Friday, November 12, 2004

Meet the Nats: Catcher

Brian Schneider opens the season as our starting catcher. He turns 28 next season, his sixth as an Expo. While he’s not a superstar at his position, he’s a very solid player. He plays excellent defense, with a strong, accurate arm, and hits pretty well--as they say--for a catcher.

Offensively, he’s not a walking machine, nor is he a strike-out machine. He’s an average contact hitter, who seems to put the ball in play. Last year, he batted .252/ .321/ .399, which is right in line with his career averages. We probably can’t expect much more than that, but when your catcher is hitting 15 home runs and 25 doubles in a year, you’re doing ok.

My simple pea-brain can’t understand the formulas Baseball Prospectus uses, but I understand what they’re trying to do. Their Equivalent Average (EQA) stat sums up his offensive contribution to a neutral setting and then assigns value along a batting-average scale so that .300 hitters are great hitters and .200 hitters don’t deserve to be in the league. Last year, his was .247, which I would guess is around average for a catcher.

But Schneider’s strength is not his hitting, it’s clearly his defense. Baseball Prospectus has argued that he deserved the Gold Glove--and from the stats I’ve seen, it’s a pretty convincing argument. He blocks the plate well, apparently, as he went the whole season without allowing a passed ball. The team did allow 43 wild pitches, which from a quick glance, seems on the high side. But given the team’s crappy pitching

Schneider has a gun. Last year, he allowed 72 stolen base attempts, and threw out an excellent 36 of them, for a 50% success rate. (Thanks for making the math easy, Brian!) The previous year, he threw out 27 out of 51 for an umm ummm greater than 50% success rate!

Back-up catcher is a slightly bigger problem. Last year it was ‘manned’ by prospect-turned stiff, Einar Diaz. He ‘hit’ .223/ .293/ .302. Here’s RHP Livan Hernandez for comparison’s sake: .247/ .256/ .370.

They’ve already released Einar, so we’re free from him for one year. Bowden has indicated that he wants a right-handed hitting back-up catcher. I’d expect it’s going to be someone from the John Flaherty mold. With Schneider holding down the full-time job, it’s not going to make a huge difference who the back-up is. Hell, for most of September, Schneider didn’t even HAVE a back-up catcher.

We’re all set for the short-term. Catcher shouldn’t be a problem for the Nationals next year. Schneider’s league-average bat and excellent defense combine for an acceptable solution. It’s not necessarily an asset, but catcher will not be the reason we’re not winning.