New Statcast metric shows Blue Jays' catching duo among best

March 10th, 2023

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- You rip it, they'll wear it.

The Blue Jays’ catching tandem of Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk wear their bruises proudly. They’re badges of honor, ID cards for the catcher’s club, tickets to the block party.

Blocking pitches is not baseball’s sexiest assignment, though. You won’t see blocked pitches in highlight loops, and this surely isn’t the second story you’re reading today about pitch blocking. Just don’t tell that to Jansen, who lights up when it’s mentioned.

“There’s nothing better than wearing a ball,” Jansen said. “Wherever it may be -- it might be your neck -- it sucks, but at the same time, you’re preventing a guy from going to the next base. It’s great, man. Who wouldn’t want that?”

Nobody in their right mind, that’s who. But catchers are different, and with Statcast’s new Catcher Blocking Leaderboard, we can see that the Blue Jays’ catchers aren’t just committed to blocking balls, they’re the best duo in baseball. Jansen was tied for eighth in MLB last season with 8 Blocks Above Average, while Kirk, who made blocking a major focus last offseason, tied for fourth with 12. Only Adley Rutschman, Jose Trevino and J.T. Realmuto were rated better.

“We take pride in this,” Jansen said. “We’re going to do everything we can do to block that ball. Rip it.”

Here’s what the Blue Jays have to say about their quiet -- often painful -- strength:

The 'catching culture'

Jansen: “It’s something that’s always been ingrained in my head as such an important piece through every level I’ve been at. Being a guy who has spent so much time on defense, I always wanted that to be a huge part of my game. With how the game’s going, how they want to worry about stealing strikes more, you see a lot of balls getting picked. I still really believe in getting myself in the best position to block.”

Manager John Schneider: “Jano takes a ton of pride in it. He’s been working on trying to be a bit more narrow in his setup this camp. He’s very aware of blocking and I think that takes away from some of the other things when he gets too wide. He loves it. It’s got to be a mentality and the guys buy in.”

Kirk (via interpreter): “Like receiving and calling the game, blocking is one of the important things I really focus on. It’s one of my priorities, to make sure the runner does not advance. I’m always focused on this.”

Which pitch is hardest to block?

Jansen: “A changeup. A low one where you want to try to receive it. A splitter, I think, is one of the harder ones and it just takes reps. [Kevin] Gausman has a great splitter, and that one with the sharp bite at the end. But you just work on it. I don’t care if I take it off the arm. That’s part of the job. It’s what I signed up for.”

Kirk: “Sliders, especially the ones on the outside. You’ve got to angle [your body] to make sure you keep that ball out front. The slider outside, it’s the most difficult.”

What’s the value of pitch blocking?

Jansen: “As a pitcher, if you’re comfortable throwing a ball in the dirt with two strikes, making it a nasty pitch and bouncing it? You know that we’ve got you. It goes without saying how important that is.”

Gausman: “That was a question mark [entering 2022]. I thought both of them were unbelievable last year at blocking pitches. I think I only threw one wild pitch, and it was a splitter that kind of took off and had a mind of its own. I feel like, if I throw it down in the zone, these guys are going to block it. I think you’re going to see a lot more guys trying to run once they see a ball down in the zone this year.”

Is blocking about technique … or simply accepting the pain?

Schneider: “It’s both. They’ve kind of gotten that part out of it now. When you start catching it’s like, ‘OK, I’m just going to wear it.’ But skill is involved, for sure.”

Kirk: “Before the game and in practice, you work on technique. When it’s game time, you don’t think about it. You just block the ball. You know it’s going to hurt, but it happens naturally.”

Jansen: “Both. Guys block differently. Kirk and I block differently. I’m on two feet, a traditional stance and I kick down. Some guys slide out. You just have to be willing to put your body in front of it, and there’s nothing better than wearing a ball.”