Jansen embracing who he is as rest of offense tries to find footing

May 22nd, 2024

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays’ front office needs to trade in their polos for lab coats. It’s time to clone .

Jansen is doing everything the Blue Jays aren’t this season, putting up a career year at the dish while the rest of this offense stumbles and crumbles around him. Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to the White Sox had no silver linings for the Blue Jays -- shut out by the only team in baseball to score fewer runs than them this season -- and this 21-26 start is well past the point of worry.

There’s hope at the top of this lineup, though, finally led by Davis Schneider with Jansen in the two-hole. They’re similar hitters. It’s not just the mustaches, it’s the commitment to an individual approach that they’ve each wrapped their arms around and mastered in their own way. We’re going on a few years of this for Jansen now, but with his terrible run of injury luck, we haven’t seen this fully-realized version of him until now.

Jansen knows who he is, period. He’s not trying to hit the ball to all fields. He’s not trying to go the other way. He doesn’t have a fluff-filled piece of hitting philosophy for you. Jansen is good at pulling rockets to left field and that’s all he’s interested in doing. It’s been a long journey to get here, but Jansen deserves so much credit for the bold, confident choices he’s made along the way.

“Everyone is always trying to evolve their game. I think his personality fits into it a lot,” manager John Schneider said. “[He decided], ‘If I’m not good at hitting the ball the other way or be a .300 or .330 hitter, I’m going to lean into what I’m good at.’ He’s still taking small bites out of things he can get better at. It’s a fine line. You don’t want to pigeonhole anyone at any point in their career. His personality played a lot into it by saying, ‘This is what I’m good at and this is what I’m going to stick to.’”

In just 23 games this season, Jansen has hit five home runs with a 1.043 OPS. Everything is hit hard, but he’s not exactly putting up Vladdy-level exit velocities. It’s about how Jansen is hitting the ball. This is the key.

There’s something called a launch-angle sweet spot, which applies to anything hit between eight and 32 degrees off the bat. Below eight degrees, you’re probably looking at a ground ball. Above 32 degrees, you start getting into the territory of high fly balls and pop flies. You want to be in the sweet spot. That’s where line drives and deep fly balls live.

Jansen does this better than anyone on the Blue Jays’ roster and it’s not particularly close. Of the 402 MLB hitters with at least 25 batted balls this season, Jansen ranks 5th in launch-angle sweet spot percentage at 49.2%. As a team, the Blue Jays’ rate is just 33.8%.

“I just try to keep it simple,” Jansen said on Monday. “I just try to look at something over the heart of the plate, get the barrel out there and that’s my thought process.”

Simple enough, right? This matters to the Blue Jays more than any other team right now … because the Blue Jays don’t hit the ball hard. They’re tied for dead last in average exit velocity (87.8 mph), so the Blue Jays need to give these balls in play a chance.

In the simplest terms, Jansen has mastered the art of giving himself a chance. Even when he’s not launching home runs, he’s consistently producing line drives or fly balls that are, at the very least, threatening. Not much else about this offense has been threatening.

The detail looming over all of this? He’s a free agent at the end of this season, finally due for his shot at the open market after spending over a decade in this organization. Jansen said in February that he and the Blue Jays “had conversations,” but he has baseball to focus on right now.

“I’m definitely not closing any doors, but I’m continuing on and focusing on this season,” Jansen said back in Spring Training. “If it happens, it happens. I’m not closing any doors, but I’m focusing on one day at a time, one pitch at a time, one ballgame at a time.”

That’s down the road. For now, the Blue Jays need Jansen. Two or three Jansens wouldn’t hurt, either.