This week we learned that Rays hired hitman, Kelly Shoppach will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing right knee surgery. Shoppach, acquired from the Indians this offseason, was expected to help ease the offensive woes of our catcher position.
Unfortunately, after Shoppach's injury we are in the same situation we were for most of last season; Dioner Navarro is once again the Rays primary catcher. The small sample sizes apply to him as a well, but his early season mendoza-like slash line has done nothing to make us forget how awful he was last season. Admittedly, his slow start is the driving force behind this post.
The one good thing to come of this is John Jaso. Many of us have been Jaso fans for a while. And it wasn't too long ago when he was thought of a potential long-term solution to the catcher problem. However, Jaso had a down year in Durham last season and came into camp without a shot at making the roster.
With Shoppach on the shelf and Navi being Navi, Jaso may finally get his chance. Since catcher defense is a lost argument, I won't get into that much, but for Jaso to be an offensive improvement over Navarro it won't take much.
As mentioned, Jaso had a down season in Durham. He hit .263/.362/.363 on the year. His power was down, but his on-base percentage was stellar. In nearly 400 plate appearances he walked 49 times while striking out an equal amount. For those keeping score, Navarro walked a combined 52 times in 2008 and 2009. If we plug Jaso's stats in the major league equivalent calculator we get a slash line of .224/.307/.297. Yes, that's ugly, but consider Navarro's slash line of .218/.261/.322.
Of course the calculator isn't an exact science, and more of a fun tool than anything else, but it's quick way of showing that Jaso doesn't have to do much offensively to put up production equal to - or greater than - Navarro.
Also keep in mind that Jaso is a left-handed batter. In over 1,400 minor league at-bats, his OPS against righties was .847. We all know Navarro has struggled against righties with a weighted on-base average under .300 career against them.
Although we can't quantify it, we must take defense into the equation. Is the potential offensive gain worth the defensive hit we assume with Jaso behind the plate? I don't know, however, I did learn than Bobby Ramos spent the spring coaching Jaso on how to catch from a "functional position" rather than a "comfortable" one. This should allow Jaso to use more athleticism behind the plate.
In summation, based on minor league numbers and projections, we can't say whether Jaso is a better option than Navarro at this point. Meanwhile, I do know if Navarro's best chances of getting on-base continue to be 1) hope and 2) prayer, I'm willing to give Jaso the chance to answer the question raised in the title.