January 31, 2005

State of the Twins: Catchers

Though we're still a couple months away from Opening Day, the Minnesota Twins' roster is just about set for the 2005 season. They lost a few of their free agents, re-signed the most important one, took care of all their arbitration-eligible guys, and recently handed out their non-roster invites for spring training.

Over the next week or so, I am going to take an early, position-by-position look at the state of the Twins heading into 2005, with the help of three player projection/forecasting systems -- Tangotiger's Marcels, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTAs, and Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS. (Hat tip to Tom Meagher over at The Fourth Outfielder for the inspiration for the idea.)

Let's lead things off with the catchers ...

JOE MAUER | C | AGE: 22                   MIKE REDMOND | C | AGE: 34

===================================== =====================================
Marcel .296 .364 .509 Marcel .264 .325 .376
PECOTA .301 .367 .456 PECOTA .254 .317 .351
ZiPS .316 .373 .404 ZiPS .283 .325 .363
===================================== =====================================
AVERAGE .304 .368 .456 AVERAGE .267 .322 .363

===================================== =====================================
Marcel .236 .320 .372 Marcel .257 .327 .408
PECOTA .227 .306 .369 PECOTA .221 .293 .362
ZiPS .214 .296 .354 ZiPS .210 .283 .341
===================================== =====================================
AVERAGE .226 .307 .365 AVERAGE .229 .301 .370

In years past I would have included Matthew LeCroy in this group, but considering the amount of balls he threw into center field while opposing runners went 15-for-16 stealing bases against him last year, I'm guessing he's spent his last meaningful game behind the plate for the Twins. It's a shame too, because before his arm went completely limp, LeCroy was passable defensively at catcher and provided plenty of offense for the position. At worst he was always a perfect third catcher, providing Ron Gardenhire with some extra flexibility. I always wanted the team to utilize him more at catcher, but that ship appears to have sailed.

Assuming LeCroy is relegated to first base and designated hitter this year, that leaves the Twins with four options at catcher. Joe Mauer will enter the season as the starter and will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate as long as his surgically repaired knee holds up. My confidence in Mauer's ability to hit for power got a huge boost last season with his six homers and eight doubles in 107 at-bats, so his average projection of .304/.368/.456 looks cautious, but just about right. In other words, while it would have been a fine projection for Mauer heading into last season, the chances of him matching his ZiPS projection by slugging just .404 despite a .316 batting average are beyond slim at this point.

Backing up Mauer -- and stepping into the starting role if he goes down with another injury -- will be longtime Marlins' backup Mike Redmond. Redmond's average projection of .267/.322/.363 looks very doable and would be a significant upgrade over the .206/.260/.368 performance the team got from Henry Blanco last year. If everything goes right for the Twins in 2005, they won't be needing Corky Miller or Rob Bowen. If Mauer stays healthy and Redmond simply needs to be his backup and take over for him behind the plate once or twice per week, Miller and Bowen will make an excellent catching combo at Double-A and Triple-A.

However, if Mauer goes down again and Redmond is suddenly thrust into starting 4-5 times per week, either Miller or Bowen would be needed as his new backup. They look nearly identical according to their average projections -- .226/.307/.365 for Miller and .229/.301/.370 for Bowen. With that said, considering Bowen hit just .197 at Double-A last year and has been absolutely horrible in his two brief stints with the Twins (.108/.190/.189 in 43 plate appearances), I'd be inclined to give Miller the nod as the #3 man on the depth chart.

Any way you slice it, the Twins have a lot more catching depth than they had heading into last season. Mauer, Bowen, and LeCroy are holdovers from 2004 who will fill similar roles in 2005. The team swapped Blanco for Redmond as the primary backup and Miller has been added as a minor-league reinforcement. What that means is that there won't be as much of a scramble to find out what someone like Pat Borders is up to if the team is hit with catching injuries this time around. Assuming Mauer stays healthy -- which is an assumption I am definitely not ready to make -- the Twins have one of the strongest catching situations in baseball.

Today at The Hardball Times:

- All About Arbitration (by Studes)

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