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Athletics 2014 season review: John Jaso

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Jaso's specialties are walks and walk-offs.
Jaso's specialties are walks and walk-offs.
Thearon W. Henderson

The next player on our season review list is No. 5, John Jaso. I already wrote about Jaso a couple weeks ago, and Jeremy gave us a health update on him yesterday, so we'll keep this one short.

Player profile

Name: John Jaso, aka John Jaso Jingleheimer Schmidt
Position: C
Stats: .264/.337/.430, 344 PAs, 9 HR, 28 BB, 60 Ks
WAR: 1.6 bWAR, 1.5 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from Seattle Mariners prior to 2013
2014 Salary: $2.3 million
2015 Status: 3rd-year arbitration, under team control
2015 Salary: Estimated $3.3 million

Season summary

Jaso's 2013 season ended in late July due to a concussion, but he remained behind the plate for 2014. He got off to a decent start, then caught fire in May, and alternated good and bad months until his season ended in late August with yet another concussion. Here are his month-by-month numbers:

Apr: .241/.348/.328, .675 OPS
May: .359/.438/.641, 1.079 OPS
June: .219/.288/.370, .657 OPS
July: .323/.366/.523, .889 OPS
Aug: .149/.216/.234, .450 OPS

He's a streaky hitter, but that's extreme even for him. Nonetheless, he graded out as comfortably above-average, and it helped that Bob Melvin was able to limit him to only 27 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. His line against righties was .272/.344/.449, a small step up from his overall numbers. He also swatted two pinch-hit ninth-inning home runs, with one of them turning a loss into a win against the rival Angels.

It was worrisome that Jaso's OBP dropped a full 50 points from 2013, but I'm confident that if he hadn't gotten hurt in August then he would have had one more hot streak in him to help balance out his percentages. However, I can't ignore that his walk rate fell from around 15 percent of his plate appearances to only 8.1 percent -- he swung more and he chased out of the zone more, but he made contact at exactly the same rate, which means that he also swung and missed more than he normally does. I don't know if he changed his approach in some way, or if this was just a statistical fluke, but if you really wanted to reach for a narrative you could question whether last year's concussion played any role in his batting eye or reaction time or general plate discipline. On the bright side, he did rediscover the power that had gone absent in 2013, as he raised his home run output from three to nine and his isolated slugging percentage from .101 to .166.

Although the A's took a risk by letting Jaso continue to catch, they did at least limit his workload. With Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt around to share the load, Jaso only started 47 games behind the dish against 32 as the DH. Still, he managed to grade out as one of the worst defenders in the Majors, and it didn't help that he threw out only four of 36 runners who attempted to steal on him.

Of course, the biggest bummer was that Jaso was once again not around for the stretch drive. The three-headed catching monster was one of the things that drove that first-half surge, and Jaso was a key part of that group. Unfortunately, the A's were once again without his bat when they needed it the most. He had an .800 OPS in the first half, but then he posted a .675 in his brief second half before the injury knocked him out -- another important player whose absence contributed to the greater collapse.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: C ... He had a good year, but it could have been so much better and I personally hoped for more. He could have earned a B just by staying healthy for the whole year, and he could have earned an A by keeping his OBP above .360.

2014 season grade, overall: B- ... A left-handed batter who hits 17 percent better than average and can fake it behind the plate is valuable, even if he's only a platoon player and the defense is worth negative value. The injury earned him the minus on that grade, but a lot of teams would love to have Jaso in their lineups.

Video highlights

Jaso's numbers don't jump off the page, but he's got it where it counts. He often comes through in the biggest spots and against the toughest pitchers. For our first example, we'll start with one of the highlights of the whole A's season. Down 2-1 entering the ninth, with Angels closer Ernesto Frieri on the mound, Jaso entered as a pinch-hitter with one on and one out and pounded what proved to be the game-winner.

In May, he notched this walk-off hit off of Nationals reliever Drew Storen, who posted a 1.12 ERA this season.

Here, he homers off of defending Cy Young Max Scherzer to take a fourth-inning lead against the Tigers.

Finally, we have this one from June. Down 6-5 with two outs in the ninth, Jaso pinch-hit against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, the 2013 ALCS MVP, and tied the game with a solo homer to send things to extra innings.

Bonus! Here's proof that Jaso is in fact capable of throwing out a base stealer. Note that Alex Rios has 244 stolen bases in his career, so he's no slouch.

***

Apparently Jaso's wife read my last article about him, which is a weird feeling, but the subject of it was protecting her husband's long-term health so I imagine she liked that part. The moral of the story in this one is that Jaso is an excellent player whose strengths outweigh his weaknesses, and all that I want is more of him.