We’re now eight months into the John Baker/Ronny Paulino catching platoon and the results have so far been very solid. But is it possible a platoon is actually holding our production at the position back? There’s no doubt that John Baker is the superior offensive player against right handed pitching, but his poor defense is also well documented. And you have to wonder just how comfortable our pitchers really are with him behind the plate. On his way out, Logan Kensing didn’t directly attack him but after he was DFA’d by the Fish in ’09 he did place blame on his struggles on passed balls by Baker. Now, it’s actually quite the ignorant statement by Kensing; only one ball got away from Baker, and it was labeled a wild pitch that moved a runner from 2nd to third. Kensing walked the next batter, then gave up a three run jack to Nate McClouth, so that wild pitch didn’t exactly hinder Kensing. But you do have to wonder if his distaste for Baker is a shared feeling by the pitching staff.
And with Ronny Paulino so far performing well as the full time starting catcher while John Baker is out, it does bring up the question: Who really is the superior player against right handed pitching?
First thing we need to figure out is just how many more games Paulino would start over Baker. Let’s use a nice round number in 50 games, which comes out to about 210 PA and 450 defensive innings.
Now let’s move onto offense. By applying this formula to estimating a platoon split to their rest of season projections, we get a .330 wOBA for John Baker and a .300 wOBA for Ronny Paulino. That’s quite the drop in comparison to Baker’s career wOBA (.347), and Paulino sees his get a nice jump as well (.289). Over a 210 PA time period, this comes out to +0 runs for Baker and -5.5 runs for Paulino.
Defensively, can Paulino make that difference up? The short answer is yes, but he can’t surpass the difference. Going by TotalZone’s method for catcher’s defense, John Baker has been worth -4 runs per 450 innings. Paulino has been worth +0.5, putting the offense+defense difference at one run. Now there’s also the belief that defensively there are things catchers do that can’t be formulated, but all in all I think you can say they are roughly of the same value against right handed pitching.
What that does mean though is that it would not hurt to start Paulino more against RHP, putting their playing time closer to 50/50 to give their bodies the most rest as possible. It also allows you to play match ups; for example, if we’re facing the San Diego Padres (Who lead the NL in steals with 54), it’d be better to have Ronny Paulino in the line up. Meanwhile, if we’re facing the Giants or Braves (Tied last at 19), then the strength of the arm behind the plate is of less importance. But John Baker is also better at preventing WP and PB, so if someone with horrible control like Andrew Miller were to come back up, you would want him behind the plate.
So no, I don’t think the platoon should be ditched in the sense that one guy should not be labeled “he is the starting catcher.” But I do think the “John Baker starts against RHP, Ronny Paulino starts against LHP” mindset needs reworking, and instead look more towards the match ups of the game against their strength and weaknesses.