John Jaso's defense

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 2, 2013 at 9:09 AM

(Hey, it's my 1,500th post!)

If you want my thoughts on last night's game from last night, they're here in podcast form.

One aspect of the game I'd like to raise briefly here this morning, though, is John Jaso's defense behind the plate. You've probably heard that his reputation is not great and that he started half his games at designated hitter for the Mariners last year. On the other hand, he's still behind the plate now, and Bob Melvin's an ex-catcher who presumably knows something about catcher defense when he sees it.

The thing about catcher defense is that, more than anybody else besides the pitcher, we can actually see the catcher playing defense. We're not trained scouts, sure, and they still know more than we do, but whereas we have more or less zero ability to judge the defense of a shortstop or a left fielder from television, the catcher is right there in front of us from the beginning of his responsibility to the end.

On the other hand, we have our biases, so what I'm about to say is almost certainly colored by the fact that I was expecting going into the game to see things Jaso did that I didn't like. And I will say first that on the one ball in the dirt that I remember, a curve from Brett Anderson, Jaso's technique looked fine—he got right up on top of the ball and knocked it down into the dirt, not letting it glance off to his side.

However, on every-day pitches, it seemed to me that Jaso moves around a lot behind the dish. We've learned from Mike Fast that catchers can have a huge effect on ball and strike calls (or huger than we might have been giving them credit for in the past) and that a catcher's technique matters. The single most important takeaway from Fast's articles on pitch-framing have been, to me, that a catcher should move as little as possible behind the plate. GIFs of Jose Molina, for instance, show him still as a statue, hardly moving his glove, not jerking his head around, getting set early, and so forth. Bad catchers like Ryan Doumit or Jorge Posada jab at the ball, move their bodies, frame pitches by bringing their gloves back into the strike zone rather than tilting the glove.

Jaso, to my eyes, looks more like the latter than the former. Maybe it won't cost the A's a ton over the course of the year, but he seems to stick his butt up and push his glove out on nearly every pitch rather than patiently waiting for the ball to arrive to him. The adjective that comes to mind for good catchers is that they receive the ball soft, that it doesn't look like an effort. They pillow the ball with their glove. Worse catchers jab at it eagerly, unable or unwilling to let things simply flow.

One game (as I've said repeatedly, I don't watch spring training because who has time?) is the tiniest of samples, obviously, and technique can improve with coaching, and I'm not a scout so I very well might be / could be / probably am wrong, and my bias noted above is probably showing, but! I thought it worth noting.