Sunday, April 10, 2011

Backup Catchers Suck

Just about every team has a starting catcher. Few teams platoon catchers. The Reds may be one of them. But as a rule, teams have a Number One guy behind the plate. Some of them are very good such as McCann and Mauer. Some are very bad such as Kendall and Ivan Rodriguez (at this stage in his career). But unlike just about every other position, catchers aren't asked to play 150 games in a season. Squatting  for nine or more innings a game is extremely challenging physically and few are allowed to play behind the plate more 135 games or so.

In fact, only a handful of catchers played 130 games or more. They are: Brian McCann (who led all catchers in games), Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Kurt Suzuki and Mike Wieters. And even they played a few games at DH or another position to get some rest. All this means that a backup catcher is going to play thirty or more games a season. The real problem with playing so many games with backup catchers is that for most big league teams, backup catching is a vast wasteland of players who aren't very good.

To prove this point, the Fan took all catchers from 2010 that played between 20 and 60 games. Why those totals? Well, if you caught more than 60 times, you're more in a platoon situation than in a backup situation. And yes, a few good performances are missed by making the range up to 81 games such as Josh Thole and Ryan Hanigan. But you also miss a bunch of poor ones such as Jason Castro and Koyle Hill. So it's not like we're going to skew the numbers any by making the range a little larger. And any less than 20 games behind the plate are really cup-of-coffee-type players who really shouldn't figure into our conclusions.

So after defending the games played range for this little study, here is what the Fan came up with. If you add up all the plate appearances by all those in the range, you get 723 plate appearances by these backup catchers. That's just about right for a full season of games for a starting player at most other positions. As a whole, those plate appearances did not go over very well.

Adding up all the plate appearances, at bats, hits, total bases, walks, HBPs, extra base hits and everything else and by doing the divisions (the Fan loves Microsoft Excel by the way), you get the final accumulated slash line: .223/.299/.335. Yeah, that's what the Fan says, "Ugh." That's a .634 accumulated OPS for all of these catchers. That means they were as bad as the worst full time players in baseball last year.

Of course, they added no stolen bases, hit only 11 homers, 2 triples and 34 doubles. They only walked 8.7 percent of the time and struck out 25.5 percent of the time. Okay, you can now commence in telling the Fan that these guys are good in the clubhouse or good at handling pitchers or good behind the plate or whatever you want to add in here. But the bottom line is that these guys are a total drag on a team's offense when they play.

The average age of these players was 30. There were some in this group like Carlos Santana, who was supposed to be the starting catcher but got hurt. And then there were a bunch like Brad Ausmus and Gregg Zaun, the ancients. Most are between 28 and 32 years of age.

Of all these catchers, only three had a WAR above 1.00 for the season. They were Carlos Santana, David Ross and Ramon Castro. Those three provided value in their games played. There were nine that had a WAR in negative values. That means they not only didn't add any win values, they lost win values. The worst two backup catchers in value last year were Kevin Cash and Adam Moore, both of whom cost their teams more than a win in value.

The conclusion here is that backup catchers suck as a group. Granted, there aren't very many good starting catchers either. But when you employ the current basket of backup catchers, there is no place to hide them in the line up and in most cases, you are giving up any chance at getting any offense from the position. The Fan isn't sure why this is. Does the entire minor league system have that few quality catchers? Do these backup catchers that play year after year simply have good reputations and are liked by their managers, pitching coaches, etc.? The Fan doesn't know the answer. But the bottom line remains. Those who are backing up a position that require the tools of ignorance have very few tools in their tool bags at all.

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