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The Numbers Behind John Jaso’s Early Success

To say nothing of his more-than-capable defense at first base, John Jaso has been a revelation at the top spot in the batting order for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

John Jaso has put up some solid slash lines over his career, so it should not come as much of a surprise that he currently carries a .414 on-base percentage as part of an .897 OPS.

How has Jaso been able to acclimate himself so quickly and effectively to the top of the Pirates’ lineup?

A Solid Foundation

For Jaso, his propensity for quality plate appearances starts with the first pitch.

His F-Strike percentage (percentage of plate appearances that start with a strike) clocks in at 53.3 percent. That figure represents the third-best on the club, behind Starling Marte (52.5) and Gregory Polanco (51.6). While the importance of first-pitch strikes has been debated in recent years, good things happen for Jaso on a 1-0 count. More on that later.

In looking a bit deeper at what Jaso is actually seeing on the first pitch, the four-seam fastball is seen the most at 46 percent. It likely may not even matter what type of pitch Jaso sees first, as chances are it won’t be anywhere near the strike zone. His Zone % (percentage of pitches seen in the strike zone) is 47.8 percent, which is not significant on its own until coupled with his O-Swing % (percentage of pitches outside of the zone that a batter swings at).

Jaso’s O-Swing percentage clocks at 16.5 percent, nearly two-thirds better than the league average of 30 percent. Incredibly, he isn’t even the best on this Pirates team in this regard. That honor belongs to David Freese and his 15.7 percent clip. Regardless, Jaso’s rate is fourth-best in the National League for anyone with 50 or more plate appearances.

The foundation that Jaso lays in his plate appearances almost feels as if he dictates to pitchers how the PA will go. He absolutely refuses to chase anything out of the zone, and such an approach can force an opposing pitcher to offer something he may not necessarily want to offer on the next pitch, which usually comes at a 1-0 count.

The Importance of the 1-0 Count

It doesn’t take someone studied in baseball analytics to tell you that a 1-0 count is favorable to hitters.

But for John Jaso, he takes the 1-0 count and performs even better than the National League as a whole.

Here is a look at the National League slash lines for 2016 after a 1-0 count, compared to Jaso’s figures in the same scenario both for his career and in 2016 to date.

jaso graphic

Jaso’s 2016 slash line will assuredly even  out over the season, but if we take just his career slash versus what the National League is doing this year, his on base percentage is just under 70 points better than the rest of the league. That is a substantial cut above, and should that figure regress a little closer to the NL-wide output, it’s hard to think that it would drop off at any substantial rate.

Jaso is just too disciplined to have that happen.

Disciplinary Actions

The figure that I’m most impressed with is Jaso’s swinging-strike percentage, or “SwStr.” Just as you probably could imagine, this is the percentage of overall strikes recorded against the Pirates’ first baseman that came via a swing and miss.

For 2016, John Jaso has a 2.2 percent swinging-strike rate.

That is an amazing figure, tied with Joe Mauer of the Twins for the lowest in all of baseball. It also factors in to Jaso’s excellent strikeout rate. The “dred-ed one” strikes out in just 10 percent of his Plate Appearances this year, nearly 50 percent better than the MLB average of 20 percent.

Though his walk rate also comes in at 10 percent – a figure that is only considered “above average,” that figure may not matter as much with Jaso being as selective as he is.

I mentioned earlier that Jaso’s zone percentage is below 50 percent, and I believe that this patient approach may lead to a huge increase in that figure, simply giving him more pitches to hit.

John Jaso is providing great value at first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. There are still questions surrounding his play. His career splits against left-handed pitching leave a lot to be desired. It also remains to be seen if he can maintain this production during what is projected to be the most PAs he has ever received in a single season.

For a team that predominantly faces right-handed pitching in their division, the Pirates may not be worried about sitting their lead-off hitter against southpaws. They also should not be concerned about any drop off from Jaso. His plate discipline alone guards against any serious backslide, and as more pitchers are forced to give him better offerings, he could be even deadlier.


Photo credit: Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

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