ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 24: Catcher John Jaso #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays takes a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 24, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
It seems like John Jaso is the clubhouse leader to lead off the batting order against right-handed pitchers prompting me to declare yesterday that John Jaso might currently be the most overrated Ray. I like John Jaso a great deal and feel more confident in the team's catcher position than I ever have. I simply question whether there aren't better alternatives to shaping out the top of the order.
John Jaso burst upon the scene last year displaying an eagle-eye and great baserunning instincts, a very refreshing set of attributes when compared to the man he replaced, Dioner Navarro. Jaso quickly rose from a short-term replacement at the catcher position to the top of the order against right-handed pitching. At the time of his leadoff promotion last year I penned this piece arguing against the move despite the .425 OBP through two months:
While Jaso has OBP skills, particularly for a catcher, I'd be surprised to see him north of .355 from here on out. That's a number to be proud of, but not what is needed at the top of the order of this team sans speed. I see no benefit out of anybody not named Carl Crawford or Evan Longoria having more plate appearances than Ben Zobrist and since CC won't bat leadoff....
I ran the numbers to discover that from June forward, Jaso produced an OBP of wait for it...... .355. This is a bet I would double down on again this year. There is no shame in a .355 OBP, but this team is blessed to have a few players capable of this figure. What are other factors that would lead me to look elsewhere?
The stacking of lefties could be a concern. Unless BJ Upton bats ninth against right-handers you are likely looking at three lefties at 9-2 in the order in Reid Brignac, Jaso, and Johnny Damon. If Upton isn't 8th, it could be more making bullpen management far easier on opposing managers.
Despite Jaso's great baserunning instincts, you can't hide his true speed out of the box. He is an above-average double play threat. Of Rays hitters with at least 50 potentional GIDP opportunities, Jaso finished second in GIDP % with a Navarro like 13% With his high contact rate, the possibility increases. If the 8-9 men get on, GIDPs with the big boppers coming up are highly unfortunate events.
Stolen base potential out of the leadoff spot should also be at a greater premium than in seasons past. WIth Carl Crawford batting 2nd, there was little reason for concern over the number two hitter getting doubled up. This year the leadoff man stealing 2nd could be the difference between a runner on 3rd and 1 out, and nobody on and two out.
In my mind, Ben Zobrist is still the best candidate to lead-off as SternFan and I have championing since 2009 (SternFan has since defected, probably Zo's ultimate endorsement). He combines Jaso's ability to work the count and get on base at a high clip, with better speed and the switch-hitting ability to keep opposing managers on their toes. John Jaso is a great asset for the Rays and quite likable. I think his skill set makes for a great 9 hitter as the second lead-off man, but he's not the player I want getting the most plate appearances on the team.