The Mets’ catching situation in 2011 is potentially a team strength, but that fact has been all but lost given all of the hoopla around the ownership situation plus speculation how the big guns will do. Before we look at what the Mets might get from Josh Thole and Ronny Paulino this year, let’s look at what all teams got from the catching spot in 2010.
The average works out to 645 PA with a .249/.319/.381 slash line. Last year the Mets were below average across the board with the production from their catchers. Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco combined for 407 PA of lousy performance. The only silver lining was that Barajas combined all of his positive production in the first five weeks of the season.
Barajas was sold to the Dodgers last season and the Mets cut ties with Henry Blanco after the year was over. Thole performed well in his first extended shot in the majors last year and the club brought on Paulino as a free agent. Allegedly, it is an open competition between the two for the starting job. However, the two seemed destined for a platoon situation and their splits suggest it could be an ideal match. Here are their career numbers:
Thole versus RHP – .309/.382/.401
Paulino vs. LHP — .338/.390/.491
All enthusiasm should be tempered by the fact that Thole has just 246 PA in the majors versus righties while Paulino has but 531 versus lefties. But for the sake of argument, let’s say the above numbers are accurate representations of their true talent and are also what they will deliver in 2011. What could the Mets get from the catching position this season?
Let’s assume that the Mets get last year’s MLB average of 645 PA from their catchers and that Thole gets 2/3 of those and Paulino gets the remainder. That works out to 430 PA for Thole and 215 for Paulino. Since Thole has 246 lifetime PA versus RHP, let’s multiply his numbers by 1.7 to get him up to 430 PA. Likewise, since Paulino has lifetime PA versus LHP, let’s multiply his numbers by 0.4 to get him down to 215 PA. Here’s what their respective lines would look like:
An .800 OPS would have been the fourth-best mark for any team in MLB last year, trailing just the Braves, Phillies and the Reds. The Mets will be paying roughly $1.75 million for their catchers this season, with Paulino getting $1.35 and Thole getting somewhere around minimum wage. By contrast, the Braves will pay over $8 million to McCann and Ross; the Phillies will pay $4.25 million to Ruiz and Schneider and the Reds will pay roughly $3.5 million for Hernandez and Hanigan.
Obviously, other catchers besides Thole and Paulino will get PAs this year for the Mets. Paulino opens the year on the suspended list so Mike Nickeas is likely to catch at least one game in that span. But it is not out of the question for the team’s catchers to have an OPS near .800 this season, compared to the .665 they received from the position in 2010. How many teams have the realistic potential for an increase of 135 points of OPS from any position?
Among full-time catchers last year, John Buck had the closes OPS to what we might expect from the Mets’ duo, with an .802 mark. According to FanGraphs, Buck had a 2.9 WAR. The three primary catchers for the Mets last year combined for a 2.1 WAR. The Mets could be looking at an additional win just from their catchers this season if all goes according to plan.
So, while a lot of things this season for the Mets revolve around players staying healthy and getting back to former elite levels, all the Mets need is for their two catchers to hit their career averages. If they do that, the club will receive terrific production at a cut-rate cost. It is possible that the Mets will receive top-5 production from their catchers while paying bottom-5 dollars for the position.