Compare & Contrast: A superficial glance at Catcher

Author's note: The following marks the first in a two-week series, seeking to recap the 2010 season on a position-by-position basis, while asking where the 13 win increase from 2009 to 2010 came from.  Hard-hitting analysis will be noticeably absent, on account of me being the author.  Quick-and-dirty fluff will be the medium, with an eye towards high-level projections for the coming year.  As a bonus, I'm adding Buy/Hold/Sell recommendations, because I have found everything tends to be more fun when mimicking investment advice.

Position: Catcher

2010 Innings breakdown: Ramon Hernandez - 50%

                                            Ryan Hanigan - 36%

                                            Corky Miller - 13%

2010 Composite batting line (over 650 PA):

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

569

58

165

33

1

14

93

0

0

61

84

.291

.368

.423

.791

BABIP

Contact Rate

Walk Rate

Batting Eye

SBO

RC/G

.322

85.3%

9.4%

0.73

0.0%

5.20

2010 Composite NL average catcher batting line (over 650 PA):

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

578

62

146

29

1

15

71

3

2

58

115

.253

.326

.388

.713

BABIP

Contact Rate

Walk Rate

Batting Eye

SBO

RC/G

.292

80.1%

8.9%

0.50

3.1%

4.16

2011 Contract status:

Hernandez - $3.25M team option

Hanigan - not yet arbitration eligible

Miller - free agent

Advanced minor league depth:

Devin Mesoraco - age 22, 964 OPS at High A, AA, AAA

Wilkin Castillo - age 26, 697 OPS at AAA

Chris Denove - age 27, 773 OPS at AA, AAA

Relative win increase, 2010 vs. 2009: +2

Brief summary of 2010: The playing time splits between Hanigan and Hernandez basically flip-flopped from 2009 to 2010, leading to a decline in overall defensive quality from behind the plate.  Nonetheless, stolen base attempts against the Reds declined from 126 in 2009 to 105 this year.  As shown above, the aggregate hitting from the catcher spot was well above league average, although almost the entire advantage comes from a difference in the number of singles hit, which is certainly a function of the outstanding contact skills.  Is it sustainable?

Way too early knee-jerk outlook for 2011: In short order, Ryan Hanigan has cemented his status of being a good on-base guy/contact hitter, with very good defense to match.  Ramon Hernandez has sustained a long career being a solid and dependable bat.  2010 saw career highs for Hernandez in batting average and on-base percentage, and the highest slugging percentage of his career since 2006.  Hanigan also posted career highs across the board, but has less of a track record to compare to.  The former is entering his age-35 season, and the latter is soon to hit 30.  Devin Mesoraco shot through the farm system in 2010 and will see MLB action in 2011, but it's a lot to ask for a 23 year old rookie catcher to carry a whole lot of offensive slack while learning a new pitching staff and a new set of opposition scouting reports.  The Reds will pick up the option on Hernandez's contract, and in one sense will regret it by mid-May, seeing his rate stats fall off dramatically.  They don't really have any other viable in-house candidates, though, and with Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal in the pipeline, there's no need for a free agent acquisition.  Injuries, virtually non-existent for 2010, will be a factor, and Hernandez's reduced production will lead to more playing time for Hanigan.  This will improve the defense by default; the hitting will decline, but the big wild card is by how much.

Bottom line: Hanigan's on-base abilities are real, and it's not unusual for catchers to peak with the bat later than most other players.  Although he'll tire and fade down the stretch, Hanigan will respond favorably to increased playing time, although the platoon's effectiveness will noticeably decline.   Sell.

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