I started writing this post Thursday morning and its initial title had the name Ben Zobrist in it. Well, we all saw what Zobrist did two nights ago (7-10 with 2 homeruns, 3 doubles, 5 runs, and a stolen base) and I just don't think an article titled "There's a New and Improved Ben Zobrist on the Horizon" would suffice; he's already here and in the form of his 2009 self. Since that article would be a day or so late I decided to shift by focus to John Jaso.
After a rookie campaign that saw Jaso lead the Majors in BB/K rate (min of 400 plate appearances), lead the Majors in OBP from the leadoff spot against right handed pitchers, and lead all catchers in Bill James base running, some may have expected a good start for Jaso. That was not the case. Jaso has been a bit disappointing to start the season.
Jaso's value lies heavily on his ability to work the count and get on base via the walk. In his first 16 plate appearances he had one lonely walk and was 1-15 with his lone hit being a single. Pitchers have basically been giving Jaso the Dan Johnson treatment and challenging him this season with pitches in the zone, and why not, he only hit .263 with a .378 slugging percentage last year. Why nibble around the zone when the player has not proven to punish pitches in the zone?
Pitchers were throwing Jaso nearly 60% fastballs last year. This year, in smaller samples, that total has dropped to just over 52% and Jaso has seen an increase in curveballs, sliders, and cutters. His contact rates all reamained the same from last year but the type of contact has been of the weak variety, possibly due to constantly being behind in the count and having to protect the zone. An adjustment had to be made.
Rather than waiting to swing the bat when behind in the count, Jaso started swinging early and at pitches in the zone. The results since his 1-15 start have been promising: .294/.333/.618. Yes, the on-base percentage is not up to Jaso's standards, simply because he is not walking due to pitchers throwing him more strikes, but he has been punishing those strikes to the tune of a .618 slugging percentage which includes 5 doubles and 2 homeruns. If he can keep that up I guarantee the walks come back.
Jaso's new approach seems to be fly ball oriented. I am no scout but his swing does have more loft to it than it did last year. These are, again, very small sample sizes but since his 1-15 start he has only hit 38.2% of balls on the ground. His GB% last year was 46.3%. Is his .618 slugging percentage over that same time frame a result of the increase in fly balls? I do believe so. Is a .618 slugging percentage expected the rest of the way? No. But neither is Jaso's BABIP of .214. A balance will be struck soon.
The fact that Jaso has made an adjustment is very encouraging, and if it continues to pay dividends then we will see pitchers make adjustments to Jaso and be more careful around the zone with him. If, or when, this happens we will hopefully see a new and improved Jaso, one that will sustain his high walk rates, since his patience never faded, but with a new found power stroke. Only time will tell but I see this new and improved Jaso on the horizon and he has already started heating up.