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John Jaso thriving in bench role

Pittsburgh Pirates’ first baseman John Jaso is every fan’s favorite whipping boy. But a clarification of his role has done wonders for the veteran.

After a less than stellar first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016 that saw Jaso slash just .268/.353/.413, you can understand why.

Going hitless in his first 18 at bats to start the season didn’t earn Jaso any fans either, but while most fans cringe every time Jaso grabs a bat, what most people have failed to notice is that he has settled in very nicely in becoming a very productive bench player.

While Jaso will still be the fans whipping boy, what he has brought to the team lately has been invaluable, including the go-ahead two-run homer Tuesday night to help beat the National League leading Colorado Rockies.

Heating Up

After a terrible start to the season Jaso has been one of the better bats Clint Hurdle has been able to count on.Since May 16 Jaso has gone 20-for-56, putting up a very nice .357/.448/.589 line. During that span, which spans almost a month, he has hit a pair of homers, hit seven doubles, driven in 12 runs and had a few big hits late in games.

That doesn’t mean Hurdle should be penciling Jason in the cleanup spot in the lineup like he has done in the past, but he should continue to find spots where Jaso can have success as he has been delivering big hits.

Slow Start

Everyone remembers Jaso’s 0-for-18 start to begin the season. In reality that just got magnified because it was the start of the season. Had Jaso started the season well and hit a skid in the middle of May, not many people would likely have made a big deal out of it.

While that early slump hurt his overall line, which stands at .246/.340/.429, if you take away his 0-for-18 start, Jaso has put up a respectable .287/.386/.500 line in 108 at bats.

Most Pittsburgh Pirates fans still won’t like him, but Jaso has done a solid job from late April until now.

Less Is More

The biggest problem with Jaso is that Hurdle falls in love with him too much.

We saw last season how much he struggled as an everyday guy and while injuries forced him into that role at times this season, Jaso’s best value to the Pirates is as a solid bench guy, a role he is thriving in.

In games Jaso has entered as a sub, whether as a pinch hitter or whether he has entered in the sixth or seventh inning getting a couple of at bats, he has put up a nice .862 OPS with a couple of homers and eight RBI.

That should be Jaso’s role.  There’s no need for him to be run out there frequently at the expense of Josh Bell and others. One start a week is fine.

When Hurdle starts his best eight player, which he doesn’t do all the time, it also allows Jaso to be the first left-handed bat off the bench.

He has been good in that role, almost always delivering a professional at bat.

If Hurdle picks and chooses the spots he uses Jaso, he adds a lot of value to the Pirates team.

Being that he is on a very affordable $4 million contract that expires at the end of the season, if he keeps producing in a bench role he could also turn into a trade chip at the deadline.

Keep it off the Ground

Jaso’s biggest problem last season was that he couldn’t stop beating the ball into the ground. So far this year he has corrected that problem.

Last season Jaso hit the ball on the ground a whopping 52.1 percent of the time. This year, in 126 total at bats, that number has dropped to 32 percent. He’s also getting the ball in the air more hitting fly balls 45.4 percent of the time, compared to just 27 percent last year.

One thing I have liked about Jaso’s approach this season is his willingness to hit the ball the other way. That is something he has done 23.7 percent of the time, compared to just 16 percent in 2016. Add all that up and Jaso is doing all the right things to be a productive bench player for this Pirates team.

PIttsburgh Pirates Fans still won’t like him, but you can’t take away that he has been one of the more productive Pirates hitters of late when given the opportunity.

Photo Credit – Daniel Decker Photgraphy

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