Why Isn't Mitch Garver Playing More?
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsSince 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?
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.
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.
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%.
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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