Monday, October 12, 2009

Pirates by Position: Catching

After comparing the projections against the reality, it's time to take a look at the actual performances of the Pirates in 2009. We'll start our checklist with the catchers:

Ryan Doumit, 28, (.250 10/38) was the alpha dog. He's stayed remarkably consistent with his career power numbers, hitting a long ball every 30 at-bats and pushing a run across every 8 or 9 times at the dish. Over 450 at-bats, that translates into 15 homers and 55 or so RBI, OK production for a backstop.

Ah, but can he get those 450 at-bats? His health has always been fragile, and catching is a high-risk profession; he was concussed a couple of times last season. You can solve that concern one of three ways.

Option one is to limit his catching duties by giving him the get-away day off, a break before an off day, and some outfield time and/or DH at-bats against the AL.

Or they could break him into the OF and transition the job to Jason Jaramillo or Robby Diaz in the long run. Or finally, just trade him, and let his health become someone else's concern.

The two-headed B team, Jason Jaramillo, 27, (.252, 3/26) and Robby Diaz, 26, (.279, 1/19), did a nice job of picking up the slack when Doumit was on the DL. Together, they had 335 at-bats and hit .262 - 4/45. Fewer homers, perhaps, but certainly equivalent RBI production, and from lower in the lineup.

The fielding? Well, the much maligned Doumit threw out 31% of would be stealers and allowed just two passed balls; Jaramillo's line was 28% and 4 PB, while Diaz threw out just 25% and let seven balls get through him.

But the tale of pitching stats tilts the other way when it comes to handling a staff. With Diaz behind the plate, Bucco hurlers allowed opposite hitters to bat .265 with 4.03 runs per game; Jaramillo, .274 and 4.81, and Doumit .282 and 4.67. So surprisingly, Diaz seems, with an admittedly small sample to massage, to call the best game; Doumit and Jaramillo had equally ragged results.

So the Pirates have options at the position. They can protect Doumit some, and hope he develops into a middle-of-the-order hitter. They can move him, and get roughly equivalent production from Jaramillo and Diaz.

The Pirate system isn't all that deep in catchers, but Indy's Erik Kratz, 29, hit .273/11/43 for the Tribe, played solidly behind the plate, was an All-Star, and provides at least as much insurance for the big club as Raul Chavez did in 2008.

Top 2009 draft pick Tony Sanchez, 21, had a great debut (.309, 7/48), but he's several levels and years away from showing up in Pittsburgh. The Bradenton Pirates 19 year-old Ramon Cabrera (.291 1/16) from Venezuela showed gap power and a rifle arm, throwing out 29% of the base-stealers who double-dared him in the GCL.

But the bloom is wearing off of Steve Lerud, 25, who was protected on the 40-man last year but hit just .240/4/26 for the Curve this season, although a sturdy defensive backstop.

Contractual issues: Doumit is under contractual control during 2010-11, and the club has an option for 2012-13. Jaramillo has one minor-league option left, and Diaz is out of options. Kratz needs to be signed again for 2010, and Lerud has to remain on the forty-man roster or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft.


WilliamJPellas said...

While I agree that Jaramillo and Diaz did an admirable (and better than expected) job as Doumit's replacement for much of the first half of 2009, there is no way they are anywhere close to him if he is hitting on all cylinders. It's just that---as you say---he's almost never at peak efficiency because he's almost always hurt.

Now, the question becomes, is that just the way it is with Doumit, OR do we "play the odds" on the assumption that he's had an extraordinarily unlikely run of injuries, and that all things being equal, he ought to be more or less healthy for at least a couple of seasons.

Given the cost control that we have with his contract, and given where the team is right now, honestly, I'd be inclined to keep him at least through the end of 2010. If he is healthy and has the kind of season he's capable of, all of a sudden we have a great trading chip, and we could get by with Jaramillo and Diaz until Sanchez comes up---which might be as soon as 2011. If Doumit lands on the DL for an extended period yet again in 2010, well, it's no worse than what we're already experiencing, and Sanchez is still on the way and just around the corner.

Ron Ieraci said...

Doumit is my preference, Will, especially as he has a fairly friendly contract for the next couple of years, if memory serves me.

It's just that every year, something happens to him, and it's always something different. It's tough to put together a lineup when one of your lynchpins in getting 350 at-bats a year.

Besides, in my opinion, he's probably a five or more likely six-hole hitter; only in Pittsburgh would he jump into cleanup.