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Backstop Battery Becoming an Asset

In 2014, the Minnesota Twins employed Kurt Suzuki as their starting catcher. He was brought in as a free agent to take over for Joe Mauer, who had to step out from behind the plate. In his first season with the Twins, Suzuki posted a then career-best .727 OPS and made his only All-Star Game. After falling off from there, Minnesota has been searching for answers. It seems as though 2017 helped to find a recipe that may fit.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Since 2014, the Twins have had catchers by the names of Suzuki, Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann, Juan Centeno and John Ryan Murphy. None of them filled the role with any semblance of staying power. Prior to the 2017 season, Jason Castro was handed a three-year, $24.5 million deal from Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in hopes he would provide a high level of performance and consistency behind the plate.

Looking back at year one, Castro provided the best output behind the dish since Suzuki’s All-Star appearance. His 1.6 fWAR slotted in just behind Suzuki’s 2.0 fWAR mark, and the tandem with Chris Gimenez (1.0 fWAR) proved to be a decent pairing. While plenty was made about Castro’s pitch framing, his receiving and throw skills should get plenty of notice as well. After Suzuki failed to be league average or better, topping out at 25% in regard to catching base runners, Castro bested that mark a year ago and was run on significantly less.

On the offensive side of things, Castro put forth the best season of his career since being named an All-Star with the Astros in 2013. On top of seeing a significant boost in the average department, he also got back to his ways of being an on-base threat. Despite the .720 OPS leaving some room for improvement, it’s actually the splits that Minnesota fans can begin to salivate over.

As a lefty, Castro presents Paul Molitor with an opportunity to maximize his future output. A year ago, the Twins backstop actually had similar splits facing righties and lefties, if not a bit skewed towards the reverse. His .737 OPS against lefties slotted in just a bit higher than the .714 OPS he posted against right-handed pitchers. Over the course of his career however, Castro’s splits tell a different story. The .568 OPS against lefties is buoyed by a .747 OPS against righties, leaving a relatively exposable deficiency.

Enter his assumed partner for the 2018 Twins season, Mitch Garver.

At Triple-A Rochester in 2017, Garver post a .928 OPS (a career high) across 88 games. It was quite the jump from the .753 OPS at Double-A in 2016 (95 games), and even a boost from the .815 OPS in his first 22 games of Triple-A action. After having a strong 2017, it’s not surprising that Garver’s numbers tallied well against both lefties (.938 OPS) and righties (.870). Over the course of his career however, he’s proven capable of mashing against lefties.

You can expect that there will still be a learning curve, and a significant bit of development needing to take place in 2018 for the former New Mexico Lobos backstop. He has just 52 major league plate appearances to his name, and despite being 27 years old, he’ll be thrown into a sink-or-swim scenario. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room for him to bring the water level of the Twins backstops up a notch.

The bar Chris Gimenez set in 2017 is what Garver should be looking to clear. He was given 54 starts, which could be a number that Mitch expands upon. A 30% caught stealing rate was great, but ten passed balls was something that was an apparent issue when Gimenez was behind the dish a season ago. His .731 OPS was a career high (over at least a 40 game sample size), and will be the offensive mark that Garver is looking to best.

Last year, the Castro and Gimenez duo actually performed above average across the big leagues. The 2.8 fWAR put up by the duo, was good enough for tenth in the major leagues. In the American League, only the Mariners, Orioles, Yankees, and Tigers put up better fWAR totals from the catching position. In 2018, Minnesota will be looking to do no worse than replicate that scenario.

In short, Joe Mauer catching is the last scenario in which the Twins could legitimately point to the catcher position as being an asset long term. Suzuki’s 2014 outburst appeared fluky, and proved to be as such during the rest of his tenure with the Twins. He was paired with fly-by-night types who had little opportunity of sticking, and it wasn’t until 2017 when something clicked for the Twins backstop position. The Castro signing paved the way for the role to be held by a strong duo, and the torch can now be passed to Garver.

There’s more than enough reason to believe Jason Castro is above strict platoon, and there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about what Garver will contribute during his rookie season, but a blueprint is in place. Minnesota may not have a solo superstar behind the dish anymore, but it appears they’ve got a tandem plan that will work just fine.

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Good article. Agree feels like a good set up and with catcher wear and tear it’s nice to have a backup that can be used in a more strategic manner rather than simply “personal catcher” or when the starter needs a day off regardless of the match up.
    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this

I miss Mauer the catcher. Take that Brent Gardner!

    • Platoon likes this

I was impressed with what Castro gave the Twins last year, both as catcher (and pitch framer!) and hitter. He also seems like someone who can help a young pitcher such as Berrios mature and gain confidence. Garvey, I'm not quite as confident with as the backup. I hope he proves me wrong and thrives in the role this year, but I'd feel more comfortable with a veteran backing up Castro.

Original Whizzinator
Feb 23 2018 08:52 AM
Let's get Garver some at bats and see if we have a right handed bat with some pop! He's not getting any younger so I would say it's now or never for him. Will be fun to watch.
Not every team can have a power catcher like Joe Mauer behind the plate forever. I think back...fondly...to the years of Jerry Zimmerman and Phil Roof, amongst others, bridging the gap between our great catchers.


I miss Mauer the catcher. Take that Brent Gardner!


Even without the concussions, would Joe still be catching regularly at his age?

Brock Beauchamp
Feb 23 2018 11:05 PM

Even without the concussions, would Joe still be catching regularly at his age?

Probably not anymore but he had 2-3 good seasons left in him when he was concussed and probably another 1-2 partial seasons afterward.
    • Twins33 and Platoon like this
I know Garver is the backup, but I was past not impressed with his receiving skills last year, brief as they were. It looked like a total battle for him to catch a baseball, not to speak of blocking one. Stage fright? I hope so. But he didn't look like an MLB receiver.

Two catchers is better than one anyway. The long season takes a toll on any man's legs squatting for nine innings behind the dish, not to mention all the bumps and bruises. Most solo catchers start to wear out after mid season. Platooning helps both guys stay fresh, and if one goes down, the other can step in without making adjustments. 


I like this pair of catchers. Castro is fine overall, and Garver's ticket to the bigs was supposed to be his hit tool, so maybe he'll round into a better offensive threat. Best of all, both guys have reasonably good guns down to second. 

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