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February 13, 2007

Positional Health Reports

Catchers

by Will Carroll

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I have been playing along with the joke of "pitchers and Molinas report in X days" for so long that it seems natural. For at least the last decade, the general view of starting catchers has been that they come in two everyday-play sizes: sluggers like Mike Piazza who happen to catch, and guys like Mike Matheny who happen to hit. Honestly, I think the iron man catcher era may be over, and that's a good thing. When the Cubs re-signed Henry Blanco to once again pair up with Michael Barrett, I took a long look at the move and liked what I saw. Less wear and tear on a catcher is a good thing, a lesson football GMs have learned about running backs. Job-sharing is expanding. I still wonder why the good-catch guy doesn't do more on calling pitches, or why the emergency catcher isn't used more in situations where the "hitting" catcher could be brought in to pinch-hit. But generally, I look at the trends and notice that these offense/defense platoons tend to stay healthier and more productive in both respects. It's a nice evolution.

Keep in mind that generally speaking, greens aren't listed unless I have something interesting to say about them. For more on the system, please check out the introduction.

Ramon Hernandez Yellow light: He turned 30 last year and should give HOK a cut of his salary after what he did in his new home. He's about as risky as the average catcher.

Jason Varitek Red light: Tim Wakefield has helped Varitek in recent years by giving him a reason to take regular time off. Tek's the kind of guy that will overwork to come back from his knee injury and prove everyone wrong. Problem is, I don't think I am here, as far as his risk. Varitek's going to need more time off to stay productive, and DH isn't an open slot for this team.

Jorge Posada Red light: Posada has made us expect a regression for years, but it hasn't happened yet. He's aging, has no real backup, and yet the red rating is probably going to be wrong again. I can't explain the exceptions, folks.

Gregg Zaun Yellow light: At 36, the perfect backup will go back to full-time duty. He handled that load fine a couple years ago, so the risk isn't quite as bad as it appears.

Dioner Navarro Red light: Navarro missed time at the end of the season after a car wreck and some family issues. Someday, I'll try to factor in dealing with a child's illness, but for now, we'll just be glad that both Navarro and his son are looking forward to 2007. Navarro goes red because of the expected increase in playing time, but if he hits a bit more, the Rays will gladly take that risk.

A.J. Pierzynski Yellow light: Let's assume that Pierzynski can make it through his wrestling match with David Eckstein healthy. Let's assume that he can make it through the season without someone breaking his face. Let's assume that Toby Hall will be a capable backup, someone that can take the load off of Pierzynski. With all those assumptions, Pierzynski almost makes it to green.

Joe Mauer Yellow light: Mauer's getting further away from his knee problems, but he's not getting shorter. In the long term, Ron Gardenhire should consider it imperative to reduce Mauer's workload by putting him at DH on off-days is going to help. He'll gradually slide over, maybe trying third base or the outfield along the way.

Victor Martinez Green light : Yeah, green. Notice that his comps are starting to include some first basemen. That's why he's green.

Ivan Rodriguez Yellow light: Along with Vladimir Guerrero, Pudge is one of the players that helped transition back injuries from what were once considered career-threatening to just another injury. Rodriguez made it through the first three years of a four-year deal that so many didn't think he would. Put me down as thinking year four will be just as successful.

Jason Kendall Blue light: Here's the first blue of the season. I wish I had more insight into how Kendall stays healthy, but he's as non-typical as they come. He absorbs a regular's workload, stays healthy and mobile, and still has his legs after years of catching. It's not a replicable recipe, but it works.

Jose Molina Yellow light: I just hate this one. The fact is that Molina is likely to be the backup, but in absence of knowing that Mike Napoli will get more of the playing time, or that Jeff Mathis is someone the Angels still harbor high hopes for, the system assumes that Molina will take the lead. He's a yellow as a starter because he's simply never handled that load. Doing what he does, which is be a steady backup, he'll do what he's always done.

Brian McCann Yellow light: Catchers take more risk on playing time than other positions. Expose a guy back there too much and they break down. McCann played too much last year, something the Braves acknowledge, yet they head into the season with no usable backup. If McCann's forced into another 140-game season, as much as this helps his fantasy owners, it might start taking years off of his career. And don't think Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the answer to this problem either.

Paul Lo Duca Red light: Despite not completely collapsing in the second half even with a torn thumb ligament, Lo Duca is aging. He's 35 this season and his pattern of small injury and late-season fade combine to make a serious risk with an intriguing backup.

Rod Barajas Red light: This one relies on how much Barajas plays. The assumption by PECOTA that he's on the edge of a cliff, and its thirty percent attrition rates will make anyone red. Barajas is also dinged by a long history of Phillies catcher injuries.

Brian Schneider Red light: Schneider is going to be asked to help a problematic pitching staff along without an established backup. The workload he's carried over the past couple years is as much a problem for him as the ones the pitchers took on is for them.

Michael Barrett Yellow light: If I never have to write "intrascrotal hematoma" again, it will be too soon. Let's just wince and move on.

Yadier Molina Yellow light: A guy named Yadier reminds me--why are all these Cuban names started with the letter 'Y'? A late-season elbow problem is worrisome for someone who might bat ninth in the NL and who could only win a footrace against his brothers.

Johnny Estrada Red light: He was brought in to provide more offense to the Brewers, but he's not THAT much of an upgrade. He had some stomach problems late in the season, but as part of an offense/defense platoon with Damian Miller, he should be reasonable. This red is in large part due to the back injury he had in 2005. Not many catchers come back from those, but Estrada did.

Brad Ausmus yellow light: That he's been catching this long and this much is pretty impressive. That he's done it while never really hitting much and never really having a major injury is more impressive. There's no medical reason to think he can't do it one more year. The fact that his top three comps are managers shows that PECOTA has some new tricks up its sleeve.

David Ross Red light: Ross is another of this year's "playing time reds." With Jason LaRue moving on and Javier Valentin forgetting how to hit, Ross might get 120 games of catching. If that's closer to 100, the team would be better from a risk standpoint, but that's not necessarily the best split from a winning standpoint.

Josh Bard Red light: Bard is really not as bad as the red looks. He's going to be asked to catch more than he has in years, but there's no real reason to think he can't. The system doesn't think, it just looks at the fact that those that haven't might not. So know that he might not, and value him accordingly.

Bengie Molina Red light: There might be no slower player in the game right now, and that's not the sort of thing you see in someone who ages well. Getting off turf helps him some, but catchers are always in dirt, so it's not as much a factor for Molina as it would be for someone in the outfield. That '99 Sandy Alomar comp has to worry you.

Javy Lopez Red light: The Rockies have Chris Iannetta coming quickly (and he'd be a very low yellow), so the idea that Lopez would catch 100 games is pretty unlikely. I'm not sure he could stay healthy for half that at this stage in his career.

Also Green light:

Jason LaRue, Royals
Gerald Laird, Rangers
Kenji Johjima, Mariners
Miguel Olivo, Marlins
Ronny Paulino, Pirates
Chris Snyder, Diamondbacks
Russell Martin, Dodgers

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