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A Cougar Returns

Posted By Matt Klaassen On January 20, 2012 @ 3:59 pm In Astros,Daily Graphings,Hot Stove 2011 | 31 Comments

Remember that show Cougar Town? Yeah, uh, me neither. I mean, I might have watched it once, and it was awful. Just awful. I mean, it was the Houston Astros of television programs. They canceled it, right? No? Great, what will the titans of the television industry think of next? A show starring Chelsea Handler’s mom and Laura “So In-Demand I Had To Stay On That 70s Show Until the Bitter End With Seth Meyers’ Even Less Talented Brother As My Love Interest” Prepon with her hair dyed blonde?

Okay, I apologize, that is just cruel… to the Astros. Don’t get me wrong — the Astros are in a bad place. But at least they have the prospect of getting out of it… eventually. But just when you thought things could not get worse for Houston, catcher Jason Castro, who missed the entire 2011 season with knee surgery, had to have surgery to repair damage done to his foot during the Arizona Fall League.

That is likely why the Astros have signed former Arizona and Pittsburgh catcher Chris Snyder to a one-year deal (with a mutual option — they must really admire the Kansas City model). Did you know that Snyder went to the University of Houston, whose mascot is a Cougar? What a coincidence, it fits right in with this clever introduction!

Snyder, who will turn 32 in February, has had his own injury problems lately, and missed most of 2011 with back problems. However, he is not a bad player. While his walk rate is likely inflated due to hitting eighth (in front of the pitcher) more than anywhere else during his career, he still has above-average plate patience. His strikeout rate is pretty high, and one should not expect a BABIP over .300 from him, but he does have a bit of pop (.164 career ISO).

Keep in mind that Snyder is a catcher, and the offensive expectations just are not that high. His .340 wOBA in 2011 was probably a small sample fluke (his .315 BABIP was the highest of his career, and the only time he has been over .300), but even his .304 and .303 wOBAs in 2009 and 2010 are not terrible for a catcher. Oliver is sees Snyder hitter better than that in 2012, projecting him for a .321 wOBA (.229/.333/.387). That is around league average overall, and very good for a catcher.

Snyder is also considered to be pretty good in the field. Catcher fielding is tough to measure, but the aggregate defensive ratings on his player page have him around average the last two seasons, which is confirmed elsewhere. Intriguingly, Snyder also rates very well in a recent study of pitch framing.

The biggest problem for with Snyder the last few seasons has been health — more specifically, his back. That is not good news for a catcher. He had surgery for it last season, and was on the disabled list with it in 2009, as well. That is probably a big reason why Snyder was on the shelf until this week, given that he hits and fields well enough (when healthy) for a catcher. So there is some risk here for the Astros.

Assuming the Astros are not paying Snyder more than the $5.75 million he made last season in Pittsburgh (details have not been released as of this writing, but I think that is a pretty safe assumption, until it isn’t), this is still a decent move for Houston. For one thing, no one wants to see Humberto Quintero as the first-string catcher. For another, even if Castro gets it together health-wise by the end of Spring Training, his record suggests having insurance in place is a good idea.

There is sometimes a case to be made against rebuilding teams signing a player like Snyder; sometimes teams working on a budget “nickel and dime” themselves on several mediocre role players rather than getting a player who might actually help them, or they might “block” and younger player with upside. But the Astros are not in a position to contend in the next few seasons, so there is not real benefit to signing bigger-money player (at whatever position) to a market-value deal. There is a non-zero value in not having horrible players on the field, and Snyder, while he comes with a risk, can help the team with at least average production overall when he is out there. If can stay healthy, might even have a little trade value. If Castro can get healthy, the Astros need to let him play, but it must also be said that Castro himself is no great shakes. Still, between him and Snyder, the Astros might get a full season of decent production at catcher.

And at worst, watching a Cougar alumnus catch can’t be worse than watching Cougar Town (zing!).

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