Updating the Top 100: Ryan Hanigan

The field general - US PRESSWIRE

The guy who was supposed to be an afterthought keeps rising on the team's list of all-time catchers.

Defensive statistics are notoriously temperamental, and even more so when used to describe catchers, and even more so when compared across different eras, but let's make a rudimentary comparison anyway. Let's look at Ryan Hanigan, 2012-style, and compare the basic catching stats to an average Johnny Bench season, normalized to an equivalent 879 innings:

Player

CS%

League CS%

Non-CS Assists

Errors

Double Plays

Passed Balls

Hanigan

48%

27%

16

4

6

3

Bench

43%

35%

23

6

8

6

Bench is routinely listed as the greatest defensive catcher ever, and he played over 1,700 games there. The comparison is not to plausibly link the two, but to point out that the season we just saw by Hanigan would have fit easily into the Bench career arc, at least with the glove. In fact, by at least one metric (again, remember the quantitative difficulties here), Hanigan just posted the greatest defensive season by a catcher in Reds history.

Since Hanigan has just 18 career home runs, the comparisons with Bench run out of fuel pretty quickly. Still, Hanigan has found a way to bring offensive value without the benefit of power by combining extreme patience and contact skills. As evidence, over his career, Ryan has made contact on 90% of the pitches he has swung at, compared to a league average of just 79%. Similarly, his walk rate of 12.1% stands out nicely against the average rate of 8.5%. Indeed, in a typical Reds season, Hanigan's walk rate is second only to Mr. Votto. Comfortably second.

2012 represented a peak year for Hanigan in terms of playing time and total value, and so the temptation is to view the season as strictly positive. While it was indeed a good season and a great boon to the team, there were definitely cracks in the cistern. By the start of September, Hanigan had matched his career highs in playing time, and the ensuing month was greeted with some truly bad offensive numbers. Might he be better suited to slightly less playing time? Additionally, while Hanigan continued to demonstrate strong on-base skills, his intentional walk numbers spiked in 2012 (presumably as a function of hitting in front of the pitcher), which buoyed his overall walk rate. His patience is unquestioned, but my concern is that if a player who has meager power and tends to hit the ball the other way slips even a little in bat speed or pitch recognition, things could start rolling downhill in a hurry. There are positive mitigants: Hanigan's glove should continue to serve as a positive, and as Devin Mesoraco develops, Hanigan should be needed less as a front-line starter, and more as a strategically used complement. It's still a valuable role, and one that will be reasonably productive for a couple more years, anyway.

In just under 400 games with the Reds, the catcher has posted a batting line of .275/.370/.360 (96 OPS+), has scored 111 runs and driven in 117. More relevant to his best skill, Hanigan has erased 92 of the 232 attempted base-stealers on his watch (40%). On the basis of his 2012 season, Hanigan has risen from #232 to #160 on the all-time list and makes an appearance on the list of top-15 catchers in franchise history, debuting at #13, displacing Smoky Burgess from the list.

The Top 15 Catchers in Reds history

1 Johnny Bench
2 Ernie Lombardi
3 Bubbles Hargrave
4 Ed Bailey
5 Johnny Edwards
6 Ray Mueller
7 Ivey Wingo
8 Heinie Peitz
9 Jason LaRue
10 Eddie Taubensee
11 Larry McLean
12 Joe Oliver
13 Ryan Hanigan*
14 Farmer Vaughn
15 Tommy Clarke
*active

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