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John Jaso’s Early May Struggles Examined

John Jaso was the straw that stirred the Pittsburgh Pirates run-creation drink in the first month of the season.

Earlier in the 2016 season – in fact, for the near entirety of the season’s first month – John Jaso could be seen as a feather in the cap of Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.

Not only was the left-handed lead off hitter better than advertised in terms of getting on base and setting the table, he took to a new position – and an important one at that – with aplomb, gusto and a little bit of grit. Jaso is still without an error at the first base position as of this writing, and his penchant for quality at-bats could very well be the driving force behind the team getting to many opposing bullpens early.

April showers bring May flowers, but it’s John Jaso’s offense that is nowhere near full bloom as the season begins its second month.

A Fine Start

Jaso’s April numbers bear repeating. Slashing .316/.389/.456 and finishing the month with more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight) could be considered an excellent month for any lead off hitter. A Pirates offense that struggled at times to scratch across runs at times left him with just 10 runs of his own for the season’s opening stanza, but Jaso created his own offense with a home run and seven RBI. Those numbers are gravy for what Jaso is asked to do in this run-creation attack, but by slugging six doubles, Jaso showed an ability to put things in place for instant offense by getting in scoring position.

We previously took a look at Jaso’s early season production, and distilled it down to his above-average patience at the plate. We posited then that his then-level of performance could be sustainable, as patient hitters tend to stay that way through the course of a long season. It’s far easier for the free-swingers and hackers of the world to relapse into bad habits than for hitters that never had those habits to begin with.

So what, then, has caused John Jaso to see a near-complete turn around in his production as the calendar turned from April to May?

Swinging Away

Jaso’s May splits are not easy to stomach. In eight games, he is slashing .226/.273/.452. The slugging percentage catches the eye, and Jaso has connected on two home runs already this month. Contrast that against just one double, and the picture of a humble home run binge comes forth to take responsibility for a slugging percentage that was pretty static month-to-month.

If we look a bit deeper, we can see that the 32-year old veteran is not getting ahead in as many counts. In April, Jaso was ahead in the count for 32.24 percent of his total pitches seen. He had a natural ability to get to 1-0, with a first strike percentage of just 54.6. The curious thing is that he is still seeing about the same amount of first strikes, at 54.4 percent for the month of May thus far.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#000000″ class=”” size=””]It’s far easier for the free-swingers and hackers of the world to relapse into bad habits than for hitters that never had those habits to begin with.[/pullquote]

In May, Jaso is working from ahead in the count in just 24.43 percent of his total pitches seen. That is about an eight-percent drop month-over-month. On the surface, that does not seem to be much of a difference, but coupled with an increased O-Swing (percentage of pitches swung at that are outside of the zone) the its effects are greater. Jaso saw a five percent increase in O-Swing – 15.7 percent in April to 20.6 percent in May.

In working from behind more often than he is used to, Jaso is swinging at more pitches outside of the zone. This takes away his advantage and may show that Jaso is not as good at working his way back into counts as he is gaining the advantage to begin with.

The (Un)Lucky One

It is entirely possible that Jaso’s May struggles are affected by bad luck, at least to a certain degree.

His BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) is an abysmal .200 for the month to date. Other peripherals tell us that Jaso is simply not squaring up many pitches right now.

His hard-hit percentage for May is just 22.2 percent, second lowest on the club to Jordy Mercer‘s 13.6. That alone is not much cause for concern, as Jaso had just a 23.6 hard hit rate in April. But his soft-hit percentage has jumped to 37 percent, up from 20.8 percent during the season’s first month.  This has resulted in a very low line drive rate of 7.4 percent, down from 22.2 last month. Rather than seeing the BABIP and immediately concluding that he is unlucky, it’s pretty clear that Jaso is creating his own bad luck by not making good contact.

A Way Out

For John Jaso, he can climb out of this late-spring funk by recognizing that pitchers are approaching him very differently than they did in April.

John Jaso Pitch Types

Jaso is not getting as many fastballs in the month of May, and that can affect any hitter. But what is affecting him more than just the type of pitches seen is what he is doing when he does see a fastball.

While his swing-and-miss percentage actually drops considerably when seeing breaking/offspeed pitches (a combined 10.7 percent, down from a combined 18.84 percent in April), his whiff percentage on fastballs increased month-over-month by nearly four percent.

For a hitter of Jaso’s ilk who relies on getting good pitches to hit, he must execute on those pitches. Right now, he is not doing a great job in identifying the fastball quickly enough to jump on it. Opposing pitchers are doing a better job of mixing in different pitches at different counts, and it shows when Jaso sees the heat.

In the first month, John Jaso dictated to pitchers how the at-bat would go by working into favorable counts.

In May, the opposite is proving to be true. But for a hitter as patient as Jaso, I would expect these figures to even out as the season progresses.

Photo Credit: Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

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