Sunday, October 30, 2011

The (Other) Catcher

At some point during the twilight of the Giants' playoff hopes--just a few games before the Diamondbacks eliminated them on the way to a futile postseason bid--I had an unlikely moment of fan angst. In the midst of the 12-5 home run derby in Colorado (including Matt Cain's bomb to center field), as Eli Whiteside racked up an 0/5, I had a moment of panic. Who, I thought, is going to fill that offensive void in the catcher's position in 2012? (1) Who, after the Whiteside/Stewart platoon, is going to anchor the team at the plate?

It's easy to lose perspective during a 162 game season, whether (I imagine) you're a player or a spectator. And at some point between one flailing Whiteside swing and another, I had forgotten the obvious answer: Buster Posey.

But Posey still needs a backup catcher, which in 2011 we discovered to be a tricky situation. Let's assume a few things for ease of presentation: first, the Giants won't be spending free agent money on a back up catcher. Second, as last September demonstrated, Hector Sanchez is not yet ready to assume what could be a prominent backup position, depending on whether the Giants decide to transition Posey to another role (as first baseman--as if they need another car in that pile up--or as designated hitter at the interleague games at AL stadiums). 

That leaves Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart. You can't make a decision between the two on offense, even though I'd like to point out how Whiteside's OBP dropped from .327 to .220 to .118 from July to September, while Stewart's bounced from .333 to .250 to .290. While this casts some light on their season stats, Whiteside's .197/.264/.574 to Stewart's .204/.283/.592 line (AVG/OBP/OPS), the choice between who returns in 2012 will (or should) be made on defense. 

And here, I would suppose that the biggest difference has to do with their response to base running: given that their fielding percentages were about as close as the their batting averages (Eli's .991 to Chris' .986), Stewart threw out nearly forty percent of steal attempts (34 SB to 22 CS, but note the 7 throwing errors, some of which occurred during these situations, as I recall) while Whiteside caught slightly over twenty five percent (53 SB to 18 CS) (2). If the Giants won't have a bat with the backup catcher, they may as well stick with Stewart on defense.

Of course, these points are moot if assumption two doesn't hold. They could rush Sanchez because he projects potential at the plate (with that .381/.458/1.030 line in Venezuela--in 21 at bats). However, Sanchez could use more time behind the plate in Fresno (I know, it does sound like a total bummer when you say Fresno) than he would get in San Francisco, and Bochy does love those veteran players like Stewart or Whiteside. I think that we won't see Sanchez until later in the season, but if the Giants need a piece for the playoff puzzle, and Posey stays healthy, you never know if Sanchez won't be wearing an opponents' jersey.


1) Note that I almost wrote: who is going to fill the eighth spot in the line up that so often pulled rallies into the abyss? But since Posey bats clean up, this means that some other player is going to occupy the eight slot. Let us hope that he (or they) can clear the catching platoon's numbers.

2) For reference, Posey threw out around 35% of steal attempts (27 SB to 15 CS), with a .995 fielding percentage.

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