2012 in Review: Catching

“Barge” and “The Fort” held down the catching duties for the Bucs.

A catching tandem that struggled to throw out baserunners hurt the team in the long run.

Games AVG HR RBI OPS
Rod Barajas 104 .206 11 31 .625
Michael McKenry 88 .233 12 39 .762

Pretty rough year behind the plate for the Bucs.  Rod, thought to be an offensive upgrade but defensive downgrade compared to Ryan Doumit, disappointed greatly.  His offense was terrible at best.  His defense was almost impossible to watch as the opposing teams ran wild on the bases.  The one upside to Rod’s season was how much he and A.J. Burnett connected, which probably added to A.J.’s success all season.  McKenry was thought of mostly as a backup, but he played almost as many games as Rod.  “The Fort” captivated Bucco fans with his clutch home runs, but that was about it.  His defense wasn’t much better than Rod, and he couldn’t really be relied on as an every-day catcher.  Serious upgrades need to be made behind the plate this offseason.

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Help Wanted: Pirates Catcher

Since they declined Rod Barajas’ $3.5 million option for 2013, the Pirates are now in need of a catcher to go along with Michael McKenry. Rob Biertempfel of the Trib wrote about how the Bucs are in the market for both a catcher and starting pitcher. The five catchers listed as possible targets are Gerald Laird, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torrealba, Kelly Shoppach, and Humberto Quintero; here are their resumes:

A few of these players are listed on Yahoo’s Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker. It notes that “Pierzynski is not going to hit 27 home runs again, and he’ll go back to what he was: a low-on-base guy whose propensity not to walk borders on historic. In Pierzynski’s 12 seasons with at least 400 plate appearances, not once has he exceeded 30 walks.Shoppachcalls a decent game” and “can hit home runs.” All it says for Laird is “this is where it starts to get bad” which signals a significant drop off in talented catchers.

Pierzynski’s inability to get on base is a red flag, and he certainly isn’t getting any younger. He’ll probably get a pretty decent salary despite his age. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that A.J. will go to the Texas Rangers.

Shoppach is an interesting case. He only hit .233 in 2012 but can put up some decent power. A major problem for the Pirates last season was throwing out runners; Shoppach threw out 33% in 2012 (compared to Barajas’ 6%). Plus he’s never made more than $3 million in his career and could come on the cheap at age 33. Mets blog Rising Apple points out that Shoppach is “the one free-agent that has a good chance at returning to Flushing in 2013.” Mets GM Sandy Alderson will seek outside help at catcher but could re-sign Shoppach if he can’t find an upgrade.

According to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, Gerald Laird is looking for more playing time and more salary than the Tigers can offer. Laird wasn’t tremendous at throwing out runners, as he caught just 10 of 52 (19%). For comparison, Michael McKenry threw out 13 of 74 (18%). He doesn’t hit for much power and is a career .244 hitter.

Torrealba’s 2012 season seems very similar to Barajas’ 2011 before he came to the Pirates:
Barajas 2011 – age 35, $3.25 million salary, .230 avg, .717 OPS, 25% CS
Torrealba 2012 – age 33, $3.25 million salary, .227 avg, .623 OPS, 22% CS
…so he seems like Rod Barajas 2.0

Quintero is pretty much the same deal at .232 avg and an abysmal .523 OPS, along with 35% CS (17 out of 49), so he’s not a very attractive candidate either.

It seems that Neal Huntington may be open to dealing Joel Hanrahan for a major league-ready catcher. Hammer may not be affordable at this point, and the market for closers is ridiculous. Many believe that closer is an overrated position and that they can be easily replaced. With that logic, it makes sense to deal Hanrahan, as long as the Pirates can get a solid return.

The market for catchers, both free agency and trade, is really slim, but the Bucs are in need of an upgrade. Tony Sanchez doesn’t seem quite ready at Triple-A and the rest of the farm system is lacking. These free agent targets aren’t intriguing, but Neal Huntington & Co. need to make something happen. It will be interesting to see how they approach the catching situation this offseason.

Season in Pictures: May 2012


May 2nd, 2012
A.J. Burnett walks off the mound after allowing 12 runs in just 2.2 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Bucs got rocked, 12-3, at Busch Stadium.


May 8th, 2012
Rod Barajas flashes the Zoltan after hitting a walk-off homer to lift the Pirates over the Nationals, 5-4.


May 19th, 2012
Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison celebrate one of Cutch’s two bombs in Detroit. The Pirates beat the Tigers in a Saturday matinée by the score of 4-3.


May 21st, 2012
Neil Walker slides home safely as the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to give the Pirates a 5-4 victory.


May 26th, 2012
Matt Hague‘s walk-off hit-by-pitch lifts the Bucs over the Cubs, 3-2, in front of a Saturday night sellout crowd.


May 28th, 2012
Gorkys Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata celebrate after beating the Reds on Memorial Day. It was the Pirates fourth consecutive win and put them at the .500 mark.

Burnett Bouncing Back in the ‘Burgh

Dejan Kovacevic produced a great article about A.J. Burnett‘s leadership for the Bucs so far this season. Bench coach Jeff Banister, who is featured in the piece, said that Burnett “is someone who’s never been the guy before. That’s what he is for us. He’s the guy. He wants to leave a legacy here.” Not only has he looked solid on the mound, but he’s helping the young players of the team as well. Here’s a look at how A.J. Burnett has transformed himself from the bright lights of New York City to small-market Pittsburgh.

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Defending the Fort

While Rod Barajas continues to struggle at the plate (you can read our feature HERE), some fans are calling for Michael “The Fort” McKenry to become the starting catcher. However, is it realistic to consider McKenry as a starter? Sure, Barajas is struggling, but McKenry is a relatively unproven player who came out of nowhere last season. He immediately became a fan-favorite after hitting the big home run against the Cubs, but he hit just .222 with 2 HR and 11 RBI last season. In just seven games this season, the Fort has looked pretty solid.

We decided to take a look at how McKenry stacks up against the rest of the catchers in the NL Central. It is difficult to make assumptions since this season provides a very small sample size, but it still shows the progression of the various catchers in the division. Take a look:

  (stats as of 4/26/12)              
  Name G H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Cardinals Yadier Molina 18 17 3 12 0.27 0.329 0.54
  Tony Cruz 3 1 0 0 0.111 0.111 0.222
                 
Reds Ryan Hanigan 11 10 0 1 0.256 0.341 0.282
  Devin Mesoraco 9 7 0 2 0.28 0.387 0.32
                 
Brewers George Kottaras 12 6 3 8 0.333 0.52 0.889
  Jonathan Lucroy 16 12 2 6 0.261 0.352 0.457
                 
Astros Jason Castro 12 10 0 5 0.244 0.326 0.341
  Chris Snyder 9 4 0 3 0.138 0.242 0.138
                 
Pirates Michael McKenry 7 5 1 1 0.294 0.429 0.529
  Rod Barajas 13 5 0 0 0.122 0.163 0.171
                 
Cubs Steve Clevenger 10 11 0 2 0.5 0.522 0.727
  Geovany Soto 14 7 1 1 0.14 0.204 0.26

Here’s how McKenry ranks among the backups (the catchers with fewer games for their respective teams):
– 5th in games played
– 4th in hits
– 2nd in HR
– 5th in RBI
– 2nd in AVG
– 3rd in OBP
– 3rd in SLG

What does this tell us? Not much. It is difficult to interpret since each catcher has played different amounts of games, but it does show that he’s a pretty average backup. However, Barajas is the worst starter of the bunch so it gives McKenry more value. Still, he has not played in enough games (half as many as Barajas) to be considered a legit contender for the starting role.

If you give McKenry the nod as starter, how will he produce when given more at-bats and a heavier workload? He is popular among the pitchers and works well with them, but the same can be said of Barajas. However, it could make sense to split some time between the catchers. Looking at their splits, McKenry actually hit better off righties last season. He hit .239 off RHP, but just .167 off LHP. On the flip side, Barajas hit .267 off LHP/.214 off RHP last season. If they still have these comfort levels, why not give it a shot? The Pirates need as much offense as they can get, and every run matters. Hopefully the Bucs can put together a winning combination.

Go Bucs