Omar Minaya took a lot of heat this offseason for not doing more in the free agent market. And what moves he did make were criticized, whether it was giving too many years to Jason Bay, too much money to Alex Cora or signing too many backup catchers. But catcher Henry Blanco has lived up to his defensive reputation and is well on his way to becoming a key acquisition for the Mets.
The 38-year-old Blanco was coming off perhaps his finest offensive season last year, when he posted an OPS+ of 96 as the backup catcher in San Diego. But the majority of Blanco’s value has always been on the defensive side of things. Last year he ranked as the seventh-best defensive catcher in baseball according to Devil Fingers, in a system which acts like a counting stat, in that it does not adjust for playing time.
Blanco was Greg Maddux’ personal catcher when he was with the Braves in 2002 and 2003 and he also caught the Hall of Famer in 2005 and 2006 with the Cubs. Starting Chicago backstop Michael Barrett also caught Maddux those latter two seasons, but Maddux pitched much better with Blanco behind the plate. In 2006, Maddux allowed batters a .778 OPS with Barrett behind the plate, compared to a .715 mark with Blanco. In 2005 the numbers were .773 and .673, respectively.
So far this season, Blanco has caught four games and the Mets’ record in those contests is 3-1. Of course, it helps that Blanco has caught two of Mike Pelfrey’s three starts, but perhaps Blanco deserves part of the credit for Pelfrey’s hot start. Rod Barajas caught Pelfrey in his first start, when he allowed two runs in six innings pitched and had a 1.33 WHIP. With Blanco behind the plate, Pelfrey has yet to give up a run in 15 innings and has a 0.87 WHIP.
In 34 innings with Blanco behind the plate, Mets pitchers have allowed a .524 OPS to opposing hitters and have posted a 1.32 ERA, even with Blanco catching an Oliver Perez start. With Barajas those numbers are .752 and 3.90 in 101 innings.
Obviously, these numbers are very small samples. Also, Blanco has yet to catch John Maine (or Johan Santana). And even under the best of circumstances, catcher’s ERA is a flawed statistic. But granting that these numbers are not predictive and we take them knowing their limitations, they are still very impressive.
Even taking Pelfrey out of the equation, the other Mets pitchers have a 2.37 ERA with Blanco behind the dish. Seven Mets relievers (not counting Pelfrey) have combined to post a .186 batting average against with Blanco catching. With Barajas, relievers (again minus Pelfrey) have a .200 batting average against, but also all four HR allowed.
It is a good thing that Blanco is a defensive asset, since he is off to a 1-12 start with the bat.
But fans should hope that Blanco continues to catch Pelfrey, since their work together has been so impressive. And perhaps Jerry Manuel can work the occasional start for Blanco when Perez and Maine are on the mound, too. Those two pitcher could definitely benefit from working with a defensive-minded receiver like Blanco.