Friday, June 5, 2015
The Problem Behind The Plate
Whether you put stock in analytics or not, you'd be hard pressed to convince someone that the Twins aren't playing over their heads right now. Of course at some point that will begin to show, and if Minnesota wants to dull those effects, being proactive should be the taken route. Players such as Tim Stauffer, Chris Herrmann, Danny Santana, and even Eduardo Nunez could be upgraded from within. Doing so would result in a net positive for the Twins floor. One position and player not being talked about however is Kurt Suzuki, and the catching role.
Prior to this season, the Twins handed out a two-year extension to the veteran backstop. Regardless of his All-Star season in 2014, that was absolutely the right move. Locking down a reliable starting catcher is something that every major league team must do, but they all come at a relative premium. Minnesota didn't face a hefty price tag for Suzuki, and he fits with this team in the immediate plans. That said, he along with Santana, was a glaring candidate for regression. It's interesting to note that while it's hit hard, it's been overlooked.
In recent weeks, Suzuki has spent a considerable amount of time batting 5th in the Twins lineup despite lacking any semblance of power. This season, he's slashing .239/.317/.324 and has driven in just 15 runs. Not a high strikeout guy, Suzuki hasn't failed in one certain area, but rather has underwhelmed at the plate as a whole.
For Twins fans though, it's quickly pointed out that Suzuki is on the roster to catch. Many are quick to assimilate him to a defensive catcher, even while that doesn't appear to be the case. Forget the fact that Suzuki is one of the worst in the majors when it comes to pitch framing, he's actually been worth -2 DRS (defensive runs saved) this season. To put that into context, Chris Herrmann, the backup catcher and career minor leaguer, is worth exactly the same fWAR (0.2) and a better -1 DRS number.
There's little doubt that defensive catchers have value to big league teams. Typically they are paired with an offensive counterpart (ie. Drew Butera with Joe Mauer). In his time with the Twins, Drew Butera was worth 3, -1, and 2 DRS, a quantifiable asset behind the plate. While he did nothing with the bat, his presence was a welcomed addition to the lineup in a reserve capacity.
More often than not, Josmil Pinto has been tied to his lack of catching ability. There's no doubt he's not an every day backstop (he threw out ZERO runners in 25 chances last season), but that's the problem. He doesn't have to be.
Twins catchers are combining to hit .203/.265/.325 with 3 HR and have played below average defense. Down on the farm (and even in the midst of a relative cold spell), Pinto has hit .253/.330/.418 with 6 HR. The home run total would put Pinto tied for 5th best amongst MLB catchers. Currently, 12 teams have catchers with more home runs than either Suzuki or Herrmann.
The culmination of each of these issues is that the Twins have a position without a relative plan. Catcher's are generally regarded as power producing hitters, something the Twins have decided to balk on. Pinto was told he needed to hit, which he has, yet he sits behind two catchers that don't. Defensively, both catchers on the Twins rosters are also a net negative, and the best thing either one has going for them is a veteran presence that is respected by Twins pitchers.
In no way should the suggestion be that the Twins do anything with Kurt Suzuki. He over-performed last season, and the upcoming regression was seen a mile away. However, continuing to balk on Chris Herrmann as the backup makes little sense. Pinto brings immediate positives over the alternative, doesn't need to focus solely on catching, and removes lackluster options from the designated hitter role.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, regression may be looming for the Twins, but it's up to them in how they combat it. Making internal upgrades to stave off potential downfalls seems like a good place to start. Doing so behind the plate sooner rather than later seems to make too much sense.