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August 6, 2012
What You Need to Know
Monday, August 6
The Weekend Takeaway
In that column, Morosi quoted Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, whose franchise is blessed with a ballpark that can turn scrubs into sluggers, as saying that “It is really hard and getting harder to find catchers who can contribute with their (offensive) ability …” But is it? Taking True Average (TAv) as a measure of overall offensive ability, the 2012 season actually suggests the opposite.
A TAv above .300 is considered “great,” and more than a decade has passed since at least three regulars (min. 400 plate appearances) reached that mark in the same year. That year was 2000, and the trio was Piazza, Charles Johnson, and Posada. In 2004, not a single starting backstop got there, with Pudge coming closest at .299. Last year, only Mike Napoli (.360) and Alex Avila (.318) did.
But two-thirds of the way through the 2012 campaign, six catchers with at least 300 plate appearances rank among the league’s “great” hitters. Buster Posey (.339) and Carlos Ruiz (.338) are comfortably above that benchmark, while Yadier Molina (.305), A.J. Pierzynski (.302), Joe Mauer (.302), and Miguel Montero (.300) are teetering on the brink. If any of them falter, A.J. Ellis (.299) and Carlos Santana (.294) have a chance to take their places.
That means at least one-fifth of the league can currently claim to have a great hitter at the catcher position. And that group does not include Brian McCann or Matt Wieters, two of the most talented offensive backstops, or Napoli, last year’s TAv leader.
ESPN’s Jorge Arangure described the winding path that led to Ruiz’s breakout season—which is currently on hold because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot—in his column last week, chronicling his ascent from diminutive second baseman to All-Star catcher. Posey, just 13 months removed from an injury some believed would end his days behind the plate, is 34-for-75 (.453 average) with six home runs since the All-Star break and “on the periphery” of the Most Valuable Player race. Mauer, finally back to full health, ranks among the American League leaders with a .317 average and more walks than strikeouts. Pierzynski, who smacked a game-winning, two-run shot in the seventh inning yesterday, has gone deep in a franchise-record five straight games. Molina, arguably the best defensive catcher in the league, has already set a career high with 16 homers. And Montero, who signed a five-year, $60 million extension in late May, has hit .309 with 11 big flies since June 1.
Thus, the scarcity of run producers among the league’s current catcher crop is overstated. And that crop may soon grow even richer, with Yasmani Grandal, Devin Mesoraco, and Wilin Rosario learning the ropes, and top prospects like Travis d’Arnaud and Mike Zunino on the way.
Longevity is another matter entirely. As Morosi noted—and as Molina, Ruiz, and Ellis can attest—catchers often bloom late, and very few are able to maintain their peak levels of production for more than a few years. In that regard, the 2012 season, like the 1993 season—the last time five catchers reached the .300 TAv plateau—may be an outlier.
On the other hand, the talent pool at the catcher position is as deep as it has been in recent memory—at least since Piazza, Posada, and Rodriguez were in their primes. So perhaps this is not, as Morosi and O’Dowd suggested, the end of an era. Perhaps, instead, it’s a passing of the torch.
What to Watch for on Monday