2012 Reds / Believe

RN 2012 Preview: Catcher

Okay, enough of this one player per preview nonsense. At catcher, we will finally be forced to deal with a position where multiple players should see significant time.

Before I begin, I want to preface this preview with something: I do not believe advanced stats are doing an adequate job with catchers. There has been enough research now to show that the catcher’s ability (or lack thereof) to frame pitches has a measurable affect on the game. I expect this to be incorporated soon, but it’s anybody’s guess as to when exactly that happens. In any case, there will be some qualifiers with the catching projections that you won’t see anywhere else.

When Devin Mesoraco figured out how to hit, there was joy in Redsville. He was supposed to be good and we kept waiting for it to happen and then it did. Last year, it paid off as he was finally promoted to the majors. It looks like that will be a permanent promotion.

Ryan Hanigan was just the opposite. He wasn’t expected to do much of anything. He wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a Corky Miller-type. Great when you have some injury issues, but no one you’d want to trust over a full season. But he kept playing well in the minors and suddenly, he’s about to see his fourth full season of major league action.

I had assumed, as I expect you all had, that Mesoraco was going to be the primary guy this year, but recent comments from Dusty indicate that might not be strictly true. I suspect this is probably just posturing – trying to make the rookie work, that sort of thing – but it’s something to pay attention to. Unless he falls apart, I’d expect Mesoraco to start 90-110 games with Hanigan taking up the rest. I would also guess that Arroyo carries enough weight that Hanigan will continue to be his personal catcher. I guess we’ll see, though.

Beating, or even maintaining, last year’s performance at catcher is going to be rough. Hanigan and Hernandez did a great job, and for several years, made the Reds one of the best teams in baseball behind the plate. Replacing Hernandez’s part of that production is going to be a tall order for a rookie, but maybe not as tall as you think.

You see, this is where our first qualifier comes in. According to all the advanced metrics, Hernandez was very good last year. However, according to all the studies I’ve seen, he’s not very good a pitch-framing. Correspondingly, though there isn’t much PitchFx data on him yet, everything I’ve heard about Mesoraco is that he’s good behind the plate. Certainly, he should be a defensive upgrade over Hernandez and that makes any offensive declines easier to deal with.

And then there are the projection systems. They all really like Mesoraco and are calling for him to be a well above average major leaguer right out of the gate. You never know with rookie catchers, but they aren’t making the kind of absurd here’s-the-next-Johnny-Bench predictions we saw with Matt Wieters a few years ago, so perhaps we needn’t be so concerned.

Hanigan is much more of a known quantity and – second qualifier – he’s excellent at framing pitches, and so probably a little more valuable than any projections system gives him credit for. Offensively, he’ll hit for an okay average with no power, but get on base enough to be helpful, especially for a catcher.

If I take the projection systems seriously (I do), the drop of from last year to this year is much less than I expected. And depending on Devin’s defense, the Reds may even be a tick better behind the plate. Color me surprised. I genuinely expected to project a real drop off here. Anyway, here’s what I think we’ll get:

2012 Mesoraco Slash Line: .265/.325/.440
2012 Hanigan Slash Line: .270/.360/.360

2011 Catcher WAR: 3.7

2012 Best Guess WAR: 3.5

Projected Difference: -0.2

2012 Floor WAR: 1.5

2012 Ceiling WAR: 5.0

Redleg Nation Position-by-Position Season Preview:

First Base
Second Base
Right Field
Center Field
Catcher
Starting Pitching – Front End of the Rotation
Bullpen
Starting Pitching – Back End of the Rotation
Third Base
Shortstop
Left Field
Season Preview Wrap-Up

(A personal aside: You’ll have noticed that these previews have grown a little less regular. Alas, I am not yet able to announce the newest member of the Nation. Rather, the Linden household has been besieged by something called prodromal labor. That is, my wife’s body isn’t in labor, but thinks it is an acts like it most of the time. It’s nothing serious, but we’re all very tired around here (especially Cate, who has been having pretty serious contractions every ten minutes or so for about two weeks), and I’d appreciate it if you could keep us in your thoughts.)

16 thoughts on “RN 2012 Preview: Catcher

  1. Let’s not forget Dioner Navarro, a nice depth pickup. I also saw somewhere our signing of Jeff Francis was named as the best low cost acquisition of the offseason. It’s hard to argue given the numbers he put up. Let’s just hope we never have to use him.

  2. Jason, any hedging based on the fact the projected 2012 floor is a greater deviation from the average than the ceiling?

  3. @rightsaidred: Yes, absolutely. You never know with rookies. especially rookie catchers. There’s always a chance Mesoraco falls on his face. I don’t think he will, but I can’t ignore the possibility.

  4. For the stat heads that want more reading on a catchers value framing pitches, David Schoenfield of the SweetSpot Blog on ESPN had a great article on Feb 15 discussing the value that Jose Molina brings to the Rays with his ability to frame pitches. Apparently there is a gentleman named Max Marchi at Baseball Prospectus that uses Pitchf/x data to calculate runs saved by a catcher. I would like to see this data for hanigan/hernandez over the last few seasons. Im very excited about the hanigan/mesoraco duo the Reds will have this year. GO REDLEGS!

  5. I don’t know why anyone assumed that Meso would be the “primary guy” this year. I have been assuming that it will be a fairly even split with hanigan getting the slight majority of starts. I have heard (read) several people say that Meso will be the main starter, but I have no idea what that would be based on.

  6. @RiverCity Redleg: Potential. Mesoraco has always been the catcher of the future, so he’s going to get a shot. If he performs, he’ll likely get the majority of the starts. Think Votto displacing Hatteburg once upon a time. Hanigan is good, but his ceiling simply doesn’t approach Mesoraco’s.

  7. I see the setup this year with Mesoraco and Hanigan about as good as you can get with a young catcher. You have a bit above average catcher there to be able to share the load. Unless you got the next Pudge Rodriquez or Pudge Fisk, you are not going to turn the catcher spot over to a rookie for 130+ games. Either way, you need two guys. We got a pretty solid 2nd guy (or 1 and a 1/2 however you break it up).

    I think a big reason Hernandez played well in Cincy and Hanigan got it done was that neither was pushed to have to catch nearly every day. It kept them fresh at the plate.

    With Dioneer Navarro and Corky Miller, you got two vets that can hold their own behind the plate even if they are not great hitters.

    Reds got some good depth at catcher, which is a big reason that Grandal was expendible in the Latos trade.

    It’s definitely an upgrade on where we were a few years back either way.

  8. @Jason Linden: I agree that’s the case for the future. But in terms of THIS YEAR, I can’t imagine them running a rookie out most every day, especially when you’ve got a guy like Hanigan there. I also agree that Hanigan’s ceiling is well below Mes’, but again, THIS YEAR, while Hanigan is still playing close to his ceiling and Mes hasn’t even approached his ceiling, Hanigan will and should get the majority of starts. Now, I hope it’s a 55/45 split (60/40 at the most). I fear, based on Dusty’s comments, that Hanigan will get too many starts relative to Mes. Alas, the roster can’t be completely Dusty-proofed.

  9. I am hoping that Meso turns out to be the best of both Hanigan and Hernandez behind the plate.

    I am not going to quarrel with belief of many in these parts that Hanigan is a superior framer. However he is also at times too much of a pitch waster and seems to encourage nibbling by the guys throwing to him. In my mind there is probably a relationship involved between perhaps overvaluing framing and slipping into into the other two behaviors.

    So while I enjoy watching Hanigan practicing his craft of framing, on the other hand he drives me nuts with waste pitches that have no chance of drawing swings or getting called strikes followed by the borderline pitch several inches closer to the zone which should have been the waste pitch on the prior effort and an 0-2 count is suddenly 2-2 or a 1-2 has become a full count.

  10. Thoughts and prayers for you and your family Jason. I hope it all turns out well.

    As for the catching situation, I agree that the Reds have the best depth they’ve had behind the plate in quite a while. I think Jason is probably about right in predicting that the catching will provide slightly lower production than last year. I also agree with Jason in that I think that Mesoraco is going to prove to be a superior defender to Hernandez. This is going to be a big deal, not only in terms of framing pitches but in avoiding passed balls and wild pitches.

    As for playing time, I suspect that if Mesoraco plays pretty well, he’ll get 90-100 starts behind the plate.

    Slash-line predictions:
    Hanigan – .275/.356/.383
    Mesoraco – .260/.321/.416

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