Three Catcher Conundrum
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY SportsThere seems to be three different options when it comes to rotating through this trio of catchers. Each one has its own benefits and downfalls. Let’s examine each one.
Using a strict rotation might be the pattern Baldelli will follow to start the season. Jason Castro got the Opening Day start. This made sense because he was a left-handed hitter and Corey Kluber, a right-handed pitcher, was starting for Cleveland. Castro was also the more veteran catcher and he was returning to the field for the first time since the knee injury that cost him all of last season.
On Saturday, Mitch Garver, a righty, got the start. He was facing a right-handed pitcher in Trevor Bauer. On paper, it might seem like this isn’t a good match-up, since it would be a righty vs. righty scenario. However, Garver batted .288/.352/.454 against righties last season. To put that in perspective, his OPS versus right-handed pitchers was 177 points higher compared to when he stepped in against lefties.
Sunday saw Willians Astudillo make his first start. He went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and two RBI. He also made a tremendous defensive play when he was backing up a play in foul territory. This means Castro will sit for a minimum of the end of Thursday until Tuesday’s series opener in Kansas City.
If Baldelli is going to rotate through players, these early season off-days are going to make it tough for the catchers to get into a rhythm at the plate.
A natural platoon seems to form with Garver being a right-handed hitter and Castro being a left-handed hitter. Baldelli could play the natural match-ups but this would put Castro on the field far more than Garver. As mentioned above, that might not always be the best option since Garver has some reverse splits. Garver is actually better than Castro at hitting right-handed pitching.
For his career, Castro has hit .241/.326/.412 against righties. His OPS against lefties is 171 points lower. While a strict rotation might make some sense, Garver needs to be in the line-up against lefties. Garver doesn’t destroy the ball against lefties (.629 OPS), but his numbers are better than Castro's.
Astudillo has been unreal at making contact during his big-league tenure. Through just over 100 plate appearances, he is hitting .368/.386/.547 with 10 extra-base hits. He also doesn’t have much of a platoon split. His OPS is .949 against righties (67 at-bats) and .893 against lefties (28 at-bats).
Personal Catchers for Starters
Some team’s like for a pitcher and a catcher to build rapport with each other. It certainly seemed like Castro was working well with Berrios. Berrios might have been able to make any catcher look good during Thursday’s game. If the Twins keep rotating catchers, Castro would catch Berrios and Garver would continue to catch Odorizzi. Astudillo caught the Pineda/Perez combo on Sunday. Gibson has yet to make a start, but it seems likely for Garver to catch him in the second game of the Royals series.
Pitchers can get comfortable when the same catcher is working with them behind the plate. It seems likely that a personal catcher could be a luxury, but it seems unnecessary at baseball’s highest level. All of these players are professionals and have worked with a multitude of battery combinations throughout their playing careers. A personal catching system might naturally form from the catching rotation but it’s not a necessity.
Castro’s contract expires at season’s end. Garver is coming off a strong 2018 campaign and he can’t reach free agency until 2024. Minnesota needs to see if Garver can be the team’s long-term solution behind the plate. As the season progresses, the team could continue with a rotation or ride the hot bat. Hopefully, Garver is taking the reins and showing he is ready to take the next step.
If you were in the manager’s chair, how would you approach the catching situation? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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