The Tampa Bay Rays traded catcher John Jaso to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Josh Lueke and a PTBN or cash. Most of us know Josh Lueke as the guy in the Cliff Lee trade, and as the man who was in jail for 42 days. The Rays believe that Lueke can be a solid contributor in their bullpen, and they aren’t as concerned as most regarding Lueke’s baggage and off-the-field history. The main player in this deal is obviously John Jaso, and he had a nice year in 2010 (.372 OBP). However, Jaso fell apart last year and hit just .224, but it is important to note that his BABIP was just .244. Lueke, on the other hand, had a 6.06 ERA in last season, but he did have a 3.24 FIP.
Jaso is one of the most patient hitters in baseball, and everybody remembers Joe Maddon’s seemingly crazy idea to hit him lead-off. The plan worked out well, as Jaso’s good eye led to a .372 OBP and a solid 116 wRC+. However, he was worth just 0.5 WAR last season, and his bat seemingly fell flat (82 wRC+). Jaso isn’t a guy with much power, and his career ISO of .119 shows this. But patience is key, and Jaso has walked more than he has struck out during his career. However, he did strikeout more than he walked in 2011, which is a cause for some concern.
Some players have a drop in BABIP due to a decrease in line-drive rate or an increased in pop outs. This wasn’t the case with Jaso last season, as his line-drive rate was right in line with what he posted in 2010. He also hit less infield flies, and his other batted ball stats were about the same as in 2010. A sudden decrease from a .282 BABIP to a .244 BABIP is usually caused by a stark decrease in batted balls stats or in luck, and we can definitely say that the latter is the case for Jaso.
Josh Lueke received his first year of Major League action in 2011, but the results weren’t pretty. Although he struck out about eight hitters per nine, he walked 3.58 hitters per nine as well. The latter isn’t surprising, because the scouting reports say that Lueke is a guy who struggles mightily with his command.
Looking at the splits and Heat Maps, it’s easy to see why Lueke is better against lefties. Although the right-handed pitcher walks far more left-handed hitters, he strikes out more lefties and has a lower FIP (2.71 to 3.75). Granted, this is all small sample-size, but he leaves his fastball in the middle of the plate too much against righties. He keeps the ball on the outer-half of the plate against left-handed hitters, but he doesn’t generate enough strikes against them.
Lueke’s 6.06 ERA will surely go down, as his FIP was a solid 3.24 during his first 32 Major League innings. His BABIP-against was an unlucky .327, but his LOB% was an extremely unlucky 56.5% but his 5.7 HR/FB% helped him out. This is all small sample-size, but it is all we really have to evaluate him at this point.
It seems like Lueke can be a decent middle-reliever and has upside, and the Rays are optimistic about him being a key cog in their bullpen. There is a chance that he will end up being a serviceable set-up man down the road with his upside, but he’ll need to work on his control first.
Although John Jaso is a solid hitter because of his patience, he is a poor defensive player who can’t gun down baserunners very well. He makes up for some of this by working well with his pitching staff, but that doesn’t make up for his inability to control baserunners. He isn’t the worst defensive catcher out there by any means, but Jaso definitely leaves much to be desired in this part of the game.
I expect the Mariners new backup catcher to get on base at .350 clip, albeit with little power and he should have a wRC+ between 105 and 110. Jaso will most likely platoon with Miguel Olivo and spell the overworked starter, and Jaso is a 2-2.5 WAR player over an entire season as a starter. The Mariners got the better end of the deal, because Lueke isn’t a consistent enough player and just isn’t as talented as Jaso. I mean, a catcher who can post an OBP of .350 is a rare find. The Rays didn’t exactly strikeout on this deal either, because Lueke should end up being a nice arm out of the ‘pen. I would rather have a solid offensive catcher than a reliever with upside, and there is also a chance of Jaso beating out Olivo (Bill James projected wOBA of .289 compared to Jaso’s .324) for the starting job.