When the Mets signed Taylor Teagarden to a minor league deal in early January, it was a move designed to do two things. First, it added depth to a position prone to wear and tear, and second it provided incentive for both Teagarden and Anthony Recker to compete for the backup catcher duties. Player competition happens on every club, but the worse the team is, the more likely it is that every job is up for grabs. The Mets have improved on that front despite a grueling decision to make about first base, another potential competition in center field, and if we ever get another shortstop, Ruben Tejada has at least earned the right to fight for the starting job. First base has been beaten to death, and shortstop is Tejada’s to lose at this point. One competition that doesn’t get much press is the one for backup catcher. Let’s take a look and see what these two guys are all about.
Recker played 50 games in 2013 for the Mets, and accumulated 151 PAs in the process. He had a .215/.280/.400 line with 17 runs, 7 doubles, 6 homers, and 19 RBI. His .185 ISO was fairly impressive for such limited time at the plate. Over the course of his minor and major league career, Recker has drawn walks at a 10.0% rate, but his strikeout rate of 32.5% last year was a symbol of a large problem. Despite having a good eye at the plate, Recker can’t make contact consistently enough to make that power translate for a full season.
FanGraphs doesn’t have a UZR or DRS for Recker, but his 21 CS% shows his lack of a great throwing arm, so most guys will be able to run on him. Having watched him play, Recker never showed he was particularly nimble or adept at blocking the plate, so he’s not a terrific receiver either. To sum him up, Recker is a poor defensive backup, who makes up for those inadequacies with his power ability.
Teagarden has had more experience at the major league level, but not by much. Early in his minor league career, Teagarden hit for a ton of power and had a high OBP. I couldn’t find any extensive injury history that would have derailed Teagarden’s career, but his numbers have taken a significant dive since those early days. In limited roles with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles his OBP and SLG have slid to the point where in 2013 he totaled .180 and .300 respectively. His K% is clearly a factor as it touches 35-40% far too often, and his walk rate, which when given PAs at Double-A or Triple-A was consistently in the 9-12% range, was a horrid 1.6% last year with Baltimore.
As with Recker, FanGraphs doesn’t have much defensive metric data on Teagarden. He doesn’t let as many passed balls go by as Recker, and he has a better CS%, so we can gather some basic information about his receiving ability from that.
It seems as though Recker and Teagarden have been in a similar boat over the course of their careers. Neither player has ever been the everyday guy, and therefore has never had consistent enough playing time. Such is the life of a backup catcher. Teagarden was in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects prior to 2008 and 2009, and his early minor numbers show why. But when you only get 172 combined PAs between minor and majors over the last two seasons, showing what you can do becomes a lot harder.
Since the Oliver predictions base everyone on 600 PAs, let’s see how they compare Teagarden and Recker. Teagarden they have going .193/.268/.331 with 16 home runs, 56 runs, 60 RBI and a 0.7 WAR. Recker gets a slightly more respectable .213/.282/.325 with 18 home runs, 62 runs, 65 RBI and a 2.6 WAR. Neither is going to get those 600 PAs though, so the question is who is going to better serve the role of the backup for the Mets.
Much had been made of Travis d’Arnaud’s bat as a prospect, but in 2013 Met fans saw very good receiving and very little offensive output. Recker and Teagarden’s fates depend on knowing what kind of player d’Arnaud is going to be moving forward. Usually a backup catcher serves a role that the primary catcher doesn’t. If the main guy can hit but can’t catch, then the backup’s job is to provide better defense for substitutions or to catch pitchers will less control. If the main man can’t hit, then it’s always nice to have a backup who can show a little power when he gets his turn during the week.
If d’Arnaud shows he has the ability to both hit and field well, then the decision becomes more about what you want, than what you need. If d’Arnaud carries last year’s offensive struggles over to the spring, it’s likely that Recker will win the backup job and provide that little extra pop, and possibly even steal significant time behind the plate. If d’Arnaud proves he can hit but struggles to handle pitchers the way he did in 2013, maybe Teagarden is the better choice, as he seems to be the stronger defender.
There is very little likelihood that the Mets will carry three catchers on the roster, so this spring will be important for all three men. The starting job is d’Arnaud’s, but whoever wins the backup role is going to be pivotal to this team in their own right. So the question is, who ya got?