Danny Jansen is solidifying himself as one of baseball’s top offensive catchers

Few things have gone right offensively for the Toronto Blue Jays this season, as the franchise sits near the bottom of the sport in almost every category across the quarter mark of the 2024 campaign. But, one player they haven’t had to worry about is Danny Jansen, a power-hitting catcher who’ll be a free agent after ’24.

Jansen missed the first few weeks of the regular season after suffering a fractured wrist in spring training from yet another hit-by-pitch, adding to his already extensive injury report. Despite appearing in less than 50 per cent of the club’s 46 games thus far, he’s wasted zero time making up for lost at-bats since returning to the lineup.

The 29-year-old backstop has been one of Toronto’s most consistent offensive generators, and those have been nearly impossible to locate during this early-season slide that’s dropped the organization to last in the AL East. A massive reason for that has been a lack of productivity from the top of the lineup.

Due to that shortage, Jansen made his first career start in the No. 2 spot during Monday’s series opener versus the Chicago White Sox, earning a well-deserved promotion for his success at the plate. And he didn’t mess around while facing the worst team in baseball, going 3-for-5 with two extra-base hits — including a two-run bomb — and five RBIs, leading the charge in a badly-needed 9-3 victory.

It was the third time in Jansen’s career that he had driven in at least five runs, finishing one shy of tying his career-high of six, which he set against the Boston Red Sox in July 2022.

When he isn’t recovering on the IL, Jansen has been a major offensive force for the Blue Jays over the last several seasons, particularly in the power department. But the importance of his role has grown considerably since the start of 2023. For a lineup thin on sluggers, he has answered the bell time and time again, supplying sufficient thump while also playing a demanding, physical position behind the dish.

Nothing has changed in that regard in ’24, as the right-handed-hitting catcher is tied for second on the team in home runs (five) while leading in AVG (.333), OBP (.397), SLG (.681), ISO (.348), wOBA (.455) and wRC+ (201) among qualified hitters with at least 70 plate appearances.

One of the key reasons why Jansen’s been 101 per cent above league average per wRC+ is he’s stuck to his simple approach of crushing balls to the pull side, especially the ones he elevates. Another involves his plate discipline, which has soared to a new level early on, considering he’s nearly matched his walk output (eight) with his strikeout (nine) across 22 games.
Given the time he missed out of the gate, Jansen has yet to log more than 78 plate appearances across his first 22 games this season, preventing him from qualifying for the major-league leaderboards. However, that hasn’t done anything to dampen his case as one of baseball’s top offensive catchers.

Had he recorded enough at-bats to qualify, the Blue Jays’ power-thumping backstop would sit first in SLG, ISO, wOBA and wRC+ at his position. He’d also be tied for seventh in fWAR at 1.4, placing behind Adley Rutschman, Ryan Jeffers, Will Smith, Salvador Perez and the Contreras brothers (Willson and William).

Jansen hasn’t just been among the premier hitting backstops this season. He also resides as one of the top-tier batters, too. While the same limited sample size caveats remain, his .681 SLG and .348 ISO currently lead the majors among big-league hitters with a minimum of 70 plate appearances, with his 201 wRC+ trailing only Shohei Ohtani’s 204 for first.
As a .230 career hitter with a 107 wRC+ over seven partial big-league seasons, Jansen’s offensive explosion will likely normalize eventually and regress closer to where he’s been most of his career. Even so, the Blue Jays will happily take the player he has been over the past four seasons, including 2024.

Since 2021, the 16th-round selection from ’13 has hit .246/.325/.505 with 48 home runs, 137 RBIs and a 128 wRC+ over 832 plate appearances, worth 7.5 fWAR. Granted, he hasn’t compiled enough reps to qualify for any leaderboards, a result of playing fewer than 100 games in each of the previous four seasons. But if he did, he’d rank near the top among big-league catchers.

Health is likely the lone defining aspect separating Jansen from the sport’s upper-echelon catching class, at least from an offensive perspective. While many of his ailments have been fluke-related IL trips, resulting from unfortunate hit-by-pitches and foul tips off opponents’ bats, his reputation will continue to be held back by his availability — or lack thereof — until he proves otherwise.

But one aspect that should help support Jansen’s case is his emergence as a top-of-the-order-hitter this season.

Even before the Blue Jays promoted him to the No. 2 hole on Monday, he deserved to move up the order after being deployed in the fifth, sixth and seventh spots. Following a successful debut batting behind new leadoff hitter Davis Schneider, it’s fair to assume this lineup shakeup will likely be more than just a one-off for manager John Schneider.
Now the question becomes, how will Jansen’s increased importance to the offence impact his playing time? On one hand, Toronto needs to have his bat in the lineup as much as possible — perhaps even every day. On the other, this is also a player whose injury history is longer than most, and there’ll surely be a conscious effort from the team to avoid burning him out.

Those efforts are already underway, as the 6-foot-2 backstop has yet to start three consecutive games this season. They’ve also tried to steer clear of using him as the DH on days when Alejandro Kirk catches, with all but one of his 19 appearances in the starting lineup coming behind the plate.

Of course, part of that is because Justin Turner and Daniel Vogelbach — a pair of bat-first DH types — are on the roster. But with how well Jansen has performed, the Blue Jays have to consider sacrificing a bit of defence for offence to create opportunities in the DH spot for their best hitter, likely forcing Turner to third base on those days.
It’s not an ideal solution, but it could also benefit Kirk, whose offensive production has suffered in 2024, as he’s struggled to a .198/.295/.284 slash line and a 72 wRC+ in 26 games. The Blue Jays need to get him back on track, a feat that’d be tougher to accomplish with Jansen making close to 100 per cent of his starts at catcher.
Toronto rostered the most valuable catching duo in 2022, leading the majors in fWAR (7.9) that season. While they rank top five this season at 1.9, there’s no question they’re a better, more rounded team when Jansen and Kirk are thriving at both ends of the spectrum.

The success of that tandem is why it’s so puzzling that Jansen remains unsigned beyond 2024. Injuries, of course, are likely the primary culprit behind that uncertainty, and understandably so. Still, last winter should’ve presented a golden opportunity to hammer out an extension, considering he had just posted career-highs in home runs (17) and RBIs (53) while logging the second-most games played (86) of his Blue Jays tenure.

Both sides could potentially agree to a new deal this off-season. But that’s assuming Jansen remains with the team through the July 30 trade deadline. If they end up selling, even to a softer degree, it’d be tough to envision a scenario where he isn’t dealt to a playoff contender.
It’s become somewhat rare for a catcher to be traded midseason, mainly because of the time required to learn a new pitching staff while the acquiring club is chasing a post-season position. However, locating a potential buyer for a player with as much slugging upside as Jansen likely won’t be challenging if the Blue Jays have no choice but to cross that bridge.

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