The more you watch him play, the more you seem to visualize the hidden persona that is within Tampa Bay Rays rookie catcher John Jaso. There is a cerebral side to him that only a select fraction of friends of Rays fans have ever seen off the field because Jaso is a bit different that the catching norm when it comes to usual physical demands of a Major League catcher. It is common knowledge that to play behind Home Plate and take the constant hammering catcher do on a daily basis from errant breaking balls and foul tips you got to have a few screws loose. But maybe Jaso’s nuts and bolts are tighter than you think.
Here is a rookie ballplayer who is so “green” conscious that several times during the 2010 MLB season he had a friend drop him off at the back gate entrance to Tropicana Field to carpool or save energy. But that isn’t the only quality that makes this young catcher unique. Then again, don’t get caught up in the old analogy that Jaso is one of those enigmas wrapped in a riddle, that usually sits behind the plate for Jaso’s sin or folly is actually that he is just a little more mathematically inclined than most of his catching brethren.
On more than one occasion during his rookie campaign with the Rays, Jaso has vocalized his future aspiration of possibly becoming a mathematics teacher after his playing days are finished. I can easily imagine Jaso walking around a high school or university classroom entrancing his students with his profound joy of analytical equations and formulas and professing to the invisible magic that lives among the numerals that most of us only love to see on our weekly paychecks.
You could easily see someone with the passion and excitement of numbers like Jaso possibly changing many young lives with just a few paragraphs about algorithms. But right now he is trying to change a few lives with his bat and his play behind the plate for the Rays. And it works to Jaso’s advantage that mathematics plays such a central component of his life. The art of catching in the Major Leagues is a position ultimately steeped in game time probabilities and a everlasting sea of predictable percentages.
With Jaso’s ease at taking in large quantities of numbers and simultaneously filtering out the mundane and unusable with quick precision, it will make him more in tune with his game day play calling duties behind the plate. With a razor sharp mind based firmly within the guidelines of logic and statistical reasoning, it makes him a clear asset for the Rays, especially at a key defensive play-calling position like catcher.
Want to put Jaso’s lead-off status into a more funneled down wisp of probabilities and clarity? No other rookie has ever started more games catching and batted lead-off in one season than Jaso. Sure he might have only started 41 times behind the plate and hit lead-off in 2010, but that mark completely destroyed the previous record held by Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia A’s catcher Mickey Cochrane who held the previous mark of hitting in the lead-off spot only 13 times in 1925.
All of this statistical brilliance might not have evolved if Jaso had not had an open mind to change this past Spring in Port Charlotte, Florida. It was during the early stages just after Jaso reported along with the Rays roster of invited pitchers’ and catchers’ that the Rays staff sat down with Jaso and explained that his probable chances of him making and retaining a spot with the Rays unless he devoting some extra time and energy to revamping and reformulating his catching basics behind the plate. Jaso needed to quickly subtract a few bad habits and add a few more wrinkles to his current catching foundation.
With the help of Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos, Jaso began a intense and prolific change to his overall catching style. By infusing a quicker throwing style and more profound blocking techniques, it easily multiplied Jaso’s overall chance to finally aspire to the Major League level. Jaso quickly adapted and performed his changes with precision and became more acquainted to his new stances and throwing motion. Even with his quick renovation to his catching persona, the Rays still had Jaso start the season with the Rays Triple-A club, the Durham Bulls.
But when Shoppach went down with a knee injury, Jaso was quickly recalled from the Bulls on April 13, 2010 and became a key member of the Rays catching equation. Jaso still shows signs of falling back into bad habits behind the plate on breaking pitches in the dirt, or holding onto foul tips. But he showed the initiative of picking the brain of Ramos and Cursi in further developing his overall catching and his ability to show improvements on a daily basis were quickly noticed by Maddon and his Coaching staff.
Since the mathematical classification of statistics seem to be at the true heart of the game of baseball, let’s look at some other of Jaso’s accomplishments that could ultimately make Jaso the first name on the Rays flowchart both in the line-up and behind the plate again in 2011:
*** Jaso’s 59 walks in 2010 led all American League rookies in that category and beat the previous Rays rookie record set by Akinora Iwamura set in 2007 by one lone walk.
*** No one in Major League Baseball had a better walk to strikeout ratio (59-39) than Jaso in his 339 plate appearances.
*** The last American League rookie catcher to finish the season with a OBP ( .372 ) as high as Jaso’s (min 100 games) was New York Yankee great Thurman Munson with a .386 OBP in 1970.
*** Jaso finished in fifth place in the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year voting garnering only a single third place vote. That put him right on the heels of fellow Rays starter Wade Davis who finished in fourth place, but Davis’s tally only included fourth place votes (11).
Mathematics has always been a key component to Jaso’s life off the diamond. And now his love of numbers and probabilities is also starting to help him control his fate on the field. Jaso was a career .291 hitter in the minors for the Rays, and his bat has never been seen as a negative element for him.
Playing the odds and taking calculated risks have come out to his advantage during his rookie season. If Jaso can keep his analytical mind trained on his hitting, and keeps evolving defensively behind the plate, the Rays might have finally found the all around catcher that they have been searching for.
I could see Jaso standing in front of an auditorium or classroom with his trademark post-game Birkenstocks with his excited voice bellowing through the room about the symbolic notations of mathematic principles and the simple origins of numerals. But all that will have to wait as Jaso took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him this last Spring by the Rays to heart to change his catching style.
Maybe Jaso has finally found a feasible conclusion to his personal internal algorithm with a future in the Major Leagues. With more Summers in the Sun predicted for Jaso, it should give him more than ample time to finally come to that long sought after analytical final conclusion that his career in the Major Leagues might just be the best mathematical solution Jaso has ever solved.