2011 Positional Review: Catchers

Taking a look at last year's backstops, from Barajas to Gimenez.

The Dodgers' catching situation in 2011 wasn't pretty. While Rod Barajas managed to appease the conventional baseball Gods with his 16 homers and 46 RBI in 88 games, it didn't change the fact that he posted an OBP of .288. This led to Barajas posting the 24th ranked WAR for all catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. UZR docked him a run for his defense, though I was surprised at how well he blocked balls in the dirt. He threw out 25% of attempted basestealers, up from his previous year's total of 15%. When Barajas injured his wrist and, later, his ankle, the gear was handed over to reclamation project Dioner Navarro, who promptly posted one of the worst wOBAs* of any player with 200 or more plate appearances during the 2011 season (.261). He hit just .192 with a .276 OBP and a .324 SLG. He threw out just under 26% of basestealers and his UZR was 0. This led to a WAR of -0.1, 38th out of 40 catchers with 200 or more plate appearances.

The brief light in the darkness that was the Dodgers' catching corps last season was provided by A.J. Ellis, who batted .265 with a .390 OBP and a .373 SLG, producing a wOBA of .346 and a WAR of 0.7 despite playing in just 31 games. He also threw out 4 of 15 attempted basestealers. This came after he batted .304 with an astounding 50 to 23 walk to strikeout rate in 59 games with the Albuquerque Isotopes. That led to a .467 OBP, the highest of his career.

Tim Federowicz, acquired at the deadline for Trayvon Robinson, didn't have an auspicious debut. Once he came to the Dodgers, he was assigned to Albuquerque where he put on quite a show, batting .325/.431/.627 in 25 games. This coming after he hit just .277/.338/.407 before the trade. However, Fedex's career line of .278/.341/.424 in the minors should indicate that his production with the Topes was an aberration. After a late season promotion to the big club, he hit just .154, though did manage to get on base at a .313 clip by walking twice in 16 plate appearances, but failed to collect an extra base hit. Hector Gimenez rounded out the collection, getting one hit in seven at bats.

This led to an uninspiring overall line of .227/.305/.393 (Batting Average, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage). To be fair, the Dodgers placed 17th in the Major Leagues in OPS (.698), thanks in large part to Barajas' .430 Slugging Percentage. However, their wOBA was 21st in MLB at .296. This led to a 1.9 WAR for the position, 23rd in MLB.

The offensive deficiencies of Dodger backstops was created by giving Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro a combined 81% of the team's plate appearances at catcher. Together, they compiled a .283 OBP which was nearly .040 points lower than the NL average for catchers of .320. Putting guys in the lineup who make outs more than 70% of the time is detrimental to scoring runs.

*wOBA is weighted On-Base Average, developed by Tom Tango and used on Fangraphs.com to better reflect a player's production than OPS, given that, in OPS, On-Base Average and Slugging Percentage are treated equally. wOBA is treated like regular On-Base Average, where .330 is generally league average. Saberites have long held that OBA (or On-Base Percentage aka OBP) is more important than Slugging Percentage (or SLG), with Paul DePodesta providing an anecdote in Moneyball that hammers home the point:

"Not long after he arrived in Oakland, Paul asked himself a question: what was the relative importance of onbase and slugging percentage? His answer began with a thought experiment: if a team had an on-base percentage of 1.000 (referred to as "a thousand")—that is, every hitter got on base—how many runs would it score? An infinite number of runs, since the team would never make an out. If a team had a slugging percentage of 1.000—meaning, it gained a base for each hitter that came to the plate—how many runs would it score? That depended on how it was achieved, but it would typically be a lot less than an infinite number. A team might send four hitters to the plate in an inning, for instance. The first man hits a home run, the next three make outs. Four plate appearances have produced four total bases and thus a slugging percentage of 1.000 and yet have scored only one run in the inning."

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