2013 Expectations: Catchers

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Russell Martin

What can we expect from the Pirates big free agent splash of the 2012-13 offseason? Martin should undoubtedly be a better backstop for the Pirates than Rod Barajas was in 2012 but that is setting the bar a little low. Over the last 3 seasons Martin has seen his K% rise and his OBP drop every season. Even at the age of 30, these are worrisome signs as catcher typically age a little faster than most other players. Martin has kept a fair amount of value over the last two years despite the increase in his K% and decline in his OBP because of his increased power, notably in the form of his home runs. Unfortunately some of those were likely a byproduct of the hitter friendly Yankee stadium he played his home games in. On the positive side though Martin was a little unlucky last season with a low BABIP of just .222 so there is reason to believe his average and by extension OBP will rebound some in 2013. Defensively Martin is solid but not spectacular; he is noted as a good pitch framer and if one trust those metrics he should be a nice boost to a Pirates pitching staff that routinely had borderline calls go against them. Martin’s offense overall has been around league average for a catcher the last few seasons and it is not unreasonable to think he can stay at or at least near that level for 2013. As far as throwing out would be base stealers Martin is nothing special in that area, posting a 24% caught stealing rate which is almost identical to what Rod Barajas posted in 2011. The Pirates are said to be reworking their strategy of not having pitchers focus on runners at all so that should Martin and really all Pirates catchers some in 2013. Bottom line I’m expecting Martin to give the Pirates roughly average production both offensively and defensively from the catching position. I see him settling in as about a 2.5 WAR player while posting an OPS in the area of .700 (.325 OBP, .375 SLG) and throwing out roughly 18-20% of base stealers

Michael McKenry

McKenry had a fine offensive season in 2012 fueled by a surprising display of some power. The solid offensive showing and the fact that h e was only terrible at throwing out would be base stealers (as opposed to historically awful) made it a little surprising he did not assume more of the starting catcher role as the season wore on. McKenry was the Pirates best catcher in 2012 but make no mistake he is not a starting catcher. McKenry’s surprising power surge in 2012 was more likely a result of a small sample size than it was of any real breakout. Despite the fact that McKenry’s offensive numbers are likely to regress in 2013 he should still remain a solid backup catcher as he is a good defender and can hit at least a little bit. His defense is overrated by some segments of the Pirates fan base but it is very solid. Overall the Pirates should still feel comfortable using McKenry on a semi-regular basis in order to ease the burden put on Martin. I expect McKenry will likely receive around 50-70 starts in 2013 depending on Martin’s health and the performance of the catchers behind him on the Pirates depth chart. I’m expecting McKenry to receive around 200-250 PA this season, while being roughly a 1.0 WAR player and posting an OPS of approximately .670 (.300 OBP, .370 SLG).

Tony Sanchez

This upcoming season should see Tony Sanchez make his major league debut. He has the reputation of being a strong defender with a questionable bat but some power. Sanchez is the Pirates third catcher and will likely be the first player called up from the minors should an additional catcher be needed. It is difficult to say just how much he will play in the majors this season because Martin and McKenry have shown to be relatively healthy players and a reasonable expectation is that neither of them should perform poorly in 2013, meaning Sanchez may have to wait a while before ultimately getting a chance to make an impressions. I have Martin pegged for between 90-100 starts and McKenry ticketed for anywhere from 50-70, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for Sanchez. My predictions for the other two catchers leave about 10-20 starts for Sanchez as a max so I am not expecting him to get a ton of time in the majors but he is going to have to make good use of the small window he receives. Sanchez will start the year in AAA and I’m expecting to hit better there although still not great. I see him in AAA posting a slash line of roughly .260/.340/.400. To some that may sound optimistic but I feel that is rather reasonable. I’m also expecting him to show some strides defensively as that is what will really carry him. In the majors I’m expecting him to struggle in the limited chances he gets I could see him being about a .3 WAR player and posting a .220/.280/.340 stat line in his limited opportunities.

Summary

To summarize I’m expecting Russell Martin to be roughly a league average catcher both offensively and defensively for the Pirates, I’m expecting McKenry to see a drop off in his offensive production but still be a respectable backup catcher and I’m expecting Sanchez to have a solid showing at AAA but struggle in his limited big league opportunities. For 2013 the catching position for the Pirates looks around league average to me and in reality if they can get that it will be a significant improvement from where they were last season.

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