets larger. With that said, I did run across something else that could be the piece that cracks this puzzle.
Ben Palmer of PitcherList.com wrote a really good article on Jansen. The part I want to highlight is the changed batting stance, as he referenced an interview that Jansen had with John Lott of The Athletic, that he copied from Eric Sogard. “Getting wider and lower helps me stay in my legs, helps my head stay still.”
So we have something concrete to pinpoint for the reason why Jansen has suddenly morphed into Barry Bonds. Now the question is can it continue? Simple answer is no. Jansen is not going to post an ISO above .500 and not strike out forever ever. At the same time, I don’t think he returns to the abyss from where he came from. Jansen is a good hitter who exhibits control of the strike zone. Let’s also not forget that this is his first full season with the big club. Pitchers will no doubt make adjustments, with the likely scenario being that they stop pounding the strike zone. Jansen should be able to adjust to those adjustments fine, as he’s not a hacker at the plate, but the production will more than likely fall off as he gets fewer good pitches to hit.