Blue Jays: Catcher-by-committee approach has been working
The Toronto Blue Jays have gotten steady production in the batter’s box all season long from their men behind the plate.
Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Zack Collins, and, for a brief time, Tyler Heineman, have all delivered both solid hitting and effective game-calling in 2022.
The results have suggested a long-awaited breakout for Jansen could be in the works. Kirk’s development has taken another step, the reasons behind the somewhat puzzling trade for Collins have become clearer and Heineman has earned more playing time on a new team after he was picked up earlier this week.
This was supposed to be the year that Danny Jansen finally busted out. After the season-opening series against the Texas Rangers, he looked poised to have a campaign that would be worthy of not only a personal best but one of the best in the game.
D.J. collected four hits, including a pair of homers and a double. It seemed to be a continuation of a torrid stretch Jansen enjoyed capping off 2021. He hit .310 with 5 homers and an OPS of 1.072 over last season’s final month, showing the hitting prowess that had been attached to him since he was a prospect.
Following the Rangers series, Jansen missed the next month plus with an oblique injury. Since his return on May 14th, “Jano” has a pair of hits in 10 ABs, including another homer.
After parts of two seasons, totalling just over 200 at-bats, Alejandro Kirk flashed great potential, especially as a hitter. What he’s shown this season, particularly during Jansen’s absence, has been an improved ability as a thrower, game-caller, and framer.
He’s also begun to show a bit more thunder in his bat of late. In his first 21 games, Kirk scattered 14 hits, all singles, for an OPS of .571. Since then, Kirk has gone 13/42 (.310) with four doubles, a homer, and a .838 OPS.
The Toronto Blue Jays have gotten steady production at the plate and beyond all season long from their men behind the plate.
Kirk has shown growth behind the plate too and has developed chemistry with Jose Berrios, a pitcher the franchise has invested in considerably this past offseason. He’s thrown out 29% of base-stealers (league average 26%) and is among the leaders in framing stats like strike rate.
Zack Collins was something of an unknown entering the season. With under 400 plate appearances over parts of three seasons with the White Sox, he’d shown a power stroke but also a high strikeout rate and a below-average caught-stealing rate.
For a two-week period in April, Collins got red-hot. He went 11-31 (.355) with three homers and two doubles.
He’s cooled off considerably, with just one hit in his last 24 ABs but that’s baseball’s way of evening things out. His BAbip (batting average of balls in play) during the hot streak was .421, during the cold stretch it’s just .100.
Perhaps the real issue is how often Collins doesn’t put the ball in play. He has 14 strikeouts in his last 29 plate appearances and his 40.9% strikeout rate is alarming. Still, his hard-hit rates suggest another hot streak may be just around the corner.
The former Jays catcher parlayed a strong camp into being one of the first call-ups of the year when Jansen went on the IL. It’s a good thing he made that cut because, as it turned out, he was quickly needed on the big-league club.
Heineman appeared in 10 games and got four hits in 15 at-bats, including a pair of doubles. Perhaps more impressive was his work with Yusei Kikuchi. On May 4th, Kikuchi had one of his best starts to date as a Blue Jay and Heineman was instrumental in the game-calling and encouraging him the whole way through.
The numbers game meant that the team had to expose Heineman to waivers after Jansen returned to the lineup. Sure enough, the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed him. Heineman made his Pirates debut on Wednesday night and steered a pitching staff that allowed just five hits and two earned runs in a win over the Cubs.
The past six weeks have taught us that the Blue Jays are in a good spot with the catcher position. Although their top prospect, Gabriel Moreno, looks ready to be in the big leagues soon, the best thing for his development and the team’s current form, is for him to play the year out in Buffalo.