So what happens when the catchers on your off-season shopping list want eleven dollar bills, but you’ve only got ten?
Even with a Rod Barajas signing – and that may only be a minor league deal anyway – the Mets find themselves going into spring training with four or five backup catchers, one Josh Thole, and no real pleasing options for the everyday starter because the group is either too old, too young, or too “not good.” Barajas, who was the starter for the Blue Jays last season and a plus defender, is still likely better suited for part-time duty due to a .286 OBP. Just because Barajas started last season does not mean that he is starter quality – although his defense may beg to differ. More on him later.
So it ain’t no use to sit and wonder who’s the best option. Don’t think twice – there is no good answer. But maybe there are two good answers. Or at least two less-bad answers.
Once again, the Mets can try to make the best with what they have thanks to the century-old sorcery of platoons.
The charts for the Mets catching options with the OPS splits are down on the right sides of the page – column A is the player’s career major league OPS, or major league equivalents (MLE) in italics for the minor leaguers. Column B is the same, only given a super simple age adjustment – this is just an estimation to account for the fact that the old generally get worse and the young generally get better. Generally. For a more detailed explanation of the methods, and for first base platoon suggestions, click here.
Numbers Say: Shawn Riggans or Chris Coste.
Why That Makes Sense: Shawn Riggans, who the Mets brought into camp on a minor league deal after he being dropped by the Tampa Bay Rays, has hit .346/.405/.543 against lefties over 282 minor league plate appearances against southpaws – the MLE of that line is .298/.348/.458. Chris Coste has hit .294/.345/.476 over 254 major league plate appearances vs LHP. Both of those are +.800 OPS marks, which is nice because Met catchers hit for a .685 OPS last season.
Why That Doesn’t Make Sense: Shawn Riggans – and don’t let the face fool you into thinking he’s younger than he is – he will turn 30 this year and has just 188 major league at-bats to his name, during which he’s batted .202/.266/.356, and he missed almost all of last year with a shoulder injury. I also have no idea how he plays defensively – Riggans threw out 26.5% of would-be base-stealers in the minors, which is worse than Santos’ 29% rate in the minors. The NL rate was 29% last season. Of course, throwing is just part of the equation that makes a catcher competent defensively. Riggans is an unknown defensive quantity at this point.
As for Mr. Chris Coste, he is 37-years-old and coming off a season where he hit .224/.301/.317, including .222/.295/.389 against lefties. His power has dropped and his strikeout rate has risen steeply for two consecutive seasons – in other words, he’s got all the signs of someone whose bat is slowing down. In addition, he’s an old catcher, so Coste is more likely to be injured and see a decline in performance anyway because: A.) He’s a old and B.) He’s a catcher. I also imagine that the Mets plan is for Coste to play Jimmy Conway to Josh Thole’s Henry Hill in AAA Buffalo, so I’d be surprised if he made the club out of spring training, barring injury. Actually, with the Mets, I should probably count on an injury, shouldn’t I? So I guess I do expect Coste to be on the big club to begin the year.
Who It Should Really Be: Hesitantly, Shawn Riggans – if he’s healthy and rebounds to his old form. His major league statistics suffered from small sample size disease – he’s had some bad luck to the tune of a .221 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in the majors, which is bound to improve. Also, the dude has just mashed lefties in the minors – .948 minor league OPS against pitchers who shop at Ned Flander’s Leftorium.
Unfortunately, a lot of things need to go right for Riggans to hit lefties for the team. The Mets already have Coste, Blanco, Thole, and Santos on the 40 man roster, plus maybe Barajas soon, so it’d be a difficult task for Riggans to break on through. Which is too bad, because him vs. lefties may be the best batting option in the group.
Henry Blanco, who seems to be the planned backup, has hit lefties better than righties over his career as well – but he’s even older than Chris Coste, and not as good of a hitter. On the other hand, Driveline Mechanics rated Blanco’s defense as the 7th best in the league last year, despite limited playing time and being hilariously old for a catcher. Blanco isn’t a terrible option for the platoon given the otherwise uninspiring group – but Riggans is a much better hitter.
The Numbers Say: The Mets need another catcher. Another better catcher. Not Barajas.
I guess I have to pick someone based on the numbers. Sigh. Omir Santos.
Why That Makes Sense: Winner-by-default Omir Santos is the only player to reach the .700 OPS barrier with the age adjustment, by putting up an exactly .700 OPS vs RHP in 2009. Chris Coste is the only other one to break .700 for his career against righties, with a .713 mark, the highest career mark in the group. That’s right. .713 is the highest career mark in the group. There’s no real standouts or even “adequate hitters” here like there were in the vs. lefties group. Mets catchers are not going to hit well against righties in 2010. Roy Halladay is probably already drooling.
Why That Doesn’t Make Sense: Home Run Santos’ famed compact swing enables him to catch up to fastballs, but his poor plate discipline and pitch recognition means that, eventually, pitchers are going to figure out that they should never throw him fastballs. Ever. That is, if they haven’t already noticed. The Mets as a team saw 63.2% fastballs last season, and 20.6% breaking balls. Santos saw just 56.6% fastballs, and 26.4% breaking balls. I’d expect Santos to see even less fastballs in 2010.
The corollary to Omir Santos only being able to hit fastballs is that he can’t hit anything besides fastballs. Fangraphs has him struggling mightily against anything that breaks.
Who It Sho
uld Really Be: Despite all those negatives, Omir Santos might currently be the best signed choice offensively – or at least not the worst choice. Home Run is the only one that hits right-handed pitching better than left-handed pitching – the left-handed-hitting Thole has a reverse platoon split as well – so Santos is the winner by default. Driveline Mechanics liked his defense as well, so there’s that going for him.
Should the Mets pick up Rod Barajas, I’d give him the nod over Santos, but I’m not going to go so far as to call him the “winner” of this contest. Barajas is Bengie Molina lite – that’s not a good thing. He is on the older side and has the same poor offensive habits as Molina: rarely walks and has a horrible approach at the plate which leads to a low batting average.
Barajas hits a ton of fly balls, many of which fail to leave the infield, most of which fail to leave the ball park, and thus turn into easily caught outs. Even the power is an illusion of sorts. He doesn’t hit home runs because he’s a good hitter – he’s hits home runs because he hits a ridiculous number of fly balls. Some of them happen to leave the park. Most don’t. Barajas had a .229 BABIP last season, which usually screams out bad luck, but his career BABIP is just .253, so last year’s mark wasn’t even outside the usual range of luck. A ton of infield flies, which turn into outs almost every time, and soft-struck fly balls will do that to your BABIP. There’s a reason no one has signed him yet.
But, and it’s a big but, Barajas has a good defensive reputation and Driveline Mechanics’ system agrees with that assertion. He also doesn’t have a platoon split for his career, so he wouldn’t be any worse against righties than against lefties. His defense bumps him up to the no-doubt best candidate against righties. Barajas isn’t fantastic, but he is better than the other options.
All that said, the best offensive platoon would still be a Shawn Riggans/a-warm-body-in-catcher’s-gear arrangement. On the other hand, Thole is CHONE projected to be the best hitter in the bunch. Maybe it should be him for offense. I imagine Barajas-or-Santos and Blanco is the most likely combination, with Barajas/Blanco the best defensive grouping.
I’ll hop on the Shawn Riggans bandwagon anyway, with Barajas as the main catcher against righties. Rawn Rigrajas for catcher 2010.