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Why Isn't Mitch Garver Playing More?

Jason Castro recently became the latest in a series of injuries and suspension which have contributed to a pedestrian start to the 2018 season for the Minnesota Twins. Castro was struggling offensively, his slow start already stimulating debate around how much playing time Mitch Garver should have.
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Since Castro hit the DL on May 5th, Garver and local happy hour goer Bobby Wilson have surprisingly split reps at catcher. Garver has caught nine games, played once at DH and served as a PH twice, while Wilson has caught eight games himself.

This seems odd.

Garver is clearly an upgrade over Wilson offensively. While he has had some blunders in the field, Garver has also been far from a liability and even shown some areas of catching strength (throwing out base runners). This led me to ask the question: Why are the Twins handling their catching situation the way they are? What can we expect from the club moving forwards, assuming they can stay within striking distance of Cleveland?

Hitting
Castro was having an appalling offensive start before he went down with a meniscus injury which ultimately ended his season. In my previous piece on Castro, I contended that he put up fairly average offensive numbers for a catcher, ranking sixth among catchers in OBP in 2017 (minimum 400 plate appearances), and first in BB% (11.1%). Castro had been putrid his year, managing a .257 OBP (compared to .333 in 2017). This was not aided by an unbelievable .216 BABIP. Perhaps Castro has been inhibited by his injury throughout the season, we’ll never know. What we do know is that his ‘generally solid offensive production for a catcher’ was way down.

Garver was thought to be an offensive upgrade over Castro. So far, that has proven to be the case, at least over the 2018 version of Castro. Garver has a 5.5% BB% (Eddie Rosario was at 5.9% in his ‘more disciplined’ 2017), and a 30% K% (Miguel Sano was 35% in 2017). Garver has gotten on base at a .303 clip, not great but significantly better than 2018 Castro. These numbers are still a small major league sample. His walk rate, in particular, should stabilize and increase over time to around the 10% he has averaged throughout his career.

Wilson, despite delivering some big hits for the Twins so far, is an offensive liability. In nine seasons, he has a .213/.266/.321 offensive line in 875 plate appearances. Make no mistake, despite Castro’s awful start, he’s light years ahead of Bobby Wilson.

Regular Fielding
DRS (defensive runs saved – which measures fielders by the number of runs above or below average) is a particularly limited statistic to use on catchers because catching is so complicated and encompasses so many different elements than ‘regular’ fielding does. Additionally, it’s particularly prone to fairly volatile variations and doesn’t usually stabilize until hit a larger sample (at least a season).

In 2017 Castro had a DRS of +10 (Gold Glove winner Martin Maldonado was +22). In 620 innings caught in 2016 (his last season consistently playing in the majors) Wilson had a DRS of -3. This is fascinating because as an offensive no-show, Wilson is automatically described as having value as a ‘solid defender’ and ‘good club-house guy’. Those may both be true, but Wilson’s last season with a positive DRS was 2015. In 145.0 early innings for the 2018 Twins, Garver is -2. Other than naming this, it’s much too early to read further into Garver’s general fielding of his position.

Preventing Base Stealing
Both Castro and Garver have done a god job at preventing the running game this season for the Twins. For context here, of active catchers, the best active career caught stealing% is Yadier Molina at just under 41%, Castro is 25th among active catchers at 26%, Kurt Suzuki, a pretty sub-par defensive catcher, is 36th at 23% (Joe Mauer is 10th on this list at 33%!).

The Twins trio fit interesting here, fully acknowledging that we are early in the season and there is an extremely small sample size. Through Sunday, Castro was at 40%, Garver 30%, and Wilson 0% (only 2 attempts). What has been clear in the early going, is Garver has a good, and accurate, arm, and seemingly a solid approach to getting runners.

Statcast allows us to be even more precise with this breakdown. Interestingly, Castro and Garver excel in slightly different areas, with Wilson unsurprisingly lagging behind. Pop time measures the amount of time from the pitch hitting the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s receiving point at the center of the base. Mitch Garver has the fastest pop time of the three, averaging 2.03 seconds, good for 40th out of 75th catchers. Wilson is 75th at 2.32. This is the pop time equivalent to Albert Pujols running to first base, extremely pedestrian. Castro ranked 48th before his injury, close to Garver.

In exchange (the amount of time it takes to get the ball out of the glove), Castro is a top-20 catcher, with an average time of 0.70. This is a much less developed skill for Garver, who comes in 65th at 0.79. Wilson, again, ranks last in MLB at 0.90. These increments might seem small, but they mater when you’re trying to throw out folks running at 29 feet per second. Of course, while all of these factors contribute to being able to throw out base runners, the runner himself and the time the pitcher takes to get the ball to the catcher are also vital factors. These numbers do bear out however, that we can trust our eyes and assume that Bobby Wilson is the least athletic catching option the Twins have.

Game Management
Through Sunday May 20th, the table below was true of Twins pitching when being caught by each of the team’s catchers. I don’t think there’s a ton to read into this. These numbers undoubtedly ebb and flow with the fortunes of how the team is playing in general.

Castro caught the majority of games in the Twins miserable stretch that culminated in a series of butt-whoopings by the Yankees. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Castro can call an excellent game. This potentially is where Wilson may have an edge on Garver.

One way to take advantage of Wilson’s increased game calling experience would be to pair him with a specific pitcher (Fernando Romero would be an excellent candidate), in order to develop a strong pitcher/catcher relationship and develop a relationship with his stuff. The Twins however, should not be splitting or near splitting catching time from an offensive standpoint. Even with Garver’s numbers still being a small sample, he should be getting closer to 80% of playing time rather than 50%.
Attached Image: CatchingGraph.png
Twins Next Steps
It will be fascinating to see what the Twins do at catcher as the season progresses. What’s clear from this examination is that Bobby Wilson, while fitting the ‘loveable, defensively dependable backup’ narrative, is actually a pretty terrible option, particularly offensively. There will be some bigger names on the trade market this summer, such as JT Realmuto, whom I wouldn’t expect the Twins to aggressively pursue.

The Twins could get a moderate upgrade on Wilson via trade for a far smaller price, who they could use in a more effective time split with Garver. Alternatively, it would be fascinating to see if AAA catcher Willians Astudillo gets any consideration for major league catching time. In 99 ABs for the Rochester Red Wings, Astudillo has a .273/.305/.495 line with five HR.

What do you think of the current Twins time share at catcher? Would you make a move? Stick with Wilson? Or give Astudillo a chance?

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95 Comments

Q: Why isn't Garver playing more?
A: Molitor is a bad manager.

    • raindog, mikelink45 and Sconnie like this

I would love to say something smart, clever and perhaps even a little pithy about the current catching scenario, but let's face it, expecting that from me is like expecting Bobby Wilson to hit .300 or Sano to put up Barry Bonds-like walk numbers... pretty sure that's not going to happen.

 

I'd be all for Astudillo getting a chance as backup to Garver (heck that no look throw to 1st he made alone earns that chance for me), but I'm not sure the team is willing to part ways with Wilson yet and he does seem to call a good game.

Someone should ask the MoY..... Because it makes no sense
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Tom Froemming
May 25 2018 10:45 AM

I kinda like Bobby Wilson, and the Twins are lucky to have kept him around, but Castro's injury has created the perfect scenario to see what you have in Mitch Garver. He's not expected to hit free agency until 2024! Even if he tops out as a backup, that's still a really valuable player to have around.

 

I personally haven't been particularly impressed with Mitch's defense as a whole, unfortunately, but there is something to be said about this being his first time working with a lot of these pitchers. I think the more time you give him the more comfortable he's going to get and the more the game is going to slow down for him.

    • DocBauer and Broker like this
People are judging Garver's defense in less than a year of playing at this level..... Plus what they've heard about his defense in the minors. I suggest patience, mostly because he's their best bet for catching for a few years. He should be playing more, now.
    • gunnarthor, mikelink45, DocBauer and 3 others like this

You have a chance to see what you have in Garver, so why not let him play more?

 

You know what you have in Wilson.  Which is not good.

    • gunnarthor, mikelink45 and Dave The Dastardly like this
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jorgenswest
May 25 2018 11:42 AM
The Twins should know what they have in Garver defensively. They shouldn’t have to wait until he is in the majors wondering what they have in his defense. They should know or they need to overhaul the minor league staff.

There isn’t anyway for outsiders to know and most data in a partial season is of little value.

If the Twins have assessed Garver to be an average or better defender they should be playing in 4-5 times a week. If not, they need to be aggressively seeking their next catcher.

 

The Twins should know what they have in Garver defensively. They shouldn’t have to wait until he is in the majors wondering what they have in his defense. They should know or they need to overhaul the minor league staff.

There isn’t anyway for outsiders to know and most data in a partial season is of little value.

If the Twins have assessed Garver to be an average or better defender they should be playing in 4-5 times a week. If not, they need to be aggressively seeking their next catcher.

 

That's not how the real world works unless you believe we also know what we have in Buxton now....since his minor league numbers would indicate he'd hit by now....

 

It's not like FO and managers are always right, either. 

    • Broker likes this

My guess is that the pitchers prefer Wilson...but that's just a guess.

A: They've played a lot of day games.

    • nicksaviking and Danchat like this
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nicksaviking
May 25 2018 12:48 PM

 

If the Twins have assessed Garver to be an average or better defender they should be playing in 4-5 times a week. If not, they need to be aggressively seeking their next catcher.

 

If the team assessed is defense as average or better, he should have been catching 4-5 times a week prior to Castro getting injured.

 

 

    • ashburyjohn likes this

It is the old wily vet syndrome.Molitor might like to swap stories with him.A backup is a fill in, not a platoon.Molitor is either making bad decisions or taking directions behind the scenes that make no sense.Falvey does like his acquisitions to get more attention than I think they deserve. 

    • Dave The Dastardly likes this

I think we're also forgetting that Garver has never been an everyday catcher in the minors. He's shared time with Turner and gotten reps at 1B/OF/DH. Last year he caught 67 games which, given his late season promotion, was around half the games. The Twins may want to phase him up to catching 80% of the time so he doesn't get overwhelmed. I think we should hold off on criticizing the Twins til we see how this is in a month.

For the future, I want Wilson for a month while they look at Astudillo and the market. I want them in on Lucroy if the A's sell and have no interest in Realmuto (and his price). If Lucroy isn't available, bring up Astudillo.
 

    • Broker and DannySD like this
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LA VIkes Fan
May 25 2018 01:44 PM

I agree with ThejacKmp for the most part. I think they are ramping Garver up and a month from now he will be catching 70-75% of the games.We should keep in mind that on almost all teams the backup catcher catches 25-30% of the games, roughly 1 in three or 2 in 7 so Garver is not that far off the norm. They can look at Astudillo for month and I would also be in on LuCroy if he's available.

 

I disagree on Realmuto though. I think he would be a big upgrade at a key position. I would even be willing to trade Sano for him or a package that included Garver and a minor league infielder like even Gordon . 

It couldn't be more obvious they don't like his catching skills.

 

From what I've seen, I agree with them. Unfortunately, Bobby Wilson isn't any kind of long term answer either.

 

Bite the bullet, do what it takes to get Realmuto here.

    • ashburyjohn, TheLeviathan, Platoon and 1 other like this

Because this is how the Twins organization operates.They demonstrate very little desire to develop their own prospects.They would rather have a bunch of cast offs from other teams on the 40 and 25, than bring up their own players from within. 

 

Look at Lamonte Wade's minor league statistics and compare that to Jake Cave's.Yet, it is Cave that is on the 40 man roster and was called up to the big leagues while Wade repeats AA.

    • Dave The Dastardly and BJames like this

I'm not that worried about Garver's playing time. We shouldn't wear him down catching so often... what we need is a better guy to rotate Garver with. I'd find a way to trade for Blake Swihart and rotate the two, maybe Garver 55-60% and the rest to Swihart. We can't afford Garver to be injured really at any point, so I wouldn't increase his workload.

Swihart hasn't hit for a few years, and they don't trust him to catch. I wouldn't kill them for the move, but it would be high risk.
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TheLeviathan
May 25 2018 05:58 PM

Chief is right - he is a major defensive liability.Or at least feared to be (with some legit reasons for believing so), so what do you want the team to do?

 

If we were throwing butchers out at other positions on the field I don't think we'd see a thread like this where people are so willingly dismissive of the issue. 

 

 Personally, I'd like to see him playing more, but the manager is completely justified in being concerned about that too.

    • Brock Beauchamp likes this

If Garver IS the catcher of the near short-term future, he should be playing more...60% to start and maybe up to 75%. Yes, Castrop should be back next year, so you could still split services (depending on offense). So, this is the year for Garver to shine, to show that he MIGHT be able to handle behind-the-plate duties for the next few years.

 

Catching is a weak spot for the Twins. They an switch out Wilson, but in doing so (no doubt, if they did, they would remove him from the 40-man) they would weaken Red Wings catching...unless Navaretto or Olson are ready to advance. There just isn't the depth.

 

Or if the Twins sign some AAAA available guy better than what they have, okay......but I don't see them going bigtime with a fulltime replacement catcher especially since they are on the hook for another high-priced season of Castro

 

Now, again, back to Garver. The guy should, for sure, catch Berrios and Romero, the guys who will be here next season. Probably add Odorizzi into the mix. Let Wilson catch the potential free agents, at the most.

 

You need to call a game and stay durable. Check Garver. You need to throw out runners. Check Garver. You need to hit. Check Garver.

 

I just dread the thought of Garver going down with a short-term injury...then what do the Twins have? Well, on offense, it could only be better than Castro.

 

Bring abck Drew Butera?

Salvy Perez?

 

A long shot, perhaps. But KC is putting up a "for sale" sign in the near future. So could he be available?

    • DocBauer likes this
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Halsey Hall
May 25 2018 07:19 PM

I don't mind the way it's being handled now.

 

Cracks me up those that blame Molitor. If he played him more and Garver got injured, Molly would get the blame for that. 

    • old nurse and DocBauer like this
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yarnivek1972
May 25 2018 07:52 PM

Because this is how the Twins organization operates. They demonstrate very little desire to develop their own prospects. They would rather have a bunch of cast offs from other teams on the 40 and 25, than bring up their own players from within.

Look at Lamonte Wade's minor league statistics and compare that to Jake Cave's. Yet, it is Cave that is on the 40 man roster and was called up to the big leagues while Wade repeats AA.


Many of the Twins own prospects have done little to establish that the Twins player development strategies are working. It will tske Falvine time to get their people into key spots and even longer for those changes to impact prospects.
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Brock Beauchamp
May 25 2018 08:08 PM

 

It couldn't be more obvious they don't like his catching skills.

 

From what I've seen, I agree with them. Unfortunately, Bobby Wilson isn't any kind of long term answer either.

 

Bite the bullet, do what it takes to get Realmuto here.

Statcorner has Wilson at +1.0 RAA in just 318 opportunities and Garver at -3.9 RAA in 1123 opportunities.

 

I think the conversation pretty much starts and ends there in the eyes of this front office.

 

(also, Wilson passes the eye test while Garver fails it)

    • USAFChief and Vanimal46 like this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 25 2018 08:10 PM

 

Q: Why isn't Garver playing more?
A: Molitor is a bad manager.

Alternative answer: because Garver is pretty bad behind the plate.

 

Garver should be getting more starts than Wilson but in this situation, I wouldn't give him "full time" catching duties in his current state.

 

I'd also be pursuing a catching upgrade ASAP.

    • TheLeviathan and Vanimal46 like this

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