The Oakland Athletics won the American League West last season despite a virtual black hole on offense from the catching position. In 632 plate appearances by all of their catchers in 2012, the triple slash line from the position was: .204/.262/.325. That .587 OPS was abysmal and worked out to a 64 OPS+. And so it made sense for Billy Beane to use a couple of his pitching prospects for the on-base capabilities of John Jaso in a three-way trade with the the Mariners and Nationals first reported yesterday by Adam Kilgore. Jane Lee, MLB.com's Athletics beat reporter, later tweeted that Beane had been trying to get Jaso for months.
Jaso will also improve a team that led the league in offensive strikeouts last season. He rarely swings and misses (4.6% for his career) and rarely swings at pitches out of the strike zone. According to PitchF/X, Jaso has only swung at 19.3 percent of pitches out of the strike zone in his career. That leads to the rare statistic that Jaso actually has a higher walk percentage for his career than strikeout percentage.
After the season Jaso had in 2012, it now appears that the horrible season he had in 2011 was the fluke. In that season with the Rays, Jaso batted only .204 with a .298 on-base percentage. His season caused him to fall out of favor in St. Pete after a very successful 2010 and led the Rays to trade him to the Mariners. But now, Jaso has two of his three (somewhat) full seasons where he has put together an OBP of .372 with a 111 OPS+ in 2010 and last year's .394 OBP and 144 OPS+. Jaso had a .379 on-base percentage for his minor league career.
There is one offensive flaw Jaso does possess. He cannot hit lefties as a left-handed batter. His career triple slash line against southpaws is: .164/.302/.230 with a BABIP of .200. That's some pretty bad-butt contact right there. He does maintain his plate discipline but not much else.
But that's okay. The majority of pitchers in baseball throw from the right side and when the A's face a lefty, they can go with Derek Norris who hits much better against lefties.
John Jaso is also a very smart and reflexive base runner. I watched a lot of Rays games in 2010 and Jaso takes off immediately after a ball gets even minutely away from the opposing catcher. I saw him do that time and time again to get himself to second and third base. And Jaso has stolen ten bases in the last three seasons and has only been thrown out twice. He doesn't have a great base running score on the stat sites, but most catchers are way on the negative side and he is not, so that is something.
What about on defense? Well...Jaso is not great. He is a slight step down in that department from Kottaras and quite a big step down from Suzuki. Jaso has never had a good track record gunning down potential base steal attempts either in the minors or the majors. His defense is listed in the negative category. It's not that deeply in the negative, but it is not one of his strengths.
But if you believe in such things, he has a very good catcher ERA (CERA) and so does Norris who was among the lowest in that disputed statistic in 2012. So all Jaso has to do is not cause much harm behind the plate, receive his pitchers well and continue offensively as he has done two of the last three seasons. And if he does that, he adds two to three wins to the A's from the catching position.