Is Danny Jansen the Toronto Blue Jays Best Catcher?

Danny Jansen has had a stellar start to 2024 for the struggling Toronto Blue Jays. Is he their best option behind the plate?

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: Danny Jansen #9 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 04, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays have struggled as team with the bats early on in 2024, leading to an uninspiring 16-20 record, good for last in the AL East.

Fangraphs ranks the Jays 22nd in the league in wRC+, at 95, and 24th in team batting average and slugging, at .226 and .360 respectively.

And key pieces of the Jays organization have gotten of to slow starts including Bo Bichette, who’s hitting just .189 with a .514 OPS, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who’s hitting just .234 and striking out in more than 20% of his plate appearances.

But one of the few bright spots in the Jays mediocre offense has been catcher Danny Jansen. After an IL stint to start the new season, Jansen has been hitting the cover off the ball. Since his season debut on April 16, Jansen is posting a 1.126 OPS and has already accumulated a 1.0 WAR in just 47 plate appearances.

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As it stands Danny Jansen remains in a catching platoon with fellow Blue Jay backstop Alejandro Kirk. But given his early success and the Jays current struggles offensively, should Jansen be getting more run in the starting lineup?

All stats in this article were taken prior to play on May 8th

Is Jansen Better than Kirk Offensively?

With the start that Jansen has had there’s no real debate that he’s been the better all-around hitter than Kirk in 2024. In fact Jansen has been one of the best hitters in baseball since making his mid-season debut. His 215 wRC+ ranks third in the league for players with a minimum of 40 plate appearances, only trailing Christian Yelich and Shohei Ohtani. And his 1.126 OPS also ranks third league-wide, under the same plate appearance qualifications.

And among catchers, Jansen’s 1.0 WAR ranks 12th, however it has taken him just 44 plate appearances to do so. The next lowest amount of plate appearances to achieve a WAR greater or equal to Jansen’s, among catchers, is Ben Rortvedt who has posted a 1.0 WAR in 27 more plate appearances than Jansen.

NameTeamPlate AppearancesWAR
Willson ContrerasSTL1281.8
William ContrerasMIL1601.7
Ryan JeffersMIN1241.7
Will SmithLAD1421.7
Salvador PerezKCR1421.6
Adley RutschmanBAL1531.2
Patrick BaileySFG911.1
Cal RaleighSEA1241.1
Jonah HeimTEX1201.0
Travis d’Arnaud ATL911.0
Ben Rortvedt TBR741.0
Danny JansenTOR471.0
Elias DiazCOL1220.8
Kyle McCannOAK330.7
Connor WongBOS830.7

Jansen has had a strong overall approach at the plate so far this season. According to Baseball Savant, Jansen has a hard rate of 50.0% to start the year, which he pairs with a current career-best average exit velocity of 92.4 mph.

He is also sports a Barrel% of 17.6% and a Sweet Spot percentage of 52.9%. These stats have been accomplished with the discipline Jansen has displayed thus far, with a low Chase rate of 15.5%, a low Whiff rate of 15.4% and a strike out rate of just 12.8%, all paired with a high walk rate of 14.9%.

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Jansen has been patient in waiting for his pitch and is capitalizing on it by hitting it hard when he sees it. Kirk on the other hand, has not been the positive outlier to the mediocre Blue Jays linuep that Jansen has been in 2024.

So far, Kirk has only mustered a .205 batting average and a .582 OPS to start the year. He ranks in just the 19th percentile in hard hit rate at 31.7% paired with a very average 53rd percentile 89.2 mph average exit velocity.

This is continuation of what we saw last season, but it has been even more pronounced in the small sample size we have so far in 2024.

Last year, Kirk saw his OPS drop nearly 100 points compared to his breakout year in 2023, when he was both an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger as the top offensive catcher in the American League. Instead of posting a 129 wRC+ in 2022, Kirk had a 96 wRC+ in 2023, meaning he performed slightly below the league average of 100. At while it is early, Kirk’s wRC+ in 2024 is currently at 72.

When it comes to Jansen and Kirk, their offensive profiles have always been very different, as Kirk is more prone to put bat-on-ball and to get on-base, whereas Jansen has more pop. Kirk hit 14 home runs in 2022, but that was his lone season eclipsing double-digit home runs.

For his career, Kirk has a .394 slugging percentage.

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On other side, Jansen has a career .443 slugging percentage and has eclipsed 10 or more home runs four times, including each of the last three seasons.

When it comes to their career averages and on-base percentages, Kirk has about a 35-point advantage in both departments. This is because Kirk has always remained patient and disciplined at the plate, something he still continued to do this season.

Kirk ranks in the 86th percentile in chase rate at just 21.4%, the 87th percentile in Whiff rate at 17.4% and a K% in the 93rd percentile, striking out only 14.1% of the time. This is paired with an 81st percentile walk-rate of 11.8%.

Alejandro Kirk 2022-2024

Despite his strong approach this season, Jansen has been less consistent in his strength of approach in the same period of time compared to Kirk, including a much poorer 2023 season across the board.

Jansen has not always had the same disciplined approach at the plate, with a career strikeout rate of nearly 20%. This year however, we have seen a marked drop in his strikeout, whiff and chase rates.

Danny Jansen 2022-2024

We cannot get too carried away with this data from Jansen, simply due to the sample size being around 50 plate appearances, but the trends are encouraging to say the least.

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Who’s Better Defensively?

Alejandro Kirk has been developing into one of the league’s best backstops. This season he has posted a defensive rating 5.6, which currently ranks at the top of the league for catching position.

Kirk is one of the league’s best pitch framing catchers, currently ranking in the 96th percentile in framing metrics, returning to the form he achieved in his lone All-Star season in 2022.

Kirk has also consistently strong when blocking the plate. He’s dipped in form a bit this season but still ranks in the 79th percentile with 2 blocks above average. But in 2022 and 2023, he ranked 92nd and 99th percentile respectively.

Jansen is a strong blocking catcher himself, currently ranking higher than Kirk, as he sits in the 98th percentile with 5 blocks above average. But Jansen has fallen below Kirk’s blocking totals in the previous two seasons.

And Jansen is not known for his framing, only ranking above the 50th percentile once in the past three seasons and currently sitting in the lower half of the league, in the 45th percentile.

There’s no arguing that Kirk has been the personal catcher for some great pitching seasons from his some of his teammates. He’s currently caught every start for the MLB’s AL Pitcher of the Month for April 2024, Jose Berrios. And he was also Alek Manoah’s preferred catcher in 2022, where he finished as and AL Cy Young finalist.

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Jansen Struggles to Stay Healthy

It’s no secret that Jansen has struggled to stay on the field so far in his career. His most recent injury, a right wrist fracture suffered during spring training, kept him out for the first 17 games of the season. It his seventh stint on the IL since June 2021.

IL StartIL EndInjury
June 8, 2021July 3, 2021Right Hamstring Strain
July 23, 2021Aug. 1, 2021Right Hamstring Strain
April 11, 2022May 14, 2022Left Oblique Strain
June 7, 2022July 12, 2022Left 5th Metacarpal Fracture
May 26, 2023June 13, 2023Left groin strain
Sept. 2, 2023Oct. 2, 2023Right middle finger fracture
March 28, 2024April 15, 2023Right wrist fracture
Danny Jansen Major League Injury History, 2021-2024

Kirk on the other hand has only been placed on the IL twice since 2021.

NFL Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins once said, “the best ability is availability”. And availability is certainly what Kirk has consistently brought to the table for the Blue Jays in his career.

After a hip flexor strain in 2021 saw him only appear in 60 games that season, Kirk has registered back-to-back season with 120+ games played and 400+ plate appearances.

This is a feat Jansen has not come close too, only appearing in 70% of his team’s games once in his big-league career, when he appeared in 43 of his teams 60 games in the COVID-19 shortened season. The previous year was the only year he appeared in 100+ games, appearing in 107. Since 2020, Jansen’s season-high for games played has been 86 and his high for plate appearances, 301.

2022 GP (PA)2023 GP (PA)Current 2024 GP (PA)
Alejandro Kirk139 (541)123 (422)22 (82)
Danny Jansen72 (248)86 (301)13 (44)

Jansen’s Hot Start Gives the Blue Jays A Lot to Think About

With how hot Jansen has been, and given the Blue Jays offensive struggles, it makes sense to find at-bats for him. But where exactly do those at-bats come from if the current catching platoon remains?

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Jansen was finally featured as DH for the first time this season in Tuesday’s 10-1 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies. But consistent DH at-bats have been hard to come by for Jansen.

Justin Turner has had a firm grasp on the position so far, with Guerrero Jr. also being featured in days where he’s not playing first. Daniel Vogelbach has also received a few starts over at DH when he is in the lineup, but has struggled to a .408 OPS in limited work.

When Jansen started at DH this week, Turner was also in the starting lineup, playing for Isiah Kiner-Falefa at third base. IKF is known for his glove, but does not bring much with his bat.

If Bichette and Guerrero were firing on all cylinders, it would be more justified to start a glove-first player, but the Blue Jays need every bat that they can get in the lineup right now. Turner is 39 years old, so you don’t want to run him to the ground at third base, particularly when he has been the Jays best hitter, but he can handle a few starts there a week.

Jansen probably won’t cut into Kirk’s playing time too much, but if he can manage a DH start and a start behind the dish in each series, the Blue Jays can get his bat in the lineup more.

If you combine all the factors mentioned to this point, Jansen’s hot start at the plate, Kirk’s edge defensively behind the dish, and Jansen’s injury history, it makes his impending unrestricted free-agent status after this season all the more intriguing as the season progresses.

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His contract status becomes more of a conversation if the Blue Jays face their worst case scenario and can’t improve upon their sub .500 record. If this is the case, does it make sense to trade Jansen and bring in some sort of return?

Ahead of the 2023 season Toronto had to make a decision about their future at catcher, opting to stick with Jansen and Kirk and sending the, at-the-time, promising young prospect Gabriel Moreno to Arizona in the Daulton Varsho deal.

Fast-forward to 2024 and Ross Atkins and the front-office once again face potential decisions on their franchise’s future behind the plate.