Orginally presented on February 4 for the Cleveland chapter of SABR (Society of American Baseball Research), an in-depth player/positional analysis was performed to see how the 2012 Indians will fare. This is part one of a 15 part series that will be released over the following two weeks. Part I and Part III.
Cleveland has one of the more ideal catching tandems in baseball: Carlos Santana, despite the low average last season, is one of the better offensive catchers and Lou Marson, a solid to above-average defensive tactician. Santana can also handle first base, where he was a solid, league average defender, which allows Marson to start in certain situations without losing one of the team’s top two bats.
In his first full season, Santana’s average failed to top .240, but he posted solid peripheral stats: his walk rate, a staggering 14.7%, was tops among catchers and the eighth highest in baseball, and his slugging percentage, .457, was fifth highest at the position and nearly 60 points above the league average. Offensively, his total contribution was 20% above the league average and was worth just shy of four wins last season.
Historically, he’s walked in more than 15% of his 2171 minor league plate appearances, and has improved during his brief not-quite-year-and-a-half big league career. Simply put: he’s one of the most patient hitters in baseball, at any level. And he complements that with 25+ homerun power.
Despite the potent bat and patient approach, he’s not the type of hitter to swing-and-miss much higher than the league average. He tends to put the ball in play, and his average will likely rebound quite a bit, thanks in large part to poor luck in the form of a low BABIP, .263. Along with a decent bump in average, he could also see a moderate improvement in his on-base percentage and his power output should, at the very least, hold firm.
The jump in OBP will be directly related to his batting average normalizing, not from an improvement in his already spectacular walk rates, and it should reside somewhere in the .375 to .385 range. On the flip side, it is difficult envisioning Santana topping both his homerun, 27, and double, 35, totals, both indicative of his past minor league track record.
Overall, he could see a one win of improvement. And with his ability, and the team’s willingness to occasionally move him from behind the plate, he should stay relatively fresh throughout the year too; look for him to get about 150 PA at first next season.
Lou Marson, on the other hand, is the yin to Santana’s yang, hitting .230/.300/.296 in 272 plate appearances last season. His offensive contribution was 33% below the league average, and, yet, he was worth about one full win. How? His work behind the plate, but more specifically: throwing out base runners. Among catchers with 600+ innings, Marson threw out 38.5% of the nearly 80 attempted base stealers, the third best total.
Marson, who’s less than three months younger than Santana, is, simply, what he is. A solid, defensive-minded backup catcher, and one of the better ones in baseball, but he’s not going to hit much better than his 2011 output. He’s a career .269/.366/.385 hitter in the minors, and in parts of four major league seasons, he’s hit .218/.295/.305, with little or no power and decent walk rates.
With Santana’s likely improvement and Marson’s repeatable production, Cleveland catchers should see a 1.5 win improvement.