Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The 20 Free Agent Catchers this off-season, and who is the best one for the Twins?

In a recent interview, Twins' General Manager Terry Ryan indicated that one of his off-season targets should be a catcher to complement ("take a load off", in his words) Kurt Suzuki in the Twins' lineup.  The free-agent route, is the most likely way for this to happen, and this is a pretty decent class at Catcher:

There are twenty Catchers in this class of MLB and high level MiLB free agents:

Bryan Anderson, 28, LHB, 6'1"/200 lbs.  2015: MLB: .400/.429/.400 (8 PA); AAA: .202/.273/.288 (322 PA). 2014: AA/AAA: .320/.397/.538    - Career MiLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 17%

Nevin Ashley, 31, RHB, 6'1"/215 lbs. 2015: MLB: .100/.143/.150 (21 PA); AAA: .306/.374/.442 (381 PA) - Career MiLB Average 36% CS%, 2015: 33%

Alex Avila, 28, LHB, 5'11"/210 lbs. 2015: MLB: .191/.339/.287 (219 PA); 2014 MLB: .218/.327/.359 (457 PA)  - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 34% ; 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .203/.355/.311

Carlos Corporan, 31, SHB, 6'2"/240 lbs. 2015: MLB: .178/.244/.299 (121 PA); 2014 MLB: .235/.302/.376 (190 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 32% ; 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .155/.244/.268 (weak side)

Brett Hayes, 31, RHB, 6'1"/210 lbs. 2015: MLB: .156/.229/.438 (36 PA); 2014 MLB: .135/.151/.212 (53 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 32%

Chris Iannetta, 32, RHB, 6'0"/230 lbs 2015: MLB: .188/.293/.335 (373 PA); 2014 MLB:.252/.373/.392 (373 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 32%

Erik Kratz, 35, RHB, 6'4"/240 lbs. 2015: MLB: .192/.214/.269 (28 PA); 2014 MLB:.276/.290/.517 (31 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 30%

Gerald Laird, 35, RHB, 6'1"/230 lbs 2015: AAA: .308/.345/.346 (29 PA); 2014 MLB:.204/.275/.257 (167 PA) - Career MLB Average 35% CS%, 2014: 27%

Jeff Mathis, 32, RHB, 6'0"/205 lbs. 2015: MLB: .161/.214/.290 (103 PA); 2014 MLB:.200/.263/.274 (195 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 28%

Michael McKenry, 30, RHB, 5'10"/205 lbs. 2015: MLB: .205/.329/.402 (152 PA); 2014 MLB:.315/.398/.512 (192 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 28%
   
Dioner Navarro, 31, SHB, 5'9"/205 lbs. 2015: MLB:.246/.307/.374 (192 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .274/.317/.395 (520 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 32% 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .237/.291/.333. (weak side)

Wil Nieves, 38, RHB, 5'11"/190 lbs. 2015: MLB: .077/.143/.308 (14 PA)  ; 2014 MLB:.254/.270/.344 (128 PA)  - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 28%

Jordan Pacheco, 29, RHB, 6'1"/200 lbs 2015: MLB: .272/.333/.333 (78 PA)  ; 2014 MLB:.255/.299/.333 (165 PA)  - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 28%

Brayan Pena, 33, SHB, 5'9"/240 lbs. 2015: MLB:.273/.334/.324 (367 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .253/.291/.353 (372 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 28% 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .295/.347/.353. (strong side)
        
A.J. Pierzynski, 38, LHB, 6'3"/235 lbs. 2015: MLB:.300/.339/.430 (436 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .251/.288/.337 (362 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 28% 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .309/.342/.457.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 30, SHB, 6'4"/235 lbs. 2015: MLB:.225/.310/.435 (227 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .220/.320/.362 (435 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 28% 2015. MLB splits against RHPs: .208/.294/.390 (stong side)

Jhonatan Solano, 30, RHB, 5'9"/212 lbs, 2015: AAA:.228/.271/.311 (208 PA) ; 2014 AAA: .251/.305/.388 (374 PA) - Career MiLB Average 32% CS%, 2015 AAA: 32%

Geovany Soto, 31, RHB, 6'1"/235 lbs, 2015: MLB:.219/.301/.406 (210 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .250/.302/.363 (87 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 32%

Taylor Teagarden, 31, RHB, 6'0"/210 lbs. 2015: AAA:.305/.379/.452 (224 PA) ; 2014 AAA: .303/.403/.579 (211 PA) - Career MiLB Average 32% CS%, 2015 AAA: 24%

Matt Wieters, 29, SHB, 6'5"/230 lbs.  2015: MLB:.267/.319/.422 (282 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .308/.339/.500 (112 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 32%. 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .268/.325/.421 (weak side)


Who is the best one for the Twins?

First Cut (It is the deepest) :

Suzuki is a Right Hand Batter and has been hitting ok last season against LHPs (.257/.320/.338 vs .232/.284/.303 against RHPs.)    The Twins as a team hit  .242/.301/.393 against RHPs, which is a number (especially the BA and OBP) that needs to change, in order for the Twins to take the next step.  Thus: Regrets to right hand hitting catchers and goodbye to  Teagarden, Soto, Solano, Pacheco, Nieves, McKenry, Mathis, Laird, Kratz, Iannetta, Hayes and Ashley.  

This drops the field to just 8 contenders.  Which of those 8 (Matt Wieters, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Brayan Pena, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Corporan, Alex Avila, Bryan Anderson) would go to the next round?


Second Cut:

Even though former top 100 prospect Bryan Anderson is an intriguing possibility, and before this season had an  excellent minor league record, the Twins need a catcher who will be ready to take 300 plus PAs a season, since he will be facing RHP.  For this reason, Anderson and Corporan (despite the great pitch framing capabilities) do not fit the bill, for a competing team.  If the Twins were rebuilding, those two catchers, could potentially find themselves closer to the top of the list, but not now.

Attitude and chemistry is a bigger factor than most thing, and it was an important contributor to the Twins 2015 season. Both Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski have had issues in this department and it will be wise for the Twins to let them be someone else's problem.  Matt Wieters, Brayan Pena, Dioner Navarro and Alexi Avila are thus the final four.


Final Four:

Need a bit more scrutiny at this point.  Here are their stats as above:

Alex Avila, 28, LHB, 5'11"/210 lbs. 2015: MLB: .191/.339/.287 (219 PA); 2014 MLB: .218/.327/.359 (457 PA)  - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 34% ; 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .203/.355/.311

Dioner Navarro, 31, SHB, 5'9"/205 lbs. 2015: MLB:.246/.307/.374 (192 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .274/.317/.395 (520 PA) - Career MLB Average 28% CS%, 2015: 32% 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .237/.291/.333. (weak side)

Brayan Pena, 33, SHB, 5'9"/240 lbs. 2015: MLB:.273/.334/.324 (367 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .253/.291/.353 (372 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 28% 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .295/.347/.353. (strong side)

Matt Wieters, 29, SHB, 6'5"/230 lbs.  2015: MLB:.267/.319/.422 (282 PA) ; 2014 MLB: .308/.339/.500 (112 PA) - Career MLB Average 27% CS%, 2015: 32%. 2015 MLB splits against RHPs: .268/.325/.421 (weak side)

Let's look at a couple of Baseball Prospectus defensive metrics from 2015 (with Kurt Suzuki's for comparison's sake - plus each catcher's ranking)

Framing Runs:

75/109. Matt Wieters -0.7
87 Dioner Navarro -1.4
89 Brayan Pena -1.6
89 Kurt Suzuki -1.6
103 Alex Avila -3.7





Passed Balls/Wild Pitches Runs Saved:

8/109 Brayan Pena 3.8
19 Matt Wieters 1.8
25 Dioner Navarro 1.2
35 Kurt Suzuki 0.9
74 Alex Avila -0.9


At this point, clearly, Alex Avila is the worst defender in the group (all 4 have very similar CS%.)  His performance with the bat has also dropped from his 2011 All Star Peak, when he had .895 OPS to .736, .693, .686 and .626 OPS last season.  This is a scary progression, and even at potential bargain rates, Avila should not be the one for the Twins.   Three choices left. 

Both Wieters and Navarro had down seasons in 2015, Wieters' following Tommy John surgery.  Their left side of the plate is for both the weak side. The will both demand multi-season starting catcher contracts (in the 3/$28 M for Navarro and 4/$48 M range for Wieters, as baselines)  Wieters is the best of two defensively, has had a superstar trajectory and potential (but remember the Twins used to have one of those behind the plate,)  but Navarro is always highly praised by his pitchers, including David Price.  Pena had a good season in 2015, hitting an excellent .295/.347/.353 against RHPs, the left side of the plate is his strong side, and is a master of blocking balls on the dirt.  At 33 he is the oldest of the 3, but has better plate discipline than the other two and would likely be had with a 2 year, $7M contract at the high end.

At this point Navarro falls a bit in the middle.  He does not add much more than Pena and comes at a much higher cost.   Two choices left.

Wieters or Pena?   Eventhough Matt Wieters has superstar potential, is still young and could be had at a bargain price, he comes with risks:  He would require a longer term contract, more money and, maybe even more importantly the Twins' commitment that he will be their starting catcher for the future.  Do Suzuki plus Pena add to more than Wieters?  Potentially.  Pena's bat will play well against RHPs, he provides a low stout target for his pitchers and will definitely upgrade the defense in the positions.    The answer might had been different, if the Twins were not competing and did not have other holes to close, which would require part of the money to sign Wieters.  Plus Wieters will cost the Twins' 2016 first round draft pick.

So, in 1000 words, the Twins' new catcher should be:







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