Catching has not been one of the Mets’ strengths this season. When Sandy Alderson signed Ronny Paulino in the offseason, it appeared to be a very good move, as he seemed an ideal platoon mate for Josh Thole. A Thole-Paulino combo looked liked it could give the Mets above-average production for a minimum investment.
However, neither Thole nor Paulino had the season that could have been expected. Since Thole is younger, cheaper, hits lefty, catches the knuckleball pitcher and came up through the farm system, it seems likely that he will be back. However, Ronny Paulino’s status is much less clear.
The Mets signed Paulino to a one-year contract after he was non-tendered by the Marlins following the 2010 season. As Chris pointed out last week, Paulino is not a free agent following the year. Instead, he is arbitration-eligible. So, should the Mets look to re-sign Paulino or copy what Florida did last year when they walked away from the veteran catcher?
Paulino came to the Mets with a reputation as a lefty masher. In 531 PA versus LHP, Paulino had a .338/.390/.491 line for a .881 OPS. This year in 97 PA versus southpaws, Paulino has a .294/.365/.365 slash line. His ISO versus lefties has dropped from .153 to .071 as he has just six extra-base hits, all doubles, in 85 ABs versus portsiders.
A .730 OPS is not horrible by any means. But when you’re expecting a mark near .900, it’s hard not to be disappointed by what the club has received from Paulino.
Of course defense is also a big part of the equation. Paulino did not have a reputation as a great defensive backstop, but he was thought to be at least average behind the plate. In 485.0 innings defensively this year, Paulino has a -4.0 DRS, which is not good. Mets pitchers have a 4.40 ERA with Paulino catching (4.18 with Thole) and he’s thrown out just 21 percent of opposing baserunners, after eliminating 31 percent of would-be base stealers in both 2010 and 2009.
The Mets gave Paulino a $1.35 million contract for 2011, plus incentives for games started which he will not reach. According to FanGraphs, Paulino has been worth $1.8 million this year but it’s important to remember that value comes with a questionable defensive component, as the only defensive adjustment for catchers in fWAR is Stolen Base Runs Saved.
While there’s probably a further adjustment downward for Paulino’s value this year, he has essentially been worth the contract he was given. But unless he is willing to sign for a similar amount to what he made last year, should Alderson look to bring him back? Do the Mets need more of a Henry Blanco-type tutor for Thole defensively?
The benefits of a defensive-first catcher are obvious for the pitching staff but less so for the other catcher he is allegedly tutoring. Besides, that’s why you have coaches. My feeling is that Paulino’s return will be based more on how Alderson & company view Mike Nickeas rather than the opportunity to add this year’s version of Blanco.
Nickeas appeared to the naked eye to be the best defensive catcher the Mets had this year. He also had a .539 OPS. Will the Mets value Nickeas’ defense to the point where they are willing to sacrifice a spot in the batting order on the days he catches? Or will they gamble on a return to form, both offensively and defensively for Paulino? Or will the monetary defense between Nickeas and Paulino make the decision for the Mets?
It’s just one of a dozen different themes to follow in the offseason.