How Blue Jays’ young catchers are positioned to help veteran starters

Jamie Campbell, Jon Morosi, Shi Davidi and Joe Siddall discuss what’s next for Major League Baseball, while one of the Blue Jays newest starting pitchers Chase Anderson tells Hazel Mae what the players think about the entire situation.

If and when the 2020 season begins, the Toronto Blue Jays will be noticeably different from last year’s 95-loss team in a number of ways, most notably within the starting rotation.

By landing Hyun-Jin Ryu, and supplementing with Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson, the club has stabilized the rotation with a trio that brings a combined 19 years of MLB experience. The advantage of running out veterans like that is a massive increase in both the floor and ceiling of this team’s rotation.

It’s also possible those established starters will benefit from the help of two young catchers who might be able to extract a little extra from them with quality framing. Last season, Danny Jansen ranked eighth in the majors in framing runs by FanGraphs (+8.1) and 10th according to Statcast (+7) while Reese McGuire was a positive on both metrics (+3 by FanGraphs and +1 by Statcast) in limited time.

Thanks to Statcast, we’re able to both understand that Jansen and McGuire are good receivers and see where they specialize in stealing strikes. Cross-referencing that with where the Blue Jays’ new starters like to pitch will give us an idea of who might benefit most.

Let’s start with the catchers…

Where does Danny Jansen steal strikes?

There are eight “zones” Statcast isolates outside the strike zone where a catcher’s framing gets evaluated: pitches at three heights off each edge of the plate, plus pitches above and below it.

Here’s how Jansen’s strike percentage looks vs. league average off the left corner – AKA the outside corner to lefties or inside corner to righties:

Season Up and Outside Middle Outside Down and Outside
2018 -5.5% +10.8% -2.4%
2019 +2.9% +5.1% -2.1%

And the other corner:

Season Up and Outside Middle Outside Down and Outside
2018 +6.3% +3.7% +2.6%
2019 +1.7% -1.9% +0.8%

And above and below the strike zone:

Season Above Below
2018 +4.4% -11.8%
2019 +0.8% +4.6%

Considering Jansen’s vast increase in playing time in 2019, those numbers mean far more, but the 2018 stats provide a little context too. From all of these numbers, it feels safest to say that Jansen is at his best stealing strikes just off the corner to lefties/inside to righties. He also consistently grades out as slightly above average on pitches above the zone across the board.

Where does Reese McGuire steal strikes?

We’re going to breeze through the same numbers with McGuire, but it’s important to understand he’s been behind the plate for far fewer called pitches outside the zone in his brief MLB career (1,001) than Jansen in 2019 (2,846) alone.

Left corner:

Season Up and Outside Middle Outside Down and Outside
2018 +26.8% -0.2% -5.4%
2019 -5.3% -5.1% +0.7%

Right corner:

Season Up and Outside Middle Outside Down and Outside
2018 -12.6% 1.5%% +6.9%
2019 -2.1% +5.5% -1.1%

Above and below:

Season Above Below
2018 +2.0% +4.3%
2019 +0.9% +15.8%

Those numbers are a bit of a jumble due to the small samples involved, but it seems like McGuire does well with pitches below the zone (especially since his eye-popping number there comes from the season he played far more) and off the right corner at strike-zone level.

So, where do the Blue Jays new starters like to throw it, and how does that fit?

Let’s take Jansen first. Below is the Blue Jays new starters ranked by how often they threw it in his best areas — the left corner at strike-zone level and above the plate — in 2019:

Pitcher Percentage of pitches in Jansen’s wheelhouse
Chase Anderson 24.6%
Tanner Roark 22.6%
Hyun-Jin Ryu 21.1%

Unfortunately for Jansen, no one in this trio pitches up in the zone all that much which hurts the synergy. Ryu likes to work the left corner of the plate, but he usually does so with curves or cutters that fall below the zone. If Jansen can replicate his success from 2019 on pitches directly below the zone, he could help Ryu maximize the value of the veteran’s elite changeup, but that’s far from a certainty given how poorly he handled that region in 2018.

The numbers are a little more encouraging for McGuire’s best zones — the right corner at zone level and below the plate — especially with it comes to Ryu.

Pitcher Percentage of pitches in McGuire’s wheelhouse
Hyun-Jin Ryu 32.4%
Chase Anderson 26.8%
Tanner Roark 26.0%

McGuire seems to receive the ball best right where Ryu’s changeup lives, which could make for a beautiful partnership if the Blue Jays want to explore a personal catcher situation. Roark and Anderson get a slight boost based on their proclivity for working the outside edge against righties, but McGuire’s presence is unlikely to make a huge difference for them.

That said, last year’s context is important for understanding how the move to Toronto could affect those two from a framing perspective. Anderson spent his season throwing to Yasmani Grandal — arguably the best framing catcher in the game — while Roark pitched for two teams (Cincinnati and Oakland) who combined for -10 framing runs from their catchers in 2019 according to Statcast. In fact, since 2017 Roark has thrown to backstops who’ve produced a combined -32 framing runs. Even if neither hurler’s style fits Jansen or McGuire perfectly, it’s reasonable to expect a small boost for Roark while Anderson could suffer slightly.

None of the Blue Jays’ new veteran starters are going to have their seasons soar or tank exclusively based on how well their catchers receive them. That doesn’t mean there isn’t marginal value to be extracted — and it looks like they can find it by pairing Ryu with McGuire where possible and giving Roark a much-needed reprieve from the awful receiving he’s had of late.

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