Danny Jansen looking like Blue Jays' best catching option after slow start
Alejandro Kirk is coming off an all-star season, but Danny Jansen looks like a more promising asset behind the dish right now.
Danny Jansen has been delivering a number of dramatic moments lately with two-walk off hits since May 13, but he's also giving the Toronto Blue Jays some steady production.
The veteran catcher got off to a horrendous start to season while battling an illness, but since April 15 he's hit .239/.316/.479 — good for a 116 wRC+. Those aren't world-beating numbers, but considering the average backstop has a 92 wRC+ in 2023, they are more than solid.
In that time the 28-year-old has outproduced the Blue Jays' other catcher — Alejandro Kirk who has a 104 wRC+ — but received an identical number of plate appearances (79).
Now, less than 80 plate appearances of production aren't generally enough to shift a playing-time paradigm — especially at a defence-oriented position like catcher. That said, Kirk's start to 2023 includes enough red flags that throwing more at-bats Jansen's way is starting to look appealing.
Right now, Kirk's contact quality is nothing short of dismal. His average exit velocity of 85.4 mph is in the 4th percentile of MLB hitters, well below his career average of 90.4 mph. Part of what's made him special early in his career was his ball striking, but his hard-hit rate has fallen off a cliff in 2023.
Because Kirk's speed is non-existent he needs to drive the ball to find consistent offensive success. Right now he's achieving respectability at the plate thanks to a bloated walk rate (15.3%), but that's unlikely to be sustainable if he's unable to punish pitches in the zone.
When pitchers cease to fear what Kirk can do when they throw him strikes, he's likely to find walks harder to come by. Cavan Biggio has experienced a similar issue this season as his once-elite walk rate evaporated due to his inability to punish pitchers for pounding the zone.
It's not inevitable that Kirk will suffer a similar fate, but Biggio presents a cautionary tale for those who rely too heavily on walks. As it stands, Kirk's xwOBA on contact (.279) is much lower than his overall xwOBA (.312).
That means he's been significantly less dangerous offensively this season when he actually hits the ball. That's a pretty serious concern.
Jansen's offensive profile is easier to trust right now.
His full-season numbers look gruesome due to his rough start, but he's coming off a 140 wRC+ season. Since the beginning of 2021 his wRC+ is a sturdy 114.
His plan of attack is simplistic as he pulls the ball whenever possible and tries to keep it in the air. That's not going to lead to a high batting average and it limits his OBP ceiling, but it makes him a reliable source of power.
The biggest knock on Jansen in recent years has been an inability to stay healthy. As a result, some of his numbers come from smaller samples that invite more scrutiny. It's possible that his lack of massive raw power will make his current approach unsustainable, but what Kirk's doing right now looks flimsier.
It's easy to overreact to the clutch hits Jansen has produced in recent days and say that he deserves the catching job outright. That's not how it works, though. Catching is a physically-demanding position that requires multiple players to log significant time.
There are some pitchers that are better suited to have Kirk or Jansen catching them and matchups where having both in the lineup gives the Blue Jays the best chance of generating offence.
Kirk is the better pitch blocker, which is a priority at times, while Jansen has been better at throwing and framing this season. Every at-bat Kirk has been getting shouldn't be suddenly given to Jansen.
With all of those caveats out of the way, at this moment Jansen seems better equipped to give the Blue Jays the offence they need. Toronto ranks 13th in the majors in run scoring and 17 teams have hit more home runs. Jansen is heating up and providing a jolt for this squad.
Entering the season, Kirk appeared to be the 1A to Jansen's 1B behind the plate. Until the 2022 all-star starts making some harder contact, it might be time to reverse the roles.