Why Rays’ John Jaso Received $3.175 Million in Arbitration
By Robbie Knopf
The deadline for teams to exchange figures with their arbitration-eligible players can be a contentious time. Luckily for the Tampa Bay Rays, all their hard work proved to be enough this offseason as they avoided hearings with all eight of their eligibles. What were the factors that led them to the salaries to which they agreed with their players?
Earlier today, we analyzed the arbitration situation for Alex Cobb and did the same for Kevin Jepsen. Now we’re up to John Jaso.
Jaso, who is entering his third and final arbitration season, played well in 2014 but missed a lot of time from injury. Overall, he hit to a .264/.337/.430 line (117 OPS+) with 18 doubles, 9 homers, 40 RBI in 344 plate appearances. He did that while appearing in 54 games at catcher and 32 more at DH–considering his concussion issues, this may be the last time he is considered a catcher.
There are not many great comparables for Jaso’s 2014 season because a) he was a catcher that actually hit, b) he hit that well yet wasn’t a full-time starter, and c) when teams find catchers they can hit, they often extend them. With that in mind, our list of seasons that compare to Jaso’s most recent one are more of a mix of offense and defense than anyone who could hit like Jaso. Let’s give them a look.
The two statistics that may not be entirely familiar from that table are OPS+ and DRS. OPS+ compares a hitter’s OPS to how an average hitter would do in his ballpark. 100 is the average, 101 means 1% above-average, and 99 means 1% below. DRS, meanwhile, is Defensive Runs Saved, with higher positive values indicating stronger defensive players.
Just looking at Jaso’s OPS+ from last season, we would think that he could at least get in the top end of that range. When we adjust to ballpark, his offensive numbers are absolutely crazy for a catcher. As alluded to above, though, he isn’t even close to a pure catcher. His low DRS shows that he was a poor defender, but that isn’t even what we’re talking about.
Jaso played in 32 games at DH–the four players had nine games at positions other than catcher COMBINED. That takes away most of the advantage his offense gives him. Effectively, we can view him as an above-average offensive catcher instead of a truly special one, and then the entire picture here becomes clear.
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Let’s rank these players in OPS+ and DRS. Gerald Laird (3rd-best hitter, 2nd-best fielder) and Miguel Montero (2nd, 3rd) have the best average finish in the two categories of anyone and it makes sense that they got the most money. We will rank John Jaso 5th on defense because he couldn’t even play catcher all year, but the best offense of the group gives him an average finish of third.
Ryan Hanigan, meanwhile, is the 4th-best hitter and best defender, which would hypothetically tie him with Jaso, but he gets penalized by the arbitration for a lack of counting stats so he finished a little bit behind. Finally, John Buck is the worst hitter and second-worst fielder, so obviously he should get the least money.
We can quibble about John Jaso’s $850,000 raise being closer to Buck’s raise than it is to Laird and Montero’s, and that may be why Matt Swartz’s model projected him to get a little bit more. Nevertheless, Jaso’s money is quite reasonable within the context of these five players, and the Rays are hoping that he will stay healthy and be worth the money.