Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Dynamic Duo behind the plate

Can you feel that? Can you feel that change in the air? That's the feeling of spring training. Today is the first full squad workout. As I sit here and type Johnny Damon is stretching in preparation for some wind sprints. Curt Schilling is tossing the ball, seeing how his ankle feels. David Ortiz is practicing his hugs. A slimmer, more flexibleTrot Nixon is feeling healthy. David McCarty, Adam Hyzdu, and a few others are fighting for that 25th spot. And everyone is there. It's a weird feeling to look at the news articles during spring training and not see something missing. There are no articles about how Pedro is showing up a week late. I could write a little good riddance entry about Pedro, but why bother? These are happy times that deserve only happy thoughts. So how about a posistion by position look at the Sox this year, starting with catcher? That sounds like a good time to me.

Catchers - There's no change for the Sox here. Last year we had the best hitting catching team in baseball and those two are coming back for more. No one is going to argue against the fact that Jason Varitek is extremely over paid. A $40 million deal for a 33 year old catcher usually isn't a good idea. But just like no one is going to argue against him being overpaid, no one is going to argue that the signing wasn't a good idea. The Red Sox aren't the A's. They don't need to watch their payroll. They can afford to give a bad deal to an irreplaceable part of the team. Good deal or not we can expect a decline from Varitek. I'm not a huge fan of the BABIP stat, but I think it's a pretty good indicator, in this case, that Varitek was one luck SOB last year. I have a feeling that Fenway increases BABIP by a bit, but in 2004 Varitek had a .373 BABIP. That's just nuts. And that's not something that we can expect to see again. Expect a drop from Varitek's .296/.390/.482 line to something more around his career totals. Something like .275/.350/.450 is what we're likely to see.

Doug Mirabelli also had a career year last year posting career highs in avg and oba. We can expect another 160 AB's from our backup, catching Wakefield every fifth day. The great part about Mirabelli being a backup is that even though his avg is likely to drop 30 points, that only means that he'll collect about 5 less hits.

The third option, just in case one of the top two go down, is Kelly Shoppach, at one time billed as our catcher of the future. Shoppach does have some pop to his bat, smacking 22 homers last season in Pawtucket, but he has a bit of a problem putting the bat on the ball, hitting just .233 while striking out 138 times (in 399 at bats). From what I hear, he's good behind the plate. He's an agile guy and knows how to call a game. If we don't trade him, I expect that he'll be a hell of a backup catcher one day. If we do trade him, I think he could turn into a serviceable starter on some teams. As for this year, I'm looking forward to seeing him in the majors if Varitek or Mirabelli gets hurt. Not that I want either to get hurt, of course. And not that I expect Shoppach to ever turn into an all-star. It's just that I wouldn't mind seeing one of the prospects that we've been hearing about for a couple of years.

We'll likely see a drop in production from our backstops, but it's still a strong point for us. The kind of numbers we're likely to see coming from behind the plate and in the 7 or 8 spot in our order is still near the top of the league. And the intangibles (ya know...after years of making fun of Jeter for that word, I really hate using it...) that both bring only improve their value. The only bad thing we can expect is on the basepaths for the other team. Our catching duo let 123 runners steal a base last year, worst in the league.

The one thing I've noticed about Shoppach is he has a super quick release when trying to throw a runner out. You're almost afraid his hand might hit the bat he gets rid of it so quick. Plus I wouldn't be surprised if Varitek's percentage of throwing runners out improves. Lowe was awful at holding runners on, and I believe Wells was pretty good about it. Mike has my Bill James book right now though, so I can't confirm.
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