Framing the Free Agent Market on Catchers

Tom Szczerbowski

Meet Yorvit Torrealba. He may not be what you want for Christmas, but he'll do as a stocking stuffer.

Last week, Scott took a look at the Rays history of drafting, signing, and developing catchers.

The Rays currently have five catchers reporting to Port Charlotte for Spring Training who are in contention for the 25-man roster: Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Stephen Vogt, and (if he ever recovers from his horrible concussion) Robinson Chirinos. As things stand the latter four are only replacement options.

It's possible the Rays could seek another catcher via trade or the open market - it's a drum that Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin has been beating throughout the off-season - but with A.J. Pierzynski signing with the Texas Rangers yesterday, the catching market is sure to dry up quickly.

Of the remaining catchers on the market, there is only one that stands out: Yorvit Torrealba.

Torrealba played for three teams in 2012, starting the year as Mike Napoli's back up in Texas. He was placed on waivers after the Geovanny Soto acquisition and signed a minor league contract with Blue Jays in August. He played 10 games for Toronto before being traded to the Brewers for cash or a PTBNL in September. Torrealba became a free agent after refusing his assignment to the AAA Nashville Sounds by Milwaukee, and has since become a free agent.

The 34-year old catcher from Venezuela batted just .227/.293/.330 with four homers and a .623 OPS in 218 plate appearances. He earned $3.25MM in 2012, and has become more infamous than famous.

In June of 2009, his son Yorvit Eduardo and the boy's two uncles were kidnapped and held ransom for $50,000. The Torrealba's agreed to the fee, but the abductors let their captives free once the news became an international headline. After the incident, Torrealba moved his son from Venezuela to the States. The young Yorvit Eduardo was later invited to toss the first pitch for Colorado in the third game of the 2009 NLDS as his dad's team faced the Phillies.

The 11-year veteran is also known for having a bad temper. He was suspended for 66 games in the Venezuelan League last year for hitting an umpire in the mask during an argument, but appealed his suspension under the Venezuelan constitution - and won! Which is... interesting?

Personal issues aside, if the Rays are in the market for a catcher (which I doubt, but if they are), Torrealba is the only catcher that may be worth your consideration.

The Molina Mold

Torrealba seems to fit the mold of a younger Jose Molina. Well, three years younger. Their batting lines were merely identical last season (ouch), and while Yorvit at least has a career wOBA above .300, neither player should be depended on for more than 80 wRC+. Where Torrealba approaches Molina is in framing metrics.

The men behind framing numbers have since been snatched up by MLB front offices - namely, Mike Fast and Max Marchi - so the most recent season's numbers are not readily available to my knowledge, but we do have their numbers published on the 2007-2011 seasons.

Framing numbers can be equated to Total Runs Saved. While it can be astonishing how valuable these framing numbers appear to be, within a week from this study being published last season, the No. 1 player on the list (Jose Molina) was signed by the Rays to a two year contract. The theory seems to have some weight.

By this mark, some excellent framing catchers have become free agents this off season (Russell Martin - 71, Geovany Soto - 24), but there is still one remaining. In fact, he placed third in Total Runs saved from 2007-2011.

Here are the top 5 from Fast's publication on Baseball Prospectus:

Catcher Called
Pitches
Total Runs R/120G 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Jose Molina 18788 73 35 10 15 15 26 7
Russell Martin 42186 71 15 15 10 20 14 11
Yorvit Torrealba 26306 41 14 5 14 3 11 7
Jonathan Lucroy 14205 38 24 17 21 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 39184 37 8 7 7 1 16 6

If you believe that framing is important, Torrealba could add significant value for the Rays, even beyond infuriating hitters. Simply put, Torrealba carries his value in his glove, and that's not even considering defense.

As Matt Klaassen noted, Torrealba ranked 8th in catching defensive metrics last year, with some odd results. Transitioning between three teams may have skewed his 2012 numbers, but Torrealba is still considered an above average defender. His defense placed 28th in 2011, according to Beyond the Box Score's metrics.

And if you need further incentive, it's worth noting that the buck really stops there.

The next closest catcher available on the open market would be Chris Snyder, whose option was recently declined by the Astros who employ Mike Fast. Snyder totaled a mere 10 Runs in framing from 2007-2011, and placed 86th in the aforementioned metrics on defense last year. So there's not much to be had in free agency.

If the Rays are to seek a catcher, the list starts and ends with Yorvit Torrealba.

What the Rays really need is an every day solution if Jose Molina succumbs to injury in 2013, but given the market, Torrealba is not horrible insurance. If they can sign him to a minor league contract, all the better. A player with his framing numbers is worth a flier, if not a place on the 25-man roster.

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