Blue Jays: What has happened to Danny Jansen and what can he do about it?

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

Back in the 2022 MLB season, Danny Jansen finally had his breakout year with the Toronto Blue Jays, despite enduring two stints on the IL as well. Jansen hit .260 with an OPS of .855, to go along with 15 home runs and 44 RBI over 72 games. If projected over an entire season, he would have been on pace for over 30 home runs and 90 RBI. Together with 2022 All-Star and Silver Slugger Alejandro Kirk, they formed one of the top catching duos in the league. This enabled Jays’ GM Ross Atkins to have the confidence in dealing away their top catching prospect (also the top prospect in the MLB at the time) in Gabriel Moreno to get outfield defensive help during the 2022-2023 offseason.

Now over 21 games into the 2023 MLB season, Jansen has been off to a miserable start offensively. Defensively, he has been doing great work with the rotation so far, with improved glove movement and often being praised for his game-calling and rapport with the pitchers. But from the offensive standpoint, he has a total of five hits, a home run, two runs scored, six RBI, with five walks and 10 strikeouts for a .139 AVG and .466 OPS.

This brings up the question, what has happened to his explosive offensive output from last season? As a matter of fact, his current production rate is even worse than his prior seasons to his breakout year. To determine what may be plaguing Jansen at the plate, let’s take a closer look at what has been different this year compared to his stellar year in 2022.

What has been different?

According to FanGraphs, if we take a look at the heat map for pitches that Jansen has been getting in 2023, pitchers are concentrating over half of their pitches on the outer half of the plate, with close to 30 percent being low and away. Back in 2022, the majority of the pitches he faced concentrated in the heart of the plate or slightly below, but catching the strike zone the majority of the time. Jansen generates the most power from his fluid swing generally by barreling up and pulling the ball. So opposing pitchers appear to have adjusted by pitching lower and further away from him to take away his usual approach at the plate.

As a result of this, statistics of Jansen’s batted balls in 2023 compared to 2022 show that the percentage of balls pulled had decreased from 36.9 to 24.0, and the percentage of balls going the opposite way has increased drastically from 10.8 to 32.0. Not only that, but his ground ball to fly ball ratio has increased from 0.5 (which was close to his career average) to 0.67 this year, leading to much more ground outs (and sometimes strikeouts) as he is getting over the top of the ball too much. If we also take a look at Jansen’s spray chart on batted balls in 2023, most of his balls hit to the left/pull side are mainly ground balls, with a couple line drives and fly balls, whereas the bulk of the balls hit to the opposite field are mainly fly ball outs. When compared to 2022, the majority of his batted balls were to his power pull side, with over two-thirds being line drives, fly balls or home runs.

In addition, according to Baseball Savant, Jansen’s barrel percentage had decreased from 13.1 down to 8.0, his exit velocity is down from 90.4mph to 83.4mph, and more importantly, his launch angle has dropped immensely from 22.2 down to 11.3 compared to last year. This could explain why he has been getting less solid contact and hitting into more outs this year.

What is happening?

So apparently, what seems to be happening is with pitchers knowing Jansen’s strength is using his power to pull the ball, they are now concentrating on the outer and lower half of the plate to negate his fluid power swing and make him adjust to a swing he is less comfortable with to protect the plate. As a result, it induces him to reach for the ball that is coming further away and down from him, altering his usual smooth swing. In doing so, whenever Jansen is a little late on the pitch, the arc of his swing would undercut the ball and generate the pop ups and fly outs to the opposite field, and whenever Jansen is a bit in front of the pitch, the arc of his swing is on its way up, leading to overcutting or slightly on top of the ball, generating the ground balls or soft line outs that mainly resulted from it.

Here is Jansen’s fluid power swing from 2022:

Here’s more of his slightly weaker, protective swing that has appeared more often in 2023:

What can be done about it to help Jansen?

To correct this issue and get back to his strong productive self in 2022, Jansen needs to do a few adjustments. First, he should try to position himself closer to the plate to take away the reach that he needs to do from his current stance to cover the pitches on the outer half of the plate. Secondly, he needs to be able to lay off some of the low and away pitches that may or may not be even close to the strike zone to force the pitcher to start throwing more pitches within the strike zone or on the inner part of the plate.  That would enable him to get back his sweet zone to be able to pull the ball. Thirdly, once the pitches are back into his comfort zone, he could utilize once again his squared-up, fluid swing to generate the explosiveness we saw from last year and forego the reaching, arcing protective swing that he often shows now.

Also, to give him time to work this out and get back his confidence, the Jays should insert Jansen in the lineup against right-handed pitching because, despite being a righty, he has generally hit better against right-handed pitchers both for his career (.232 vs .190 for AVG and .744 vs .655 for OPS), and in 2022 (.272 vs .226 for AVG and .863 vs .826 for OPS). That way, the sooner that Jansen can work out his batting woes, the sooner the Jays can get back the 2022 version of Danny Jansen. Hopefully, his clutch, pinch-hit two-run homer against the New York Yankees to tie the game on Saturday serves as his first building step in the right direction.