Tuesday, July 19, 2011

P.P.: Almost Without a Hiccup: A Catching Tale

Post Posey, how have the Giants done?  Not so bad so far.
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When he whose name we must not acknowledge purposefully chose to risk catastrophic injury and hit the jackpot  by ripping apart Buster Posey's ligaments (FYI:  amateur rules prohibit such collisions, only Major League Baseball - and as an extension, the Players' Association - don't care about enough about their catchers to protect them by prohibiting such violent collisions), it took away one of the Giants key offensive hitter - our clean-up hitter - and defensive player (John Dewan's weekly stats reported that Posey, despite missing so much of the season at that time, was still second among NL leaders in saving runs for catchers.).  The rumors have run hard that the Giants are searching for an upgrade at C.

Whitey and CStew

However, as disastrous as the injury may have been to Posey, it has not been disastrous to the Giants overall (stats as of July 15, 2011).  The Giants pitchers had a 3.34 ERA with Posey, but the change has not affected the results much.  The pitching has a 2.76 ERA with Chris Stewart and 3.33 ERA with Whiteside (unfortunately, have no idea how to split out pre- and post-).  Based on the batting line, they are close but slightly worse:  pitchers allowed .230/.304/.333/.637 with Posey catching, .224/.308/.313/.620 with Stewart catching, .235/.305/.363/.668 with Whiteside catching.  Catching defense and pitching staff handling appears to be OK post-Posey.  (Before anyone get any thoughts, remember that Stewart has become Tim Lincecum's catcher and also caught Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong a lot, but has not caught Barry Zito at all, though he had a number of of Jonathan Sanchez's starts.)

Of course, we could not expect the offense to be the same, but both Whiteside and Stewart have acquitted themselves adequately, given that they are both career backup catchers.  Stewart, as I have noted before, is showing the batting discipline he showed in the minors:  his batting line was .224/.333/.327/.660, 9 BB, 7 K, in 63 AB (contact rate of 89% - very good - and BB/K > 1.00, also very good; unfortunately very low BABIP).

Whiteside has been even better:  overall post Posey, his batting line was .258/.343/.404/.748, 2 HR in 89 AB (I know he's lower now, but the point is that he's hasn't done that badly in taking over).  Posey at the time his ligaments were assassinated was hitting .284/.368/.389/.756, 4 HR in 162 AB.  Also, after initially doing poorly as he adjusted to catching full-time, Whitey since June 8th has done a nice Posey impersonation, hitting .322/.394/.542/.936, 2 HR in 59 AB.

He strikes out too much to sustain such hitting but he and Stewart have been walking a lot more than could have been anticipated, and has been more than adequate in replacing Posey offensively since they hit in the 8-hole, where the level of offensive contribution is not as great.

Plus, nobody expected either to come close to replacing Posey offensively, the best we could really hope for was that they would have been adequate as 8th place hitters.  They have been, the average 8th hitter in the NL is hitting .242/.311/.350/.661.  Even better, both have been significantly better than average in OBP, which is where an 8th place hitter can add value to the offense, as that sets up the top of the batting order to drive in runs.  Key to making that work is a 2010 Andres Torres, which has been showing up on and off lately.

Giants Thoughts

I see no need to trade for a catcher unless the Giants can pickup someone clearly an improvement offensively AND defensively for one of their non-keeper prospects.  In particular, as I noted in a previous post, I like CStew, and if a new catcher was traded for, we could possibly lose him because the Giants would be forced to DFA him, and while he hasn't been great, he's been very adequate given that he has been mostly a minor league journeyman up to now.  Both have done well in Posey's stead.

Of course, we don't know the behind the scene stance of Posey.  Will he catch again?  Or catch long-term?  Unfortunately, that would greatly affect which way the Giants should decide to go regarding trading for a catcher.  And we don't know this key piece of info.

But as far as the 2011 GIants go, they are 27-20 post-Posey as of July 15th, 27-21 with Posey.  I am not saying that they have replaced Posey's production (I would bet the biggest difference is that now there are two hot hitters in Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz) but what matters is how the TEAM does, and the team has done well in the wake of the loss of Posey.  If the S&S boys can continue hitting, plus Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, and Andres Torres continues to hit, the offense would actually be OK in the second half, we don't need much offense to win with this defense (pitching and fielding).

And at 56-41 today, the Giants can basically play .500 the rest of the way (34-31) and end the season at 90-72.  So the offense does not need to be much better for the Giants to win.  They have been 4-1 since the AS break as they have scored 4 runs or more in the 4 wins.

Sure, if we can improve significantly without giving up a keeper prospect, sure, but I see no reason to unless we end up falling behind by 4-5 games in the standings, which would be quite a fall from where we are now.  And the names I'm seeing - I-Rod and our old backup catcher - in the rumor mill are not names I would call improvements.

One guy I would not mind picking up is Ronny Paulino, who was a Giants player for all of seemingly 10 seconds, as we had picked him up in trade and quickly flipped him for a prospect from the Marlins.  I have seen his name among the leaders in catcher defense previously and he has been OK offensively, and he has been a full-time catcher with the Pirates before, though I'm not sure why he hasn't been in a while, he has hit OK.  I guess maybe they had been playing him against LHP more, boosting his overall batting line numbers.  In any case, I think the risk/reward for getting him would be worth it.

Still, more importantly, it should not take too much in prospect talent to pick him up and he would be similar to Whiteside in my eyes, only better defensively and offensively, at least for his career so far.  Whitey has been improving season to season as he adjusts to hitting in the majors.

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