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Replacement Catcher
2007-11-13 08:27
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Now that the Yankees have inked Jorge Posada, I thought I'd take a quick look at their options for backup catcher. Right now Wil Nieves is the second man on the Yankees' catching depth chart, but earlier this offseason, Brian Cashman listed Jose Molina among the Yankee free agents he'd like to resign. Molina, a good receiver with a strong arm who fit in well in the clubhouse after coming over from the Angels in late July, is as good a choice as any to be Posada's caddy, but it's important to note that the .318/.333/.439 performance he put together as a Yankee down the stretch last season was a small-sample fluke.

Molina is a career .243/.279/.345 hitter and was struggling to maintain that level of production with the Angels for the first four months of the 2007 season. He'll also be 33 in June. He's certainly an improvement over Neives, and is a better choice than most of the free agent alternatives (including 2006 failures Kelly Stinnett and Sal Fasano, and the endless parade of Paul Bakos, Josh Pauls, Mike DiFelices, Chad Moellers, Alberto Castillos, and Wiki Gonzali), but he's just as capable of a dreadful offensive performance as any of those men.

Speaking of dreadful performances, two years ago I wrote a post called "Addition by Subtraction," in which I praised Brian Cashman for improving the team by the simple method of discarding players whose performances did more harm than good. In 2005, the Yankees had six players who cost the team more than eight runs each according to VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In the two year's since, the Yankees have had just five others meet that description. In 2005 the cumulative VORP total of the Yankees' sub-replacement-level players was -114.1. In other words, the Yankees cost themselves roughly 114 runs, or more than 11 wins, simply by failing to maintain replacement level (which is, by definition, the performance level typical of readily available players such as borderline minor leaguers or players that could be claimed off waivers) throughout the roster. After Cashman's big purge that winter, the 2006 Yankees improved that figure to -92.2 VORP, with the two worst offenders (Shawn Chacon at -13.0 and Aaron Small at -10.7) both getting the boot mid-season. This past season, the Yankees cut that figure nearly in half to -50.4 VORP, the bulk of that coming from the many young pitchers the team was forced to use (Jeff Karstens at -11.2, Sean Henn at -8.0, and Edwar Ramirez at -5.3 led the team along with Wil Nieves's -6.4).

The point of all of this is that one of Brian Cashman's emerging, but under appreciated strengths is his understanding of negative performance and his increased efforts to eliminate it from the roster. One reason that cumulative negative VORP total has been decreasing has been the speed with which Cashman has moved to replace negative performance in the last two years. Last year Kei Igawa, Wil Nieves, Miguel Cairo, Josh Phelps, Kevin Thompson, Chris Basak, Sean Henn, Jim Brower, Colter Bean, Matt DeSalvo, Chase Wright, and Tyler Clippard--all of whom had negative VORP totals on the year--were either demoted or released during the year.

This is all relevant to the backup catcher discussion because it is one of the few positions in baseball at which most major league teams are forced to settle, if not outright hope for replacement-level performance. Consider again that list of free agents above, or the fact that after John Flaherty's abysmal -11.0 VORP in 2005*, the Yankees have twice switched backup catchers mid-season in an attempt to climb back up to replacement level. In 2006 they replaced Kelly Stinnett after he posted a -3.3 VORP in 34 games only to watch Sal Fasano cost the team -4.7 VORP over a mere 27 games. Last year, they punted Nieves's -6.4 VORP after 25 games played and finally succeeded with Molina's +3.9 VORP in 29 games over the remainder of the season. I can't blame the Yankees for attempting to go back to the well with Molina in an attempt to avoid the Stinnett's and Fasano's of the world, but it's important to remember that, if you factor in Molina's time with the Angels, his total 2007 VORP was actually a notch below Nieves' at -6.5 (of course, some of that is due to the fact that VORP is cumulative and Molina had 202 plate appearances in 2007 to Nieves' 76).

Having said that, the reason to be dubious about Molina's repeating his pinstriped performance from 2007 is the same reason not to overreact to the 2007 performances of other back up catchers. There are some tempting alternatives out there, particularly Ramon Castro, who hit .285/.331/.556 with 11 homers in 144 at-bats for the Mets in 2007, but it's important to remember how difficult it is for backup catchers to repeat those sort of small-sample performances. Last winter Mike Lieberthal, a former All-Star coming off a .273/.316/.469 season for the Phillies, seemed like the obvious choice for a team looking for a backup catcher with some pop, but he hit just .234/.280/.260 for the Dodgers in 2007. Castro himself is a career .234/.310/.413 hitter, which is almost exactly average for his position. Chasing these small-sample flukes is a fool's errand. As I mentioned in my post on Posada this morning, the average major league catcher hit .256/.318/.394 in 2007, a figure heavily skewed by the performance of the 30 starters. Expecting even that much production from a backup is unrealistic. Thus, Jose Molina is as good a choice as any, and he can be easily replaced mid-season if he fails to maintain a replacement-level performance.

*that figure doesn't correspond exactly to my post from December 2005 because Baseball Prospectus is forever adjusting their statistics and especially their statistical definition of replacement level

Comments (57)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2007-11-13 09:59:12
1.   Bob Timmermann
I think Lieberthal's poor performance last year was in part to the fact that he was only used about once every 2 1/2 weeks.

Teams have an infatuation with Paul Bako. I'm not sure why.

2007-11-13 10:19:38
2.   Shaun P
1 Bako plays good defense! (Doesn't he?)

I wouldn't mind the Yanks taking a chance on Castro, if only because even just a replacement level catcher is quite valuable - given how few BUCs meet that standard!

BTW - this has got to be the 2007 Jim Dean Memorial Post, right? I can't hear the term "backup catcher" without thinking of that guy.

2007-11-13 10:19:52
3.   Sliced Bread
Cashman would be wise to go with the devil he knows here.
The pitchers seemed to like working with Molina, which probaly weighs as much with Cashman as VORP.
Plus, a full season with Pena, and now Girardi coaching him won't hurt his defense, which is already an asset.
No brainer here. Molina returns.
2007-11-13 10:22:49
4.   iicollies
eams have an infatuation with Paul Bako. I'm not sure why.

Because he was in a 1997 trade that involved Wil Nieves's brother?

2007-11-13 10:22:59
5.   monkeypants
3 Maybe they should go with Pena or Girardi as BUC?
2007-11-13 10:25:43
6.   underdog
1 I thought it was every 2.5 months?

---

Moeller... Moeller... ?
Something-d-o-o economics...?

2007-11-13 10:25:47
7.   Sliced Bread
5 Girardi could be doing crunches as we banter...
2007-11-13 10:35:58
8.   standuptriple
When in doubt behind the dish, always go with a Molina.
2007-11-13 10:37:37
9.   RichB
What the Yanks desperately need is to develop their next all-star catcher from within. I think Posada wanted the fourth year so he could comfortably retire in pinstripes. By year 3 of this contract, he should be the BUC/DH/1B and some young stud should be starting.
2007-11-13 10:38:15
10.   JoeInRI
2 What happened to Jim Dean???
2007-11-13 10:43:44
11.   unpopster
10 He passed away mid-season.
2007-11-13 10:52:12
12.   Yankee Fan In Boston
10 11 mid-game. while reading comments here.
2007-11-13 10:52:19
13.   RichB
10 His heart gave out while he was bantering here. His wife, Kate, posted an announcement in the comments here:

http://bronxbanter.baseballtoaster.com/archives/763108.html#39

2007-11-13 10:54:30
14.   ny2ca2dc
Nice write up Cliff. Your analysis would seem to add weight to the argument in favor of a defense first BUC (Offense being fluky almost by definition in a limited role, at least get solid D). Molina being a good defender should be a major point in his favor (if I recall Nieves proved to be a so-so catch & throw guy who also couldn't hit AT ALL).

Side note: BP's Indians top prospects list shows a High-A first baseman (Beau Mills) at #3 who could be knocking on Ryan Garko's door soonish - Garko might be a nice pickup if the price weren't outrageous. Right handed. Though I'd still prefer getting Rollen on the cheap for giggles.

2007-11-13 10:59:20
15.   standuptriple
9 Developing a legit ML-level backstop (let alone All Star) has to be one of the hardest things for a team to do. From my limited recollection there are usually only <5 per draft class and the Yanks either want to draft a safer position or don't get anywhere near them (because the top notch ones go fast). There just aren't that many youngsters eager to don the "Tools of Ignorance" because the fastest (non-pitching) ticket to the pros is to rake. Hand injuries, leg injuries and scheduled days off complicate this even more.
2007-11-13 11:02:01
16.   thelarmis
CC won the Cy Young. so glad it wasn't fuckett... (not that it really matters...)

i'm all for bringing molina back...

2007-11-13 11:04:53
17.   NetShrine
~~~Right now Wil Nieves is the second man on the Yankees' catching depth chart, but earlier this offseason, Brian Cashman listed Jose Molina among the Yankee free agents he'd like to resign.~~~

Cliff, Wilbert Nieves was granted free agency October 17th. FYI.

2007-11-13 11:27:05
18.   rbj
I'm fine with Molina as the Jim Dean Memorial BUC. Next year he won't be as good offensively as this year with the Yankees, but basically all I want from the second backstop is someone with good defense and can call a decent game. There's a reason they are backups: they aren't good with the bat.

Now does he get to be called C.C.C.?

2007-11-13 11:29:33
19.   Mattpat11
I'm glad CC won, but I'm shocked that it wasn't even close.
2007-11-13 11:33:23
20.   vockins
CHRIS IANNETTA
CHRIS IANNETTA

CHRIS IANNETTA
CHRIS IANNETTA

2007-11-13 11:37:15
21.   RIYank
Very informative, Cliff, thanks.

18 rbj, BUCs get an awful lot of at-bats. It makes a difference whether they are Nieves-horrible or Molina-bad. I'd be okay with re-upping Molina, myself, since the opportunities for getting a better BUC are slim, and the possibility of a Nieves-awful substitute is very real.

2007-11-13 11:44:27
22.   Cliff Corcoran
Sorry about the lack of a Cy Young post, guys, I've had some touchy connectivity over the past hour.
2007-11-13 11:46:14
23.   standuptriple
16 Awesome for CC. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. I've known him for a long time and it's good to see his hard work pay off.
2007-11-13 11:46:47
24.   Mattpat11
When did Nieves improve to horrible? Was it that two hit game he had?
2007-11-13 11:51:26
25.   RIYank
24 You know, there's horrible, and then there's Nieves-horrible. Like, there's strong, and then there's army-strong.
2007-11-13 11:53:29
26.   YankeeInMichigan
23 I'm surprised that Carmona was so far back. As I mentioned in my last thread, my "ballot" had
#1 Sabathia
#2 Lackey
#3 Carmona,
with Beckett a very close 4th.

At least the writers got the Top 4 right this time. After the Delmon Young got #2 in the ROY voting, I was expecting to see Wang in the Top 3 again (he should really be about 11th -- as should Verlander, who got a 3rd-place vote).

2007-11-13 11:57:25
27.   ms october
15 I also read somewhere that many teams are not converting guys as much either - not sure if that's so.

25 Ha,Ha - Good one. And I agree - Jorge will never get enough rest if someone like Nieves is BUC. Someone like Molina or Castro is not a disaster even if they are small sample gold.

23 I'm glad CC won too - he probably won in large part because of all those innings which could have hurt him in the playoffs though.

2007-11-13 11:59:45
28.   ms october
Thanks for the info on Mo's suitors from the last thread YankeeinMichigan. The Giants never crossed my mind.
2007-11-13 12:33:39
29.   thelarmis
23 yeah, there was a nice feature article on him in USA Today's Baseball Weekly, earlier this season. it was a good read. he deserved it this year and i'm glad he got it. hell, i'm still peeved that hentgen beat out pettitte in what, '96?
2007-11-13 12:41:39
30.   JL25and3
I'm impressed that Nieves managed to compile a -6.4 VORP in only 66 PA.

But that's nothing compared with Karstens: -11.2 VORP in 14-2/3 IP. That's practically a full run per inning worse than a freakin' replacement pitcher.

2007-11-13 13:01:11
31.   Raf
29 Yes, it was '96. I was peeved that Hentgen won too, until I looked at (or more accurately, a Toronto fan showed me) the numbers.
2007-11-13 13:59:57
32.   JL25and3
20 That's way too excited to get over any BUC.

But why Chris Iannetta?

2007-11-13 14:12:32
33.   standuptriple
Sad thing is, they could have gotten JD Closser (a switch hitting young catcher) for next to nothing. Billy Beane works his magic once again.
2007-11-13 14:17:51
34.   cocorn
"Awesome for CC. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. I've known him for a long time and it's good to see his hard work pay off."

Yep, except when it really counts. CC and Wang would be a great 1/2 for any team. Except in the playoffs where a team would be doomed.

2007-11-13 14:35:03
35.   Sonya Hennys Tutu
HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.

When I saw this I just had to post it here. If what he writes is a remote possibility, we have to make the trade all day every day 1000 times a day, no? Re-posted without permission from the Fox Sports Chin Music blog:

"[regarding Dan Haren] Chance He'll Be Traded: I give it 80%. If Beane is in fact serious about blowing up the A's, look for him to trade Haren, Joe Blanton, Huston Street, Nick Swisher and without a doubt, Eric Chavez. This is how I could see a trade to the Yankees happening, the Chavez deal. Knowing the weak market for starting pitchers, and knowing the Yankees are looking for an ace and a third baseman, I could see him dropping Haren to the Yankees for a decent package, assuming they take Chavez off Bean's payroll. Chavez is owed $11 million in 2008, 2009, 2010 and has a club option of $12.5 million in 2011. The more of Chavez's salary that Beane wants to pay, I'm sure the better package he could get from the Yankees. Two ways for this to possibly go: either Beane gives NYY Haren and Chavez (and all his contract, a salary dump a la Bobby Abreu in 2006) for SP Humberto Sanchez, Chase Wright/ Jeff Karstens, and Brett Gardner. However, if he offered to pay, say half, of Chavez's remaining salary (which would shock me, from the tight wallet of the Oakland A's) he could maybe make out with an Alan Horne, or possibly Ian Kennedy package. There has also been rumors surfacing that Beane could want JASON GIAMBI back (!), so keep your ears to the road on this one… This could get interesting."

Why can't I get past the notion that this is the type of trade floated by a Yankees fan and not a rational person??

2007-11-13 14:46:35
36.   vockins
32 Have a look:

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/I/Chris-Iannetta.shtml

If the papers/blogs are to be believed, the Rox seem to have little interest in bringing him up again since they seem to be courting Torreabla and other BUCs. This season wasn't that great, but it's better than Jose Molina's career numbers.

If the guy starts hitting like he did in AAA, throw a parade. If he hits like he did this year in Denver, then he's a passable BUC.

2007-11-13 14:59:25
37.   OldYanksFan
10 He passed away WHILE he had Bronx Banter up on his computer (and I will guess watching the game).

His wife was kind enough to visit us here and tell us the terrible news. His last words in this world were to us.

2007-11-13 15:06:57
38.   OldYanksFan
35 Thats would be great. If the A's put Haren and Chavez together, I'd gladly eat a possible financial loss on Chavez if we don't have to trade any top kids (this is JUST waht our money is for). I hope Cashman is on this one. Haren and Chavez could do for us what Beckett and Lowell did for the Sox.

Haren
Wang
Hughes
Joba
IPK/Moose

Too good to be true!!

2007-11-13 15:31:33
39.   cult of basebaal
35 because it's a complete joke? i'd feel bad for a fanboy who proposed that trade and besides, if beane decides to peddle haren AND chavez, he'll still do better than what's listed here. Don't think the Dodgers covet Haren and would find Chavez a lovely veteran upgrade over Mr. Fidgety and have better trading chips???
2007-11-13 16:10:16
40.   underdog
Mr. Fidgety = Nomar, I assume?

They already have an upgrade over him. His name is Andy LaRoche. See World Baseball series results this past week for more on him. Then there's the ARod and Cabrera rumors. Who knows?
But as for the rumors mentioned above, they are completely ludicrous. Especially the idea of Beane trading Haren, who is still young and relatively cheap. No way. But I could see him looking to trade Chavez, and he could be cheaper than some of the other top thirdbasemen. He's been on the downswing last couple of years. But overall those rumors are nonsense, imho.

2007-11-13 16:25:10
41.   Start Spreading the News
34 This has to be one of the dumber comments I have read in a while.

Looking up Wang's playoff stats:
2005: Lost 1 game with an ERA of 1.35
2006: Won 1 game with an ERA of 4.05
2007: Lost 2 games with an ERA of 19.06

Wang had a bad playoffs this year. But he didn't doom anybody with his pitching the last two years.

CC Sabathia was fine against the Yanks. And he kept the Sox close in his final game. It was 2-1 thru six innings. And he ran out of steam in his 7th after throwing over 100 pitches. He gave his team a chance to win.

2007-11-13 16:37:15
42.   RIYank
USA Today says the Yanks have offered Mo $45M for three years. He's thinking it over. It would make him the highest paid reliever, and fifth highest paid pitcher.
2007-11-13 16:40:07
43.   Ken Arneson
35 On behalf of Oakland Athletics fans everywhere, I hereby reject such nonsense.

Chavez will make $11 million/year for the next three years, and Haren will make $5 million/year. In terms of pure value, the salaries should probably be reversed, but in either case, the A's are not overpaying for the combination of Chavez and Haren. Haren is a top-10 starting pitcher, and is probably worth $16 million/year on the open market all by himself.

The A's are not swimming in debt. They are profitable. Chavez' contract, while probably overpriced, is not an albatross. There's no reason for Beane to sell low on him now, when he's recovering from two surgeries (shoulder and back). He'd be far better off waiting until June, or next offseason, when Chavez is likely to be healthier, and the market isn't flooded with quality third basemen.

If Beane decides to sell Haren, who is healthy and cheap and locked up for several more years, it won't be for anything less than a bushelful of top prospects. Your dreams of getting him for second-tier youngsters is just that, a dream.

2007-11-13 16:42:33
44.   JL25and3
35 That package might be enough to get Chavez. Maybe even Chavez and a BUC. Chavez and Haren? NFW.
2007-11-13 17:17:42
45.   Bob B
What was Farnsworth's VORP. I can't believe it was better than Karstans.
2007-11-13 17:39:15
46.   RIYank
I can't find this year's. But it must have been much better than Karstens'. Karstens' WHIP was a horrific 2.455 (Farns' was a mediocre 1.450). And Karstens' ERA+ was an astounding 40; Farns had 93.

Of course, Farnsworth pitched far more innings, but a 93 ERA+ must be above replacement player, so Farnsworth's VORP must be positive.

(Where can you find current VORP? Only with a BR subscription?)

2007-11-13 17:45:31
47.   Mattpat11
45 Karstens was truly horrific for us.
2007-11-13 18:24:53
48.   monkeypants
45 46 Also, isn't VORP essentially a counting stat? Since Farnsworth played a whole season--and since numbers were not nearly as bad as the impression he left on most observers--he is bound to have a higher VORP than Karstens (who was awful in far fewer innings).
2007-11-13 18:35:34
49.   Mattpat11
I prefer to think that Farnsworth's numbers aren't truly representative of the suck he unleashed on us for two years.
2007-11-13 18:49:20
50.   monkeypants
49 You would have to think that, since your rhetoric about Lord Farnswhacker is far more negative than what the numbers indicate.
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2007-11-13 18:49:42
51.   cult of basebaal
40 ah yes, but when you got a bad case of "veteran-itis", like ned colletti does, what is, may never be ... i mean, it might not seem rational to you or I to prefer chavez to the obvious potential of laroche ... but then, it wouldn't be rational to you or I to prefer juan pierre, luis gonzalez and nomar garciaparra to andre etheir, matt kemp, james loney and andy laroche, the way nedly did last year ... i can see easily see a trade where chavez exchanges places with laroche as part of a larger exchange around haren or blanton ... i wouldn't say it's likely, but it's certainly more possible than it ought to be ...
2007-11-13 18:53:15
52.   cult of basebaal
and by the by, the hank steinbrenner era has officially worn thin with me ... STFU already and let Cashman does his job without you blathering to the f'ing papers every damn day
2007-11-13 19:06:59
53.   JL25and3
Farnsworth's VORP was 4.8, which is really bad. It's positive, but that just means he was better than a somewhat decent AAA pitcher. That's worse than Villone or Bruney; he contributed less in 60 innings than Kennedy did in 19.

Karstens did an amazingly efficient job of sucking away value with every pitch he threw. But Farnsworth did rank much higher in PWRRH - Pitchers We Really Really Hate.

2007-11-13 19:23:18
54.   Mattpat11
50 I think Farnsworth's numbers, which are unacceptable for a late inning reliever, only tell part of the story. The Farnsworth Rules on top of that make him even more mind numbingly useless.
2007-11-13 20:05:20
55.   monkeypants
53 54 Oh he was awful, to be sure.
2007-11-13 20:26:30
56.   Mattpat11
55 Don't say was. You'll jinx it.
2007-11-13 20:42:40
57.   Orly Yarly NoWai
The Yankees have offered Mo 3/45.

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