I was a big fan of Danny Jansen coming into the season this year. He was a highly-regarded prospect who had hit for a high average with some decent power in the minors, and given how much of a dumpster fire the catcher position often is, any glimmer of hope at the position was exciting.
Then, the season came and Jansen was awful. Not just bad, awful. Like, if he was a movie, he wasn’t “Hotel Transylvania,” he was “Yogi Bear,” or “The Emoji Movie,” or “Rocky & Bullwinkle” (I’ve been watching too many movies with my kids).
I’m serious. From the beginning of the season through June 22 (I’ll tell you why I chose that date in a minute), he was slashing .166/.253/.237 with just two home runs. He was entirely unusable, and understandably dropped in most leagues.
But since then, Danny Jansen has been an entirely different hitter, slashing .424/.441/1.061 with six home runs. So is this just a hot streak? Or is this something more?
Jansen’s New Stance
I think some of Jansen’s recent success can be attributed to a change he made in his approach. Specifically, he’s changed his batting stance a slight bit and opened it up.
Take a look. The stance on the left is from May, the one of the right is from July:
The difference isn’t massive, but it’s definitely noticeable, and it’s definitely something he’s done intentionally. Actually, he didn’t just change his stance on his own, he started imitating his teammate Eric Sogard, as he told The Athletic‘s John Lott.
“I watched Eric Sogard hit,” Jansen said. “He’s wider like that. His head doesn’t move much. He’s got a great approach. He keeps it very simple, and I’ve always liked keeping it simple too. Getting wider and lower helps me stay in my legs, helps my head stay still.”
For reference, here’s a look at Sogard’s stance:
Jansen started using that new stance on June 23 in Boston, and according to Jansen, it’s been helping him handle fastballs better.
“When I was taller [in the box], I would leg-kick and crash,” Jansen said. “I’d have nothing behind my swing. I would be flat and falling over.”
His stats against fastballs have improved since he started using the stance. His wRC+ against fastballs up through June 22 was a miserable -10.9. Since then, it’s been sitting at a much more manageable 1.2.
In fact, his stats have improved all over the place, especially in his quality of contact.
He’s seen his groundball rate drop from 44.4% before the stance change to 27.3%, his line drive rate increase from 19.4% to 27.3%, and his fly ball rate increase from 36.3% to 45.5%.
And he’s been pulling the ball more, which is good for power.
He’s also making better-quality contact with the ball, as he’s seen major increases in his barrel rate:
And his sweet spot rate, which is defined as a batted-ball event with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees.
His plate discipline has also gotten better. In fact, since June 21, Jansen has swung and missed at a pitch only once. Like, literally once. And he hasn’t struck out since June 21. He’s also seen his chase rate drop from 27.8% before the stance change to 21.6% after.
And what’s perhaps more impressive is comparing his actual stats since the stance change to his expected stats:
If there is one thing I look for when I try to determine whether a batter’s recent hot streak is just a streak that will end soon, or signs of something good to come, I look for a definitive, noticeable skill change.
Based on everything I’ve seen with Jansen, it looks like exactly that has happened here. He’s made a change to his approach, a change that has been intentional, and it’s helped him make better contact and launch into a hot streak. This doesn’t look to be a case of a guy who’s just doing the same thing he’s always done and is just getting lucky, and I think the batted ball stats and the expected stats bear that out.
Now, a couple of caveats I want to mention before you jump into the comments and yell at me.
First, I want to caution that, yes, this is a small sample size. We’re talking about roughly two weeks’ worth of data compared to about a month-and-a-half’s worth. It is entirely possible that he truly is on a hot streak and that his changes to his approach have just coincidentally coincided with this hot streak. I don’t personally believe that’s the case, but of course, it is possible. I’m not guaranteeing anything here.
Second, I want to say that, while I believe much of what Jansen is doing is legit, there’s obviously going to be some regression. I mean, the guy is hitting like a demigod, that isn’t going to continue, and that even shows itself in the expected stats over these past two weeks.
However, the catcher position is much like Steven Seagal’s filmography—there’s one that’s really good, and the rest are mostly terrible. So you need all the help you can get at catcher (I’d imagine). Someone who’s heating up like Jansen is and may be able to sustain it to some extent is absolutely worth picking up over whatever upright body you probably have filling in at catcher.
Jansen is available in 73% of leagues, as of this writing, and you should pick him up.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire