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The most improved Reds position? Catcher
By Justin Inaz from On Baseball & The Reds.
[ March 3, 2009 at 2:05 PM ] [ Comments (2) ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Features | Reds ]
[ Tagged: , ]
This offseason, the Reds only made one substantial trade: they acquired  Ramon Hernandez and cash from the Orioles for Ryan Freel and a pair of  lesser prospects.  It didn't receive a lot of attention.  Both  Hernandez and Freel appear on the decline.  Moreover, Hernandez  received a lot of criticism about his effort level with the struggling  Orioles last season, while Freel has missed enormous amounts of time  over the last several years due to injuries.  To some, it seemed like a  pair of teams that were just swapping problem players.
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And yet, it may turn out to be the most important acquisition of the offseason, at least in terms of the Reds' win column.  The reason is that Hernandez, even in decline, represents a major upgrade over the 2008 Reds "starting" catcher, Paul Bako.

Last year, all Reds catchers (Paul Bako, Javier Valentin, David Ross, and Ryan Hanigan) combined for a 0.235 batting average, a 0.328 on-base percentage, and a 0.357 slugging percentage (in shorthand, we can write that as: 0.235/0.328/0.357) in 753 plate appearances.  Those are pretty ugly numbers, driven downward largely by the 0.217-hitting Bako. 

And yet anyone who hits above 0.000 will contribute runs to a team now and then.  We can get an idea of how many runs the 2008 Reds catchers were worth using an approach called linear weights.  Essentially, we'll take all the plate appearance outcomes (singles, doubles, homers, out, etc) and assign each the typical number of runs that specific event generated in a typical inning last season.  Each single was worth around a half-run, each home run was worth around 1.4 runs because they sometimes occur with a runner on base, etc.  Then, we can sum up all the events' run values and get an estimated runs produced.  If we do that, we can estimate that the 2008 Reds catchers produced right around 75 runs, total.

How will Hernandez and his backup Ryan Hanigan compare this year?  Well, we can get an idea of this by looking at projections from my preferred system, CHONE.  CHONE projects Hernandez to get 467 PA's next season, based on past playing time and aging.  If we take his projected playing time, and then fill in the remaining PA's with projected Hanigan PA's to match the 2008 catcher plate appearance total (again, 753 PA's), we get an estimate of 2009 Reds catchers hitting 0.264/0.337/0.408 and producing an estimated 96 runs.  That's a 21-run improvement, which is probably worth around 2 extra wins next season!

That's a big improvement coming from one position.  For comparison, we're talking about roughly the same difference in offensive performance between Torii Hunter vs. Mark Teahen last year.  Or Troy Glaus vs. Ryan Theriot.  Or Alex Rios vs. Marco Scutaro.  Hernandez was a pretty nice pickup, especially given how little he cost.

The X-factor in all of this, of course, is fielding.  Hernandez used to have a good defensive reputation, but last year was given very poor marks and saw many of his measurable statistics decline.  Bako, in contrast, was probably about an average receiver.  If Hernandez's fielding skills don't rebound, the improved runs margin might shrink down to a single win or less.  As a Reds fan, of course, my hope is that a change of scenary will help him get back to being an average defender.  If that's the case, catcher could be a place where the Reds are demonstrably better this season...and we need as many of those places as we can get.

Justin Inaz is a life-long Reds fan who is surprised to recently be feeling slightly optimistic about this season.  He writes about the Reds and baseball at On Baseball & The Reds.

2 Comments | Leave a comment

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