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Bullish or Bearish? Danny Jansen

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Has Jansen really been the victim of really bad luck on batted balls?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This short series will examine several Blue Jays with shorter track records around whose production there is significant uncertainty and the reasons to be both bullish or bearish on what they will do in 2021. Having exmained Teoscar Hernandez, Rowdy Tellez and Bo BIchette, today we turn to Danny Jansen.

Projection Systems:

  • Steamer — .236/.323/.404 in 358 PA, 93 wRC+ and 2.0 WAR
  • ZiPS — .230/.322/.424 in 417 PA, 97 wRC+ and 2.0 WAR
  • Marcel — .220/.312/.390 in 437 PA, ~87 wRC+
  • The BAT X — .238/.324/.417 in 390 PA, 100 wRC+

After looking at a player who has drastically outperformed his Statcast “expected” production in Bo Bichette, today we turn almost the polar opposite in Danny Jansen. For his career he’s posted a serviceable (for a good defensive catcher) 79 wRC+ in 646 plate appearances, with good plate metrics (10% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate) offset by poor outcomes on batted balls, driven by a .221 BABIP.

More encouragingly, the Statcast output suggests he should have done much better on those balls in play. While his average exit velocity is quite low (5th percentile), he does a solid job of squaring balls up at high exit velocities (above average 7% barrel rate). Thus far, he’s created about 51 runs of offense on 424 PA; the Statcast algorithm suggests it should have been about 67. That would be a 124 wRC+ on batted balls rather than his actual 99 wRC+ (still well shy of the MLB average of 135-140, so it’s not saying he should be a world beater).

Expo45 took a good look at Jansen’s batted balls and missing hits in November that I linked above, and came away optimistic. It’s well worth reading, but I have a slightly different approach: what exactly, if anything is missing in the first place? The projection system clearly see him with much better batted ball output, but has Jansen in fact been getting shortchanged on balls in play?

I took the same approach as with Bichette yesterday, dividing exit velocity into four buckets (very weak <80 MPH; poor-okay 80-90; decent-hard 90-100; very hard 100+) and five bins of batted balls (topped ground balls; ground balls/”gliners”; line drives; “fliners”; high fly balls). Rather than posting detailed data, I’m just going to discuss the relevant highlights.

First, it’s worth noting that Jansen generally hits balls at a higher angle. 34% of his batted balls come off the bat at 30 degree or more, 7% more than league average. Balls hit at this angle aren’t terribly productive, but this alone doesn’t hurt him much since the tradeoff comes from much fewer balls at less than 10 degrees, which are also low productivity. It does mean a few less hits since ground balls get beat out more often than balls high in the air fall in, so accordingly that will result in a lower expected BABIP.

In terms of exit velocity, there’s little that stand outs in terms of explaining the underperformance. Across all three buckets of balls under 100 MPH, his wRC+ lags the expectation by 24 to 33 points, and is actually ahead by 42 points on balls over 100 MPH. So the only takeaway here is he gets the strong expected results when he hits the ball really hard.

Turning to launch angle, he’s almost right on expectation for the first two low angled buckets of ground balls. It’s not a case of him not beating out ground balls, or just having had luck finding holes in the infield.

Instead, there’s two buckets where he really lags: line drives (7 to 18 degrees) and high fly balls (30+ degrees), largely concentrated in balls hit under 100 MPH. The first bucket are balls that are generally really well squared up, so let’s take look at the five line drives Jansen hit with the highest expected production that turned into outs:

Not surprisingly, these are all well hit balls, with the misfortunate of being right at someone. Overall, Jansen is missing about five expected hits from balls in this bucket (.489 BA vs. .600 expected), and unless there’s something whereby he tends to pull balls right at defenders, this looks like just bad luck.

What’s a much more puzzling notion is a lot of underperformance (about two thirds of Jansen’s overall difference in the bucket over 30 degrees. In general, these balls end up outs a lot of the time, so you really need volume to underperform. It’s not about home runs; he missed one home run on a ball under 100 MPH that usually goes, but got one “undeserved” HR in turn which basically offsets.

He’s hit 30 balls under 80 MPH and over 30 degrees, on which he’s suggested to have about five hits and yet he only has two. The video below shows the five at-bats with the biggest gaps (totaling almost all difference).

the first three allegedly go for hits more than 50%, the last two about 30%. Maybe one could have dunked in, but I don’t really see anything suggesting really bad luck. Now let’s look at the five balls hit between 80 and 100 MPH over 30 degrees on which Jansen lost the mos expected value:

The common thread here is they’re hit to the deepest part of the ballpark, between the gaps, so it amounts to little more than warning track power. If Jansen got around on them a little more and pulled them, he’d generate significant value. This is where xwOBA not considering spray angle might be generating a systemic error for a player.

On one hand this is a significant opportunity where a small tweak might unlock bigger power potential. But in terms of the actual balls he’s hit, it’s not really a case of him getting robbed.


Overall, Jansen has likely been a little bit unlucky in disproportionately having balls hit right on the screws right at defenders. But the bulk of his underperformance related to balls hit higher in the air, and it doesn’t seem like that’s actually about bad luck or unfavourable variation that can be expected to reverse.

Conclusion: Bearish. Absent improvement in skill level, I’d put a base case projection for Jansen’s batted ball production around 110 wRC+ compared to the ~125 Statcast suggests he should have earned. That will bring his overall line closer to 90 wRC+, but would be shy of the consensus of projections.

Poll

Relative to the 2021 projections, on Danny Jansen I am:

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Bullish
    (59 votes)
  • 38%
    Neutral
    (97 votes)
  • 38%
    Bearish
    (98 votes)
254 votes total Vote Now