Thursday, February 20, 2014

The recent state of Catchers

The 2013 Pirates deployed newly signed Russell Martin behind the plate most of the time. In 2013 Martin put up 226/327/377 with 21 doubles and 15 homeruns, good for a bland 100 OPS+ which is on par with his career average of an OPS+ of 99. Though his OPS+ would lead you to believe he was a tick better than normal, his career slash is 255/349/396. Because OPS+ is factored by how well others performed the average catcher has gotten a tick worse. Of course 1 point difference is quite possibly erroneous and certainly inconsequential.
28 year old Catcher Michael McKenry was the primary backup since he arrived from Boston in exchange for cash in mid 2011. McKenry had a breakout campaign in 2012 hitting 233/320/442 and slugging 14 doubles and 12 dingers good for an OPS+ of 109.
In 2013 he regressed back to 217/262/348 73 OPS+ 6 doubles and 3 homers.
McKenry was released this summer,  but I asked myself was 2012 real? So I did a little investigating (all stats as usual per Baseball Reference) in the batting ratios:
McKenry 2012-
SO% 26.6%
BB% 4.1%
AB/HR 20
McKenry 2013-
SO% 19.7%
BB% 4.1%
AB/HR 38.3
MLB averages-
SO% 19.2%
BB% 8.1%
AB/HR 35.3
So the short answer is no. Even in his breakout campaign he didn't hit for anything but power. It should be said he had 275 plate appearances in 88 games in 2012 compared to 122 PAs in 41 games. McKenry had the most to gain from the pitiful play of Rod Barajas in 2012. He did more than double his BB% and while 10.6% is pretty good it isn't noteworthy. He only drew 5 walks in 2013 and I doubt his percentage goes above the MLB average of 8.1% again. But his .278BAbip does suggest he will not regress in his triple slash line. The power may go up a bit in 2014 especially since he signed with Colorado he could realistically play 35-40 games in the homerun haven that is Coors field. But even in 2012 he only hit 14 doubles and 6 in 2013. I would say his power is more legit if he hit 18-20 in 2012 and at least 10 in 2013.
In August the front office brought in the similarly uninspiring John Buck. To be fair I think the front office had to take him as a salary dump to land Marlon Byrd in the same trade that sent Vic Black to the Mets.
In April 2013 Buck launched 6 homeruns and hit over .300 in his first 50ABs before cooling down significantly to 15 HRs 11 doubles in 431 PAs with a 219/285/362 making him good for a meager 84 OPS+. That was as a Met, as a Pirate he only had 24PAs with 7 hits, none of them for extra bases and 0 walks.
The last catcher in the fold was top prospect Tony Sanchez. Sanchez was okay in 2013, but I think most fans already believe he is a bust because of how long his development took. But it's important to remember he is a catcher and he suffered to jaw injuries from pitches. Between A+ and AA Sanchez was hit buy 30 pitches,  he cut that to 9 in AAA. He only received 66PAs in the bigs so far and hit 233/288/400 with a pair of longballs. But that is such a small sample size let's look at his 532 career PAs at AAA-Indianapolis. Sanchez hit 18 HRs, 38 Doubles, with a 264/345/461 slash. His pedestrian 19.9SO% is accompanied with a slightly above average 9.5BB% and 25.88 AB/HR. Predicting his 2014 playing time is nearly impossible since he is definitely behind Martin and possibly newly acquired Chris Stewart. Stewart has proved he can't hit with his career 59OPS+ but he has a good glove and that has kept him in an out of the majors the past 7 years. Entering his age 32 season, he will be arbitration eligible following 2014 so I can't imagine him being on the roster in 2015. I think in spite the Stewart trade the backup job is Sanchez's to lose. With Martin in his walk year and if he has a big one he could be expensive, the pirates will turn to Sanchez to take the bulk of time behind the dish.

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