2010 Marlin Maniac Preview: Catcher


Part of what we’ll do for the official Marlin Maniac preview of the 2010 Florida Marlins is to go position by position and give brief outlook on the state of that position for the season. Since today is the start, I’d figure we could go through position players first, and what better place to start in terms of position players than the backstop, or the catcher position. Here’s how the Marlins stack up at catcher.

Depth Chart

Platoon v. RHP: John Baker
Platoon v. LHP: Ronny Paulino

Minor leagues:

Brett Hayes

Those are the only interesting names of note that the Marlins have at catcher heading into the 2010 season. The two major league catchers, Baker and Paulino, will be in a full-on platoon, giving them an approximate 65-35 split in terms of playing time. This has the added benefit of allowing the team to rest both players adequately and still have a capable, starting-caliber catcher in against either lefties or righties. In other words, having two decent catchers like Baker and Paulino is a boon over having one good catcher and an awful backup, mostly because these backups still end up playing 20-25% of games due to the rigors of the catching position. If either catcher were to go down with injury, expect the other to step in full-time and start while Hayes is brought up as a backup.

John Baker

Baker inherited the starting role late in 2008 after having spent two seasons in the minors with the Marlins organization. Baker took off in his first season, batting .299/.392/.447 in 233 PA and was the clear-cut favorite to start heading into 2009. The team went with the platoon route with Paulino, and it returned good results; Baker posted a solid .281/.354/.420 batting line against against righties in 381 PA, a .337 wOBA. Lefties, however, posed quite a challenge, as Baker put up a meager .171/.313/.310 slash and a .291 wOBA, albeit in only 42 PA.

This season, Baker comes in with the same role he had last year, being the larger side of the platoon with Ronny Paulino. As we saw in the team’s projected splits, Baker projects as a .331 wOBA hitter versus righties based on CHONE’s .326 projection, so sticking with this plan may be a good idea. The things I would be wary about with Baker’s performance involve his BABIP; for a slow-footed catcher, Baker sure has a high career BABIP. The interesting thing regarding it is that it comes primarily from fly balls. Here are Baker’s career BABIP numbers, broken down into Retrosheet-catalogued balls in play (data from Baseball-Reference):

Ground balls: .225
Fly balls: .259
Line Drives: .705

The league average BABIP on fly balls is around .130 (the 2009 average for MLB was .138, for example), meaning that Baker has had some extremely high totals on fly balls. It happened last year too, as Baker had a .303 BABIP on fly balls last season. Now of course some of those could just be mistaken line drives (these classifications are often sketchy), but it could also mean some regression. We can’t be certain whether Baker just has a better spraying skill than most, or whether is a fairly anomalous one and half year run.

Projection: 420 PA, around 2 WAR

If Baker is around an average hitter, he would have to be a fairly atrocious catcher in order to not be an average player. CHONE has him at around -8 runs per 150 games, and at the 115 that you would expect him to play, that would be about a -6 defender. Now, we all know that Baker is a weak defensive catcher, but I can’t imagine his value being any worse than that. The Marlins really lucked out on a solid contributor at one of the most difficult positions to fill.

Ronny Paulino

Paulino was picked up in a fairly nondescript trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season after being given up on as a starting prospect. The move turned out to be quite a lifesaver, as Paulino took on 266 PA last season and batted .272/.340/.423, good for a .334 wOBA. The performance, combined with solid defense, brought Paulino up to a value of around 1.8 WAR last season, an impressive feat for a part-time catcher. Paulino added not only some average pop with his bat but a surprising plate discipline, walking in 9.4% of his PA.

This year, the projections are a little lower for Paulino, but CHONE still figures to have him at around a .324 wOBA, making him just a tad below average. Given his leveraging, he’ll be facing a little more than 50% lefties and 50% righties, and with good reason; I projected Paulino’s platoon split to be .343 versus lefties and .311 versus righties. Interestingly enough, that split is almost exactly what he displayed last season (.346 wOBA versus lefties, .318 versus righties). By all accounts, Paulino also appears to be the superior defensive catcher, though he may be around just average overall. He certainly displayed a much stronger arm than Baker.

Projection: 220 PA, around 1.2 WAR

That’s a guess that’s slightly more conservative. CHONE has him at 1.4 WAR in 266 PA, so I think that that is pretty close to what we’re looking for. Overall, the tandem adds up to 3.2 WAR, which is very productive for the catcher position. Tack on a few runs here and there if they both play injury-free for the season and you may be looking at a 3.5 WAR tandem playing catcher for the Marlins, an impressive feat given the salary we’re paying (around $1.5M) and the way these players were picked up by the Fish. If there’s a problem with the Marlins lineup, it isn’t with the catchers.