Taking my cue from R. J.'s lead piece today , I submit that GAMECALLING and Handling the Pitchers, running the game, is the primary value of the average MLB catcher, not his offense. (well, I AM the Guru of the Obvious, yet I'm seeing the obvious overlooked a lot these days, hence the rant...)
Back in the day, while catchers like Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra hit higher in the lineup, most catchers batted eighth before the pitcher. Many were guys with low batting averages who hit the occasional longball, but their value to the team was rated defensively. A guy like Carlton Fisk made the Hall of Fame by high-performance longevity as a catcher, combining offensive and defensive achievement to contribute to the total game. Navi, of course, is no Carlton Fisk.
Yes, you want to have a guy who can hit, too, but the most important thing to pitchers is not how the catcher hits…Roger Clemens named the best catcher in the game for HIM: Brad Ausmus…that's why Ausmus, at 40, was still in demand as a major league catcher when the 2009 season started. Even after their primary years are over, the influence a knowledgeable catcher can have on a team's pitching staff is immeasureable. Some guys have made careers out of bullpen catching in the majors. Dave Duncan, an ex-catcher, is reknowned for reviving pitchers' careers as a pitching coach. Catchers, being in on every play, can win games without hitting a lick.
Conversely, a bad gamecaller can lose you a game.....without making headlines. It happens, probably a lot.
To call a winning game is the supreme value of The Catcher. Perhaps this recognition could result in a "Wins Caught" category added to The Catcher's stats. This would at least begin to spread the responsibility for wins and losses in a more realistic way. Crediting a single pitcher with a team's wins or losses has always seemed to me to be inequitable. (I know, "life isn't fair").
Since Piazza and fantasy ball, offense is now primary in the minds of many, but to the guys that the game revolves around, the guys who get credit for wins and losses—the Pitchers, it’s how the catcher calls the game and assists the pitcher that counts.
It’s one of those stats that needs development, but would be hard to measure….if the number of runs a catcher saved the team by gamecalling and defense were added to his offensive numbers, the rankings would be quite different and the Ausmuses of the world would be better paid.
I haven’t studied the Rays options in depth on that one, but it’s worth a look when we consider Navi’s replacement, should that become necessary, now or later. (Obviously, Joe Maddon & Staff consider Navi the best option defensively and offensively they have right now)
Navi’s value to the team as the primary Starting Catcher may be hard to replace in mid-season…then again, maybe one of the guys available is right for the job…..if there is no one available, then the Rays coaching staff and other players will have to adjust and compensate, which young teams might be able to do better than older ones!
Pitching-and-catching "intangibles" or "chemistry", plus defense, probably determine the outcome of games more than offense. If you score ten runs but allow eleven, you lose. The fantasy generation generally doesn’t care about THOSE stats and intangibles, because they don’t count in fantasy. I'm a huge fantasy player and enjoy the fun of managing imaginary teams and measuring my managing guesses against those of others in the common 5 x 5 formats offered by ESPN and others. It's fun.
But it's as far removed from actual baseball management as a wet dream is from sexual intercourse.
--Steve Pipkin-Savage, Clearwater