Comparing J.P. Arencibia and Josh Thole

During the offseason there has been a lot of talk about the Mets and Blue Jays making a deal. On the surface it makes sense, as the Mets need outfielders and a catcher while the Blue Jays are looking for a front-end starter. The two teams seem to match up pretty well.

For me the problem comes in the catching department. Toronto has prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who if he can stay healthy – he’s only played 252 games the past three years – is perhaps the best backstop prospect around. But Toronto would likely prefer to keep d’Arnaud and trade J.P. Arencibia, instead. Arencibia does one thing very well. But does that make up for what he doesn’t do?

Let’s take a look at some triple slash lines for some catchers and see which one you like most.

A. .219/.282/.438 (.720 OPS)
B. .233/.275/.435 (.710 OPS)
C. .225/.263/.414 (.674 OPS)
D. .233/.309/.425 (.734 OPS)
E. .279/.359/.366 (.725 OPS)

Do you have a favorite? A and B are Arencibia’s lines from 2011 and 2012, respectively. C is Rod Barajas in his time with the Mets. D is Kelly Shoppach in 2012. And E is Josh Thole from May 3, 2011 to May 7, 2012 when he suffered his concussion.

It’s important to remember that while OPS is an excellent “quick and dirty” calculation to determine a player’s offensive worth, not all OPS is created equally. On-base percentage is more important than slugging and Thole holds a huge advantage in OBP.

A good rule of thumb is that OBP is worth about 1.7 to 1.8 as much as SLG. So let’s compare Line A (Arencibia) to Line E (Thole) with this information and see what we have:

Line A: .282 * 1.75 = .494 + .438 = .932
Line E: .359 * 1.75 = .628 + .366 = .994

It’s basically a wash in raw OPS and then when you give OBP its proper weight, it becomes advantage Thole.

Of course, we have no idea if Thole can get back to this offensive level. When he returned last year from the concussion, he was dreadful. Because of the uncertainty surrounding his ability to bounce back, it is a big risk for the Mets to count on Thole as their primary catcher next year.

But, if you think that Thole is unacceptable from an offensive point of view even if he does recover – well, there’s no way you should advocate replacing him with Arencibia.

Of course, offense is hardly the whole package when talking about a catcher. Neither Arencibia nor Thole is renowned for their defensive work, although both were better in 2012 than they were in 2011. It’s hard to measure catcher defense but let’s look at a few things:

  Innings PB WP CS%
Arencibia 800 9 31 29
Thole 798.1 18 18 23

Unofficially, 13 of Thole’s 18 passed balls came when knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was on the mound. It’s hard to know how many of the 31 WP allowed by Arencibia could have been stopped by a better backstop. In 2011 he had 54 WP in 1,059.2 innings caught, meaning either Toronto pitchers are pretty wild or that Arencibia is not exactly an acrobat behind the plate. Arencibia holds an advantage in throwing out runners. One more runner attempted a steal against Arencibia, who allowed four fewer stolen bases than Thole.

Perhaps Arencibia is a hair better than Thole defensively, but if so it’s not by much. There’s no UZR for catchers but last year Thole had +4 Defensive Runs Saved while Arencibia checked in with a +3. Overall, I would call it a wash.

Arencibia does one thing well and that’s hit home runs. In 825 lifetime ABs in the majors, Arencibia has 43 HR. If you are going to excel in one thing, hitting homers is a pretty good category. But the problem is that if he’s not hitting the ball out of the park, he’s not doing much else to help you. His .275 OBP last year was the sixth-worst mark in the majors among those with at least 300 PA. And last year’s OBP matched his lifetime mark in the category.

If you liked either the Rod Barajas or Kelly Shoppach experience, I am sure you will find Arencibia to your liking, too. While the Mets could certainly use another power RHB in the lineup, it seems a mistake to view Arencibia as any kind of an upgrade over a healthy Thole once you consider their total contributions. While “healthy” is a big qualifier, if the Mets do make a trade to acquire a catcher, I hope it would actually be an actual upgrade and not merely just treading water.

Arencibia appears on the surface to be a better option than Thole because of his power bat. But there’s more to baseball than just home runs and a healthy Thole is just as productive as Arencibia. The only thing is their value takes different shapes. If you want an upgrade from Thole, the Mets should hold out for d’Arnaud or look elsewhere for a catcher.

Shoppach making his case to be everyday catcher

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the next couple of months were going to be critical for Josh Thole and his future with the Mets. What I didn’t know was that the Mets were going to acquire Kelly Shoppach from the Boston Red Sox and really throw a wrench into the equation.

Since he has arrived, Shoppach has been starting more games than Thole and Shoppach has made a statement in regards to his playing time moving forward. While he is not the catcher of the future, Shoppach does at least have some pop in his bat and could be the guy Mets lean on for the next couple of years.

Going into Friday’s game against the Marlins, the Mets’ two catchers were going in completely opposite directions. Thole was mired in a horrible slump, going 0-25 in his last eight games. Shoppach, on the other hand, is 8-22 in his last seven games while also slugging two home runs and driving in five runs. In his 25 Mets’ at-bats, Shoppach has already out-homered Thole 2-1 this year.

Shoppach is also getting into a groove with the pitching staff, but I’ll concede that Thole should still be R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher considering the volatile nature of catching a knuckleball.

It was probably a case of being too little too late with the addition of Shoppach, since when he was acquired by the Mets they were in no position to challenge for a playoff spot. However, a right-handed catcher with some moderate power is just what the Mets need going forward. With the 2013 free agent class of catchers void of impact players, Shoppach could prove to be great value for the buck.

Shoppach has never really been given the chance to be an everyday catcher. Shoppach has been with Boston twice while also making stops in Cleveland and Tampa Bay in his eight-year career. The most at-bats Shoppach has had in his career was when he was with the Indians in 2008 when he had 352, and aside from that year Shoppach has never been given more than 271 in a single year. In 2008, Shoppach hit 21 home runs. Shoppach’s career numbers are not pretty, though, as he owns a .228/.318/.425 slash line.

But when you compare Shoppach’s career OPS (.743) to Thole’s (670), you get a good idea who should win out this contest, especially when you consider that Thole isn’t that great behind the plate defensively.

While you will never confuse Shoppach with Mike Piazza, he could actually provide the most pop at the position for the Mets since Piazza. Shoppach is by no means a disciplined batter, but with the season Thole is having, Shoppach should go into the 2013 season as the unquestioned No.1 catcher and even get starts against some righties.

So, while the acquisition of Shoppach came without much fanfare, it was a solid move that could pay off big dividends going forward.

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Last two months could be critical for Josh Thole

Josh Thole has been the Mets’ primary catcher for almost two whole years now.

So, it begs the question: Where does Thole stand in the Mets’ long term plans at catcher moving forward?

Let’s call a spade a spade. Thole is at best an average catcher with no discernible skills that separate himself from the pack either offensively or defensively.

As of August 8, Thole was sporting a mediocre .259/.314/.321 line. His career slash mark (.271/.340/.346) is slightly better than the numbers he is posting this year, but nonetheless it is still hardly awe-inspiring.

Thole is also a feeble 5-33 in his last ten games with just two runs batted in.

By now, we all thought Thole would start to emerge as a reliable contact hitter who could go gap to gap and at least give the Mets a presence in the lineup at catcher. However, Thole has regressed and is seemingly not playing with a lot of confidence out there.

Thole has no pop, is not great behind the plate and lately he is not even hitting for contact.

Granted, his season struggles could be attributed to a concussion he suffered earlier in the season at Philadelphia. In fact, Thole has had some missteps at the plate of late, as he has been timid in covering the plate, which had direct effect on the outcome of a game in San Diego last week.

I for one was hoping for more maturation in Thole’s game this season, especially since Thole, while not old per say, will be 26 in October. The clock is ticking on him.

With that said, Thole has some ground to make up for in the final two months. If he finishes the season staying par for the course, there is every good reason the Mets’ front office should look to the free agent market to upgrade at catcher.

With Thole, Mike Nickeas and Rob Johnson (with no one else in the minors close enough to make an impact in 2013) as the only internal options going forward, the Mets have to address this problem if Thole continues to struggle.

Thole is a decent catcher, but that’s about it. He could work in a platoon. So at the minimum, the Mets should look into acquiring a right-handed catcher with a little bit of pop (say Ramon Hernandez?) in the offseason.

Whether it’s a slump or just confidence, Thole needs to figure it out in the next two months or he could be looking a drastic role reduction come next year.

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Thole, Tejada and Bay can’t come back soon enough

As the Mets sit at 26-21, they are admirably exceeding expectations and staying afloat the standings in the cutthroat NL East.

However, if they want to keep it up, they are going to need to ramp up their offense and the return of Josh Thole (concussion), Ruben Tejada (quad strain) and Jason Bay (fractured ribs) can’t come soon enough.

Did you see the lineup the Mets trotted out for Thursday’s game? When you have to play the likes of Vinny Rottino, Rob Johnson, Ronny Cedeno and Scott Hairston more than you should, eventually it will catch up with you.

Prior to the season, almost everyone and their grandmother said that the Mets would go as far as their pitching could take them as most were confident in the offense. Well, almost two months into the season it has been the pitching that is carrying the Mets, as the Mets work through their offensive struggles.

As of May 25, the Mets were eighth in the NL in runs scored despite being fifth in batting average. Their main problem, however, has been their lack of power, as the Mets sit just second to last in the NL in home runs. Of course this is mainly attributed to the starts that Ike Davis and Lucas Duda (at least from a power perspective) are off to. Saturday’s three home run outing is a step in the right direction.

The return of Thole, Tejada and Bay will lessen the load for guys like David Wright, who is carrying the club right now with his fantastic start. The aforementioned trio are in the early stages of their rehabilitation, and should be back within the next few weeks. Therefore, it is imperative that the Mets capitalize on this 11-game homestand and hold their ground in the standings.

After their homestand is done, the schedule will get mighty difficult with trips to Washington and interleague road games at the Yankees and the Rays on the horizon. It would be good if the Mets could get back any, if not all, of the injured players for that road trip.

While it’s admirable the contributions that guys like Cedeno and Hairston give this club, there is a reason they are bench players.

While Bay can be boom or bust, Thole and Tejada were off to fine starts.

You might have forgotten, but prior to their injuries, Thole had a .284/.356/.370 slash line, whereas Tejada had a .305/.342/.400 slash line. As the Mets have found out, that is hard to replace.

How many more four-hit shutouts can we get from Johan Santana?

The Mets are getting by being competitive in close games, but as everyone has pointed out ad nauseum, they are a dreadful 27th in run differential. Most suggest that discrepancy will catch up with the Mets, thus making the return of Thole, Tejada and Bay crucial to the Mets’ future success.

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Brief exposure to Nickeas makes fans clamor for Josh Thole

If you ask most Mets fans which player is struggling the most here recently the two most popular answers would be Andres Torres and Ike Davis. Both are hitting .128 since May 8th, so it’s hard to find fault with either of those answers. However, Mike Nickeas has been performing even worse. Since May 8th, Nickeas has a .080/.207/.120 slash line for a .327 OPS. Torres has a .527 OPS in this stretch while Davis checks in at .530 over the same time period.

May 8th is significant since that is the first day the Mets played without Josh Thole. The team is 6-9 with Thole sidelined and just 4-7 in games started by Nickeas. Most fans expected a drop-off offensively going from Thole to Nickeas, but there were hopes that at least some of that would be made up defensively.

Nickeas was chosen for his defense and no one has ever accused Thole of being a Gold Glove performer behind the plate.

There have been 45 catchers to play at least 100 innings this year and Nickeas has 132 innings behind the plate. Yet he ranks tied for 41st in Defensive Runs Saves with a (-4) ranking, despite DRS being a counting stat depending on playing time. Meanwhile, the alleged defensively-challenged Thole has a +5 DRS, the second-best mark in the league.

Thole will always rank among the leaders in most passed balls and wild pitches, in part due to being the primary catcher for R.A. Dickey. But we have at least one measure that views his early defensive play in 2012 as a positive. Plus, if you saw Nickeas behind the plate for Dickey’s last start, you saw the catcher taking several deep breaths trying to control himself out there while battling the knuckleball. It did not look like a fun time for Nickeas.

But even if we want to say the two catchers have been comparable defensively, there’s no denying that Thole is miles ahead on offense. Thole has a .726 OPS while Nickeas checks in with a .460 mark.

Many fans wanted Sandy Alderson to acquire a backup catcher in the offseason but the Mets’ GM sunk nearly all of his available cash into the bullpen. The relievers have been sub-par while the backup catcher has been atrocious. And Kelly Shoppach, who was a free agent ripe for the picking, sits with a .799 OPS.

The good news is that Thole has departed for Port St. Lucie, where he will begin baseball activities. The latest update had him appearing in a minor league rehab game next week. So we will have 10 days to two weeks more of fun with the backup catchers. You know it’s bad when you’re rooting for Rob Johnson, he of the lifetime .578 OPS, to be healthy enough to play.

Hurry back, Thole, the Mets need you.

Should Josh Thole be Dillon Gee’s personal catcher?

One night after Miguel Batista made the Brewers look impotent, the same team knocked around Dillon Gee pretty good, as they notched 7 ER in 5.1 IP against the interjection (h/t Doug Parker). In his last two starts, Gee has allowed 11 ER in 11 IP. For the season Gee has a 5.65 ERA in 43 IP, pretty much in line with his 5.51 ERA over his final 94.2 IP last year.

That seems … bleak.

However, it may not be as bad as it seems. Or, there may be a way to get more out of Gee than the Mets are currently. Gee has made seven starts this year – let’s sort them by Game Score, a metric devised by Bill James to rate a pitcher’s performance in a given start. Most starts earn in the range of 0 to 100, although it’s possible to exceed either goal post. Generally, a start with a score in the 50s or better is pretty good. Here are Gee’s starts ranked from best to worst.

4/16 – 69
5/4 – 59
4/28 – 54
4/10 – 43
5/9 – 37
5/15 – 27
4/23 – 26

We have three good starts, one okay start and three starts that range from poor to fair. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but the three good starts were all with Josh Thole behind the plate while the other four had either Mike Nicekeas or Rob Johnson. Very few people think Thole is a good defensive catcher but could it be that he and Gee have developed a rapport?

If we go back to last year, we see Gee had 15 starts with a Game Score rated 50 or higher. Thole caught 12 of those, including the top five and eight of the top 10.

Gee has appeared in 42 games in the majors and made 39 starts, with 236.2 IP under his belt. Let’s take a look at how Gee has done with Thole behind the plate compared to our non-Thole catchers. In addition to Nickeas and Johnson, Henry Blanco and Ronny Paulino have also caught Gee in the majors.

Catcher

IP

ERA

FIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Thole

150.2

3.23

3.75

.235

.317

.352

.669

Others

86.0

6.28

5.57

.283

.359

.480

.839

Gee has made six starts in his career where he’s given up 5 ER or more and someone besides Thole has been behind the plate each time.

We are used to stars like Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux having a personal catcher. We’re also used to a knuckleball pitcher having his own catcher. Gee does not fit into either category but I hope that once Thole returns from his concussion that he will be behind the plate for the majority of Gee’s starts the rest of the year.

Is this version of Josh Thole here to stay?

To start the 2012 season the Mets have seen some positives and some negatives. David Wright has came out of the gate swinging a hot bat, then he broke his pinky, missed three game and when he came back he picked right back up where he left off. Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey are throwing quality starts every time they go out there, and Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco are looking like a very solid 8th and 9th inning combo. The negatives are the Mets middle of the order. Between Ike Davis, Jason Bay, and Lucas Duda, they’ve only driven in a combined 17 RBI. Matt Kemp already has 22 by himself.

One player who may be surprising people with his hot start is Josh Thole. He’s hitting .371 with a .476 OBP. And though that OBP is help slighting by the fact that he sometimes hits 8th in the order, Thole has been hitting in the number 7th spot for most of the game this year. Also, three of his 13 hits are doubles, so he isn’t just slapping the ball and finding holes. When you look at his catching stats the number that stands out is three passed balls. Of course he does have to catch the knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, which was one of the major reasons he had 16 last year.

Right now Thole is hot, but I believe he has potential to be this kind of hitter. He’s a guy who can make contact, and hit the ball through the holes. A batting average around .310 isn’t something unreasonable for Thole.

I feel like a lot of people don’t like Thole because he isn’t very flashy at the plate. He’s not going to get up there and crush the ball. But the Mets really don’t need that. They have enough guys in the line-up who can drive the over the fences.

Thole will never be this highlight reel of a player. Since he’s come up I’ve consistently compared him to Jason Kendell, and that’s just the player he’s turning into. The problem is he is playing in New York under this huge media spot light. If he can’t hit .300 and he doesn’t hit any home runs, people will be wondering why he is on the team.

After his performance last year of hitting .268, many people wanted him out of Queens. But maybe the Mets have just been spoiled by good hitting catchers in recent years. Going from Todd Hundley, Mike Piazza, and Paul LoDuca, that’s some big offensive numbers to follow up.

Thole will never be this type of power hitter, so he needs to focus on being a gap hitter and getting on base. If he can keep it up with his extra-base hits, I think more fans will be stratified with his performance.

Thole is off the a hot start, and his .371 batting average will come down. But the important thing is he is showing people the potential of what kind of hitter he can be. He showed us a bit in 2009 when he first came up, and now he’s trying to remind us all again. Overall, Thole has help the Mets get to a record of 8-6, which isn’t too bad considering Davis and Duda are doing pretty much nothing. Wright will come down a bit from his hot start, and hopefully by then Davis and Duda will find their swings. Now I’m not saying Thole will hit .371 for the year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he stays near the top of the list for batting average for the next few months.

Eventful first week for Mets overshadows Josh Thole’s strong play

One week into the season and it seems like a lot has happened for the 2012 Mets. A sweep of the hated Braves, two strong outings from Johan Santana and injuries to Andres Torres and David Wright are some of the things that jump out immediately. One thing that gets lost in the shuffle is the hot start from Josh Thole.

Many wanted the Mets to upgrade at catcher this offseason. Those who did not want to outright replace Thole wanted to bring someone in to at least challenge him for playing time. The common perception was that Thole contributed little on offense and that his defense took a step back last season.

Thole got off to an atrocious start last year. After his first 39 games he had a .212/.289/.246 line in 135 PA. But from May 29th through the rest of the season, Thole had a .297/.376/.396 line in 251 PA. That .772 OPS would put him in the top half of catchers offensively in 2011, just behind the .778 mark of Matt Wieters.

Thole also got off to a slow start in the minors in 2010 so the question became if he could avoid a third straight poor April. Early results are extremely encouraging, as Thole has six hits, including two doubles, and three walks in 17 trips to the plate this season. That works out to a 1.101 OPS.

But while his offense has been encouraging, what about his defense work?

Defense in general is harder to evaluate than offense and perhaps no spot is harder to get an accurate read on than with catchers. The most cited defensive number for backstops is in the percentage of runners they throw out, even though more times than not a runner steals on the pitcher. But there’s no denying that Thole had a poor year throwing out runners, as he nailed just 21% of opposing baserunners last year.

Thole also led the lead in passed balls with 16, which does not help his case among his detractors. But as the primary catcher for a knuckleball pitcher, it should be no surprise that Thole had a large number of passed balls. Jason Varitek led the league in back-to-back years in passed balls serving as the primary catcher for knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield. The Red Sox brought in Doug Mirabelli to be Wakefield’s personal catcher and he led the league in passed balls in 2003 and 2004 despite a combined 84 starts at catcher in those two seasons.

So far this year, Thole has not committed an error, he’s thrown out one of the two runners trying to steal against him and he has two passed balls, one when Dickey was on the hill. It is way too soon to draw any definitive conclusions but the best we can say is that there is nothing damning so far.

One other stat we can mention is catcher’s ERA. There are a number of flaws with this statistic, but most of them come about when we use this to compare one catcher to another. If catcher A gets to catch Santana and catcher B has to catch Mike Pelfrey – we should expect catcher B to have a higher catcher’s ERA.

But if we take out comparing catcher A to catcher B and instead compare a catcher to the league average, a lot of the problems are minimized. Thole has a 2.37 catcher’s ERA in 38 innings. The National League has a 3.60 ERA so far this season. Again, it’s too soon to draw any conclusions but what little evidence is there is positive.

It’s fair to say that Thole is off to a hot start with the bat. Defensively, he does not appear to be causing the team a bunch of problems. Since catching was viewed as a potential trouble spot coming into the season, Mets fans should be happy with the output from Thole in the early going of 2012.

Mets Notes: Capuano’s value, Wright’s double-switch, Thole’s hot bat

Recently news came out that the Red Sox wanted to acquire Chris Capuano but that the Mets turned them down. Now, this was not at the trading deadline – this was in the last few days, meaning they wanted him to make *one* start for them. Yes, their pitching has been that bad. Since September 1st, Boston is 5-16 and has not won a game in which they did not score 10 runs. At the end of August they had a 1.5 game lead over the Yankees for the AL East and held a 9.0 game lead over the Rays for the Wild Card. Now the Yankees have clinched the division and the Red Sox hold just a 2.0 game lead over the Rays and a 3.0 game lead over the Angels in the Wild Card.

Capuano has been a solid acquisition for the Mets, taking the ball every fifth day and generally giving the Mets a chance to win. But he is a lefty who allows fly balls and has a slightly above-average HR/FB rate, which would not seem an ideal fit in Fenway Park. But desperate times call for desperate measures and it’s surprising that Sandy Alderson refused to work out a deal here. The take away from this should be for fans to expect Capuano to return to the Mets in 2012.

Thursday, Capuano pitched for the Mets and had to wait out a rain delay that lasted over two hours. He was victimized by the gopher ball, as three of the four runs he allowed came on homers, including one to Albert Pujols, who has simply owned Capuano. Coming into the game, Pujols had a .567/.639/1.100 slash line against Capuano in 36 PA. Capuano retired Pujols the first two times he faced him before giving up the HR, the fifth he has surrendered to the Cardinals’ slugger.

WRIGHT LEAVES GAME EARLY – Manager Terry Collins removed David Wright from Thursday’s game, marking just the third time this season that Wright did not finish what he started. The previous two times Wright came out early this year were in blowout losses, where the Mets trailed by 10 and eight runs. Yesterday he came out as part of a double-switch in the ninth inning of a two-run game. The Mets’ bullpen has been anything but automatic and it has to raise a few eyebrows that Collins did what he did.

Wright was removed early from a game five times last year. The first three removals came in blowout losses and the fourth one came when he was removed for a pinch-runner in a tie game. Afterwards, Wright revealed he had been throwing up earlier in the game and was too lightheaded to remain in the contest. The final time Wright was removed early came on the last day of the season, when manager Jerry Manuel removed both Wright and Jose Reyes so that the fans could give them a final ovation.

There was no mention of the early removal on MetsBlog or the New York Post. If asked about it, Collins would likely reply it was the move that made the most sense, as Justin Turner had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth inning and Wright made the next-to-last out in the inning. Still, it is noteworthy when the team’s franchise player is removed for defense, especially when the team has not made a similar move the past two seasons.

WHAT A RELIEF – Pitcher wins are far from the best stat to use to analyze performance and that goes doubly so for relievers. Frequently, a reliever earns a win simply for being in the right place at the right time. Yesterday, Manny Acosta picked up his fourth win of the season. He and Ryota Igarashi are both 4-1 for the year. The other Mets pitchers are a combined 68-80.

THOLE CONTINUES TO WIELD HOT STICK – Much has been made about the disappointing season that Josh Thole has had in 2011 but he has been very effective over most of the year after getting off to a dreadful start. Through games of May 21st, Thole had a .205/.281/.241 line in 128 PA. Since then he has a .300/.382/.404 line in 242 PA. Thole has also made better contact than he did earlier in the year. During his poor start, he struck out 22 times in 128 PA for a 17.2 K%. Since May 25th, he’s whiffed 23 times in 242 PA for a 9.5 K%.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU – It was only the seventh time in Mets history that they won a game in which they trailed by four runs or more in the ninth inning or later. Before Thursday’s comeback, the Mets last such win was against the Cubs at Shea Stadium on May 17, 2007, and their last road win of that kind was on July 17, 1973 in Atlanta. This was the Cardinals first home loss in a game in which they led by four runs or more since Aug. 26, 1998 against the Marlins.

Should the Mets re-sign Ronny Paulino?

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.

Josh Thole plans to get defensive

“I don’t want to be what’s called a defensive liability,” Josh Thole said before the Mets’ 1-0 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. “You lead the league in passed balls, and I’m sure that is raising questions. I don’t want those questions anymore. I don’t want to hear the negativity that I can’t catch in the big leagues.”

snip

“Last year I spent way too much time in the gym,” Thole said. “At this point in my career it’s not all about coming into camp all shredded and jacked up, strong, it’s about being ready to play baseball the right way.

“I’ve always caught bullpen [sessions] in the offseason starting in January, but it’s not about the repetition of catching the ball. It’s beneficial for me to block balls. That is stuff I can do on my own, but it’s something I really have to take focus on more than my weight training this year.”

Source: New York Post

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2011 Mets record by individual games started

The Mets are 62-68 but they have been hit with a ton of injuries again. In fact, I bet you don’t know which player has made the most starts this year for the Mets. Carlos Beltran was leading the team until he got traded. Jose Reyes was leading until he went on the DL for the second time. Now the team’s leader in starts is Jason Bay with 100.

Fourteen different players have made at least 30 starts for the Mets this year. Here they are arranged by the team’s winning percentage in games that they start:

Player Record Win Pct.
Pridie 22-16 .579
Beltran 50-44 .532
Murphy 46-44 .511
Duda 28-27 .509
Turner 44-43 .506
Reyes 49-49 .500
Thole 37-37 .500
Bay 49-51 .490
Tejada 31-35 .470
Davis 16-20 .444
Pagan 42-53 .442
Wright 31-40 .437
Paulino 20-28 .417
Harris 10-23 .303

I think it’s easy to read too much into these numbers but at the same time there are some really interesting things. Here are three things that jump out at me.

Mets better with Josh Thole starting – This is even more surprising when you recall that Thole started nearly every day early in the season when the club got off to a 5-13 start. In those 18 games, Thole started 14 of them and the Mets were 3-11. Since then, the club is 34-26 with Thole behind the plate. That’s pretty impressive for a guy that the mainstream media and a bunch of bloggers will tell you is a poor defensive catcher and one who needs to step up his game if he wants to remain a starting backstop.

Center field defense is important – To the naked eye, Jason Pridie looks much better in center field than Angel Pagan has this year and the numbers above certainly seem to reinforce that point. And if we only consider the 25 games that Pridie started in center, the Mets are 16-9 (.640 winning percentage).

If we look at their time in center field only, Pridie has a +3 DRS in 244.1 innings while Pagan is at 0 in 831 innings. Total Zone has Pridie at +1 and +5 in 1,200 innings while it has Pagan at -10 and -14 in 1,200 innings. UZR has Pridie at -0.7 and -1.1 in 150 games while it shows Pagan at -12.4 and -17.8, respectively. I like Pagan but I think there’s little question his poor defensive play this year has hurt the club.

Lucas Duda needs consistent playing time – If asked before putting together this chart, there is no way I would have thought the Mets’ record with Duda starting was above .500 for the year. He’s been starting most of the games since Beltran left and the club is 7-15 in August. But the Mets were 8-2 when Duda started in June and he was a complementary piece to Beltran. If Ike Davis can come back close to the level he played this year while healthy, a Davis-Duda-Wright middle of the order may be enough to win games on a consistent basis.

A lot of people will latch on to the club’s record when Wright is starting and that’s certainly not anything to write home about. But Wright has been in the lineup here with Beltran, Davis, Reyes and Daniel Murphy missing and that has certainly hurt his numbers in this chart..

The Mets were 43-36 (.544) when both Beltran and Murphy started the same game.