Reds Blog Roundtable: Splitting up the playing time at catcher

Norm Hall

We ask our esteemed panel of Reds bloggers to solve the conundrum at the catcher position.

Maybe we're doing what we once feared and starting a controversy when there isn't one, but it's interested me to see how the Reds have been splitting up catching duties. Surprisingly, Devin Mesoraco has seen most of the time there so far this year, although most of it came in Ryan Hanigan's absence. After a dismal start, Hanigan's been better, but still hasn't reached the offensive numbers Mes has. On the other hand, Hanigan handles pitchers well and calls as good of a game as anyone in the NL. So we asked:

The Reds have two viable backstops right now in Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco. How should playing time at catcher be split up between those two and why?

Charlie Scrabbles, Red Reporter: If you go by performance, Mesoraco should probably be starting four of five days. As of now, Mesoraco is hitting close to league-average while Hanigan's numbers are still underwater. I don't think Hanigan will continue to hit this poorly, but Mesoraco can likely maintain his level. So I'm just fine with Hanigan continuing on as the catcher on the top bunk. It's not a big issue right now.

Hanigan's advancing age and contract situation are about to become pressing matters, though. I'm confident the Reds will keep him with the organization (possibly for his entire career), but at some point, Mesoraco will have to be given the bulk of playing time behind the plate.

So just how to manage that transition is the real question. I would like to see Mesoraco getting more time with the full rotation. Up to this point, there have been fairly strict divisions of labor on that front. With good reason, of course, as everyone loves throwing to Hanigan and Mesoraco has shown his age at times. Mesoraco has started about a half-season's worth of games over his career so far though, so it's about time the training wheels come off. At some point, the catcher of the future must become the catcher of the present.

Amanda, Red Hot Mama: Truly it is a good time to be a Reds fans when we have two competent catchers vying for time behind the plate: Ryan Hanigan, the wily veteran with expertise in calling games and managing pitchers, and Devin Mesoraco, the high potential youngster still learning the ropes.

I mean, I remember the days back when the Reds had three catchers on the roster. Well, I sort of remember those days. I have a nagging memory of those days, but I had to look them up to actually find them. Did you know that Craig Tatum caught 26 games in 2009? I don't even remember the name Craig Tatum. Apparently, he only played 100 games over a 3-year major league career, though I'm sure he's a super-swell fella, personally.

Really, the last time the Reds had 3 proper catchers on the roster was 2008 when Paul Bako (who? I don't know. But he started 88 games at catcher that year), Ryan Hanigan (25 games--has he really been around that long?), David Ross (43 games), and Javier Valentin (the Latin Love Machine himself started 6 games at catcher and 10 more at first. Plus, 1 at third on June 25 against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Reds won that game, for what it's worth).

No one's entertained the notion of 3 catchers or 13 pitchers or any other crazy crap like that in a long time. That does sort of leave me wondering about the situation where Hanigan starts, Mesoraco comes in as a pinch hitter, and then Mesoraco gets hurt; who's the emergency third catcher? I'd like to point out that Joey Votto was a catcher in his early days. I'm sure that would be a great chance to test out that newly healed knee.

Jason Linden, Redleg Nation: We can, I suppose, split lots of hairs about exactly how the playing time should be divided, but one things seems clear to me: Devin Mesoraco should be the number one catcher and Hanigan should be the number two.

I have historically, been a big Hanigan booster, and I still am, but I also firmly believe, that even with his defensive abilities he is not as good as Mesoraco. Mesoraco is going to hit for more power and, eventually, he'll probably get on base somewhere in the neighborhood. Given that Mes handled being the number one just fine while Hanigan was out, there's no longer any reason to hold him back.

If I were given control over playing time, I'd probably leave Hanigan with Bronson, since the latter seems to like it so much. Mes would still catch Latos and Leake and I'd probably give him Cueto along with a few Bailey starts thrown in here and there. The pitchers who are going to be around need to get used to throwing to him. Might as well do it now.

AC Slider, Red Reporter: I'd like to see close to a 50/50 split between Hanigan and Mesoraco. I've been a huge Hanigan supporter for years now, and he's certainly earned his role as the Reds primary catcher. Defensively he is one of the best catchers in baseball and the Reds pitching staff raves about his ability to call a game. On top of that, he's been described by some as a master of framing pitches. He is adequate with the bat as well. Despite a terrible start to the season, he's been very good lately, slashing .297/.366/.486 since returning from the DL.

Even with all that Hanigan offers, I'd prefer to see Mesoraco starting more often than he currently is for a number of reasons. For one, Hanigan has proven to be far more productive when given rest. Splitting the catching duties more evenly should help keep Hanigan fresh for the whole season. Secondly, I firmly believe Mesoraco has the ability to be a legitimate RH threat for the Reds at the plate. Granted, his career .645 OPS doesn't inspire much confidence, but he certainly hasn't been given the opportunity to prove himself over a long stretch. The scouts and his minor league production indicate that he's a far better hitter than he's shown to this point. And finally, the Reds need to find out exactly what they have in Mesoraco. It's not clear how much longer Hanigan will be with the team and Mesoraco is the only viable replacement in the organization at this time.

Therefore, giving Mesoraco close to 50% of the starts would benefit the team in the short-term (by keeping Hanigan fresh) and in the long-term.

Dan, OMGReds: The Reds catching depth is a luxury that many teams should be envious of. Having to two capable backstops, one a savvy veteran that can handle a pitching staff and a young buck with some pop and a lot of upside. Throw in a mustached madman in AAA that can toss an inning of relief for ya and you've got a stockpile of options. I do think that you anoint Hanigan your #1. Mez #2. Ryan has earned it - With his play behind the plate and swinging the bat. He's come on strong since coming off the DL, too. The thing is, it's a long season and catching is a grueling task. You have to give these guys a regular rotation making sure both are rested and staying off the DL. Get at-bats to whoever is on the bench to keep their game in the batter's box sharp. I suppose this approach seems like common sense given the situation, but most of the time keeping it simple is the best. I'm rooting for both guys to play out of their minds all season long, that's all I know.

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