By Jason Shetler
It appears the Pirates will be entering the 2016 season looking to re enact Moneyball. Prior to the 2002 season, the Oakland Athletics weren’t going to be able to re-sign Jason Giambi. Knowing they wouldn’t have the resources to replace his power numbers, A’s general manager Billy Beane went out and signed Scott Hatteberg, who was known for his strong on base percentage. The problem was that Hatteberg was a catcher while having no experience at first base. As it turned out, the experiment worked, and the Athletics were postseason bound that year. The Pirates decided to part ways with Pedro Alvarez this offseason. They decided to bring in John Jaso to give them more of an on base presence at first base. Just like with Hatteberg, Jaso will be playing the position without really any experience. Let’s look at Jaso’s figures from the last two seasons, and what FanGraphs projects this year.
2014 (Athletics): .264/.337/.430, 118 OPS+, 8.1% BB rate, 17.4% K rate, 1.6 WAR in 99 games
2015 (Rays): .286/.380/.459, 132 OPS+, 13.0% BB rate, 18.1% K rate, 0.7 WAR in 70 games
2016 (FanGraphs): .282/.376/.414, 12.1% BB rate, 17.5% K rate, 1.5 WAR in 99 games
Jaso put up decent numbers with Oakland in 2014. His walk rate wasn’t bad that year, but it was a career low for him. Jaso put together a much better season for the Tampa Bay Rays last year, posting a .380 on base along with a solid 13% walk rate. Throughout much of his career, he has been a platoon player, and this season will be no different, as he will share the first base duties with Michael Morse. Going by the FanGraphs projection, Jaso is expected to put up similar numbers like he did in 2015.
My analysis: John Jaso obviously doesn’t have the power that Pedro Alvarez possesses, but he makes up for it with a career on base percentage (.361) that is 52 points better and a wRC+ (120) that is 14 points higher than Alvarez. While Jaso is an inexperienced first baseman defensively, most players who were catchers can generally handle the switch to first base. Additionally, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be as bad as Alvarez was. The Pirates inked Jaso to a two-year contract worth $8 million, and given his strong on base ability, it’s one of the better “under the radar” moves by any team this offseason.