Todd Pratt Ranks High On Backup List

Last off-season the Phillies traded Johnny Estrada, one of the top catching prospects from the farm system to get ace pitcher, Kevin Millwood. Estrada was set to be the long-term backup catcher for this team behind Mike Lieberthal, but pulled the trigger on a deal to bring a top of the rotation pitcher to the Phils. If Philadelphia was so high on Estrada, why trade him? The answer is that they already had one of the top backup catchers in Major League baseball in Todd Pratt.

Moving Johnny Estrada showed great confidence that Todd Pratt would step up if need be, and replace Lieberthal in the event of an injury and on those days of rest for Lieberthal. As April draws to a close, the Phillies are hanging around the .500 mark and have the foundation for a strong season and a run at the post-season. Since the backup catcher is a hamstring away from being a major everyday player, let's take a look at how Pratt stacks up compared to other reserve catchers.

Runs: Through just four games started for the Phillies, Todd Pratt has scored only one run. When compared to other backup catchers with a similar number of games played Pratt still ranks third. The leader in runs scored is Rod Barajas of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who has scored three runs in just five games played. Overall, it is too early to judge a players performance in the runs scored category because of the limited action seen by a player and don't forget too, that the Phillies offense hasn't exactly caught fire in the early going.

Home Runs: Pratt has yet to hit a home run this season, but there have only been two players in the same category who have. Robby Hammock - a teammate of Barajas - and Kelly Stinnet of the Cincinnati Reds are the only two backup catchers in the National League who have gone deep in 2003. Fortunately for the Phillies, Mike Lieberthal has hit a home run and driven in 11 runs on the season. Needless to say, Philly has a consistent starting backstop both offensively and defensively in Lieberthal.

RBI: Todd Pratt ranks second among backup catchers in RBI's with a total of five. Five RBI may not look impressive to the naked eye, but keep in mind, that in Pratt's situation, that's a little more than one run per start. Pratt certainly has shown the ability to get key hits and give the Phillies an advantage on the scoreboard. The only backup catcher in the National League with more RBI than Pratt is Yorvit Torreabla of San Francisco. If a team is going to be successful it must have players who can drive in runs when given the opportunity. Being a veteran, Pratt is comfortable hitting in key spots late in games.

Batting Average: While the batting average of role players is usually inflated because of the small number of at bats, you can't ignore a hitter's ability to execute at the plate. Pratt easily ranks first in this category with a whopping .467 batting average; 12 points higher than second place Hammock. Pratt's work ethic and willingness to take hitting practice shows with the numbers that he puts up. Again, being a veteran, Pratt has adjusted to his role and knows how to stay sharp and make the most of his chances when they come along.

On Base Percentage: It's simple. You have to be able to get on base. Again, Pratt tops the category and the competition isn't even close. With a .529 on base percentage, Pratt is tops among backups and even ranks first among all catchers in the National League, although he doesn't have enough at bats for that to be an official ranking.

After examining and comparing Pratt's numbers when compared to his peers it shows that he is one of, if not the most dependable backup catchers in the National League. Should something happen to Lieberthal over the course of 2003, Pratt is more then worthy to step in and fill the void. But catching goes far beyond offensive numbers. The leadership intangible is a key component to any catcher, and Pratt is no exception. After spending 11 years in Major League Baseball he knows how to lead a team, and if called upon, Pratt could manage any squad with great ease. Pitchers have raved about Pratt's ability to call a game and his strength in knowing how to work hitters.

Sure, the Phillies need a strong season from Lieberthal, but having Pratt around helps take some of the pressure off on those days when Lieby gets a break.

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