Jaso, Lobaton and Molina: American League Catching Changes

It wasn’t a trade that garnered a lot of attention, but Seattle’s acquisition of 28-year-old catcher John Jaso from Tampa Bay carries an impact that will be felt in both cities.

In Jaso the Mariners get a selective left handed bat, the polar opposite of incumbent catcher Miguel Olivo. Calling Jaso selective may be an insult to the word. Of the players with a least 650 plate appearances over the last two seasons, only two, Brett Gardner and Bobby Abreu, have a lower swing percentage than than Jaso’s 34.8%. The man’s more passive than Gandhi. This can be both good and bad. The good is that he’s not at the plate hacking like Olivo, who had the fifth highest swing percentage from ’10-’11. The bad is that pitchers can get ahead of you easier when you’re swinging at the first pitch just 18 percent of the time when league average is close to 30. If a pitcher tries going after the easy strike too many times Jaso has to make him pay, and that’s something he failed to do in 2011. Looking at his .224/.298/.354 line from last season isn’t quite fair. Dave Cameron had a nice write up of the trade yesterday at USSMariner.com, concluding with this paragraph

As long as Jaso is able to maintain his contact rates and the level of power he’s shown to date, history suggests that he’s going to be something close to a league average hitter going forward. His 2011 performance is the absolute floor for a player with his skills, and given some natural bounce in his BABIP, he should easily be expected to be a positive offensive contributor next year.

If that’s the case then Olivo should have a platoon partner next season. Olivo is the type of player who’s far, far more valuable in fantasy than he is to his actual team. Most leagues don’t use on base percentage, so his career mark of .279 is of little consequence. He has 15-20 home run power, which is important considering the dearth of quality offensive catchers. Over the last three seasons Olivo has hit the third most home runs (56) and has the fifth most RBI (185) among catchers. Over the past three seasons he hasn’t had a noticeable platoon split either. Jaso obviously has less of a sample size to work with, but his OPS of .720 against right handed pitchers is .115 points higher than it is verses southpaws.

Seattle manager Eric Wedge is fond of Olivo. I don’t expect to see a straight platoon out of these players. Unless Olivo completely hits rock bottom he should continue getting a majority of the starts. Maybe not the 130 games he played last season, but thanks to Jaso’s horrid defense he should maintain his value going forward. Unless you’re in an A.L. only or some other very deep league Jaso has no place being selected on draft day.

With the departure of Jaso, and the unlikelihood of Kelly Shoppach returning, the Rays are going to have a whole new catching tandem in 2012. Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton, or as R.J. Anderson dubbed them last night, Dos-e, form an unlikely duo. First off, neither has much fantasy value. The right handed hitting Molina had a career season in 2011, hitting .281/.342/.415 in 55 games which was mostly fueled by a .363 batting average on balls in play. He’ll be splitting time with the switch-hitting Lobaton, he of 56 career big league plate appearances. He never hit for a very good average in the minors, constantly in the .240-.260 range with 5-10 home run power, but did post a walk rate north of 10 percent in all but one stop. Unless Robinson Chirinos has an amazing spring and Lobaton goes down in flames expect Dos-e to be the options in Tampa Bay, which is not a good thing for fantasy owners.

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

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How the heck did Cameron come up with the Carlos Ruiz comparison to Jaso? Sorry, but Ruiz can throw out runners once in awhile….Molina probably could steal off Jaso.


Offensive profile, presumably. In theory, Jaso is Ruiz without the defense.