A Day In The Life of John Jaso’s Concussion

“I wake up fine,” said John Jaso of his relative morning clarity, as he recovers from a concussion he suffered when a mid-August pitch rattled his face mask. “As the day goes on, I get all the visual stimuli and start getting foggy.” And this he said after a relatively good day gave him the encouragement to pronounce he’d be back this season, and probably soon.

This Monday began with that good clear morning feeling, but quickly things can get hectic. “Even driving my car, that sets it off,” Jaso said. “Loud, annoying music, too,” he added with a look around the clubhouse. He made a lot of progress while the team was away, not surprisingly.

The day in a typical baseball life is highly scheduled, and Jaso is headed towards resuming that life. So on Monday, he attempted to do many of the things he would normally do, but he had to be careful. “It’s on me now,” said Jaso of stopping a physical drill if his symptoms ramp up too much — “I can’t say I’ll just push through this and it’ll be fine.”

It was pushing through the symptoms that got him in this position, to some extent. There’s a red line, where more exertion will send him into a downward spiral that leads to massive headaches and nausea. Listening to the catcher describe the final two weeks in August can give you respect for his dedication to his team, or fear for the potential dangerous positions in which he places himself.

When I first got hit, it was nausea and a headache for five straight days. That kind of went away, because I wasn’t catching for a while because we hit a string of lefties. All of a sudden, we hit a string of righties and I was catching a lot and all of a sudden all of my symptoms — I’d been playing through this for a while, I had been foggy and all that through this whole thing — all of a sudden my symptoms just skyrocketed. Irritability, fogginess. I was keeping to myself. I was just playing through it, playoff push. It ramped up and I could not do it any more. Catching-wise especially. I couldn’t react. I couldn’t see the ball sometimes.

Monday, when Jaso headed in to work out, he didn’t know how the rest of the schedule would go. He knew he’d start with rigid exercises that didn’t jostle his head, and re-evaluate after every station. “Stationary lifting where I did almost upright bench presses, standing pulls,” Jaso said of his routine. “Anything as long as my head could stay stable and straight.”

When the fog comes, he has to stop. What’s that fogginess like? “Like waking up in the middle in the night, and you look around and can’t really focus on one thing,” the catcher described. If that fog comes, Jaso has to sit for 20 minutes to half an hour. “Work out once, take a break, work out once more.” If it comes a second time, the day is done.

But Monday came with a good workout, and so the schedule moved forward. Time to shag balls during batting practice and maybe take some swings in the cage. Almost a normal day. Almost. “I threw, I shagged BP and I was getting really crazy up here,” Jaso said as he pointed to his head. “I was supposed to go up to the cage and hit, but I let myself calm down before I hit.”

By the end of the day Monday, Jaso had mostly done what he was supposed to do, with a break or two. And so Tuesday found him taking live batting practice on the field, despite some fog just the day before. “I was foggy yesterday, but I might as well jump to the next stage because I feel like I can,” Jaso said. “I’d rather start taking BP now on the field, because if I’m ready in like three days, I’ll have been taking BP and will be ready to go.”

It’s better these days. It’s been a long time since Jaso pushed it too hard and found himself with a migraine for the rest of the day. The nausea has been gone for a while. The driving is fine now, and he’s resumed baseball activities and the baseball schedule that comes with it. He’s just not checking every box on that schedule in the normal order, not yet.

Someday soon — this season, he’s sure of it — he’ll have a day without fog, and he’ll be able to contribute. This time, though, he’ll be honest with himself about how he’s feeling.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

17 Responses to “A Day In The Life of John Jaso’s Concussion”

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  1. Kris says:

    Not sure why they keep having him catch when Norris and Vogt can both do it. Anyhow I wish him the best in his full recovery, the A’s need him but more importantly those symptoms sound awful and nobody should have to live with that.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      I hope he can get back to catching, if not necessarily this year.

      I knew he was having a good year, but I never realized how good his career stats were. Him and Buster Posey are the only active catchers with a career 115+ wRC+ (Joe Mauer and Mike Napoli are now 1Bmen, Victor Martinez is now a DH, and Carlos Santana hasn’t caught since May).

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      • TKDC says:

        Evan Gattis and Yan Gomes are also over 115 if you relax the PA requirement, and of course McCann checks in at 114, but yes, pretty damn good and if he can’t catch his career is definitely not over nonetheless.

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    • Poor Man's Rick Reed says:

      They said Vogt might not catch the rest of the year due to an ankle issue.

      Great to hear Jaso’s getting better. The day to day recovery process seems to be such a touch and go thing. It must be incredibly frustrating for the player, his teammates, and the fans.

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      • Walter says:

        Yeah, this.

        Now they have Soto, so he should be strictly a DH/PH from the left side. But now they also have Dunn.

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  2. Pirates Hurdles says:

    This is another excellent piece Eno, its great to hear first hand details about these traumatic brain injuries. The whole “shake-it-off” macho mantra is dying a slow death finally.

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    • Paul says:

      Yep. John Sickels wrote about his concussion a lot too, which was enlightening for me and my relative ignorance about concussions (other than knowing they can be awful in general).

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    • THOR says:

      someday Eno is going to leave Fangraphs for a team or a bigger gig and that will be both a wonderful and a sad day for everyone here

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  3. Eminor3rd says:

    Good piece

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  4. David says:

    When I first got hit, it was nausea and a headache for five straight days. That kind of went away, because I wasn’t catching for a while because we hit a string of lefties. All of a sudden, we hit a string of righties and I was catching a lot and all of a sudden all of my symptoms — I’d been playing through this for a while, I had been foggy and all that through this whole thing — all of a sudden my symptoms just skyrocketed.

    So five days of nausea and headaches and he didn’t tell the trainers until it got WORSE?


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    • DavidKB says:

      I know, that bit had me worried. He’s very lucky he didn’t suffer another direct shot.. two major concussions in a short span is reasonably likely to be fatal.

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  5. jorgesca says:

    I can only imagine what it must be for Football players, this sucks.

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  6. Torgen says:

    I looked at some photos, and it seems like Jaso wears the old fashioned mask when he catches. I guess few enough catchers get concussed by foul balls that there aren’t reliable statistics about this, but could the hockey style mask have provided more protection? Or is it possible that the old-fashioned mask can better protect the catcher’s head in the glancing blow case because it can be deflected by a foul ball–in effect transferring the energy of the impact into the mask instead of the head. Also, some helmets for other sports (I’m thinking cycling and motorsports) instruct the user not to use a helmet that has suffered an impact until it has been inspected by the manufacturer. That’s probably because for the impacts those helmets protect against (head against pavement or roll structure) the helmet has to be sacrificial to provide protection. I assume this isn’t true of baseball masks and helmets because you don’t see a guy grab a new one when the old one gets hit, but would a sacrificial mask provide better protection? Or does the window to see through make this too hard to do? (i.e. a ball would make the grille cut straight through the–presumably, based on cycling helmets–styrofoam.)

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  7. Brent says:

    What concerns me most is that the team’s medical personnel and MLB are allowing him to do any work at all if he still has ongoing symptoms. What he is describing goes completely against current concussion policy in the NFL. You must pass tests by independent doctors (not team physicians) and you have to be able to complete full workouts with no symptoms that cause you to have to take a break because you get foggy before you’re even allowed to practice with the team, let alone go into a game.

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    • Neuro Guy says:

      Yup.. goes against American Academy of Neurology guidelines as well. Someone who’s already had several serious concussions needs to be 100% before returning to physical activity. Getting symptoms is bad and means you are not healed yet. But hey… it’s only your brain.

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      • Eno Sarris says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I read this http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/47/5/250.full and consulted a neurologist friend and it seems they are following guidelines. I tried to mix ongoing things with a description of his Monday, so it may not have been clear, but they waited until normal activity didn’t cause symptoms (Monday he drove in fine). Then they had him do light activity until that didn’t cause symptoms. Then they let him do game activity. Once that doesn’t cause symptoms, he’s in. That follows the guidelines set forth in that consensus statement from Zurich. As for the stuff before… well he didn’t tell them!

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  8. TGI McScratchy says:

    great idea, great piece

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