Actually, the title is a misnomer. This is a post about what Ned Yost thinks about his catcher position, and maybe about how baseball works in general. Yesterday, Ned Yost told the Kansas City Star that he was going to try and get Brayan Pena about 15 starts between now and the end of the season. That’s 15 of the final 49 games, or just a tiny bit more than a regular backup catcher might get.
This is on a team that features Jason Kendall as the first catcher. Kendall, who has lost all of his non-existent power (.091 career ISO, .044 this year) and is putting up a stellar 71 wRC+, for his whopping sixth year in a row with a sub-100 wRC+. He’s also 36 years old (or old as dirt in catcher years), and on a team with a 47-68 record that should be looking to next year, and yet the catcher is somehow on pace for 575 plate appearances.
Who knows how much promise Pena actually has. His .241/.285/.360 career line and 68 career wRC+ don’t scream ‘play me’ and do a lot to dampen the snark storm that would normally arise on a statement like Yost’s (a storm that is doing its best to permeate this column despite our best efforts to the contrary). But Pena does have a BABIP of .231 and an ISO of .038 right now, and those two numbers take much, much longer than 59 plate appearances to stabilize. In fact, those two stats would take longer than his 373 career plate appearances to become predictive. All we really have are his minor league numbers, and a catcher that can put up 180 walks to his 239 career minor league strikeouts deserves a little more attention from these Royals than he has gotten to date.
So we have a young catcher who is under team control for the next three years, and an old catcher obviously in decline who is under control just for next year. If we take current levels of production going forward, and use the math shown by Dave Cameron here, the old catcher would cost his team 4.7 batting runs above replacement assuming 34 games and 136 plate appearances while the young guy would cost his team 11.1 runs with the same playing time. Perhaps a team trying to create a ‘winning feeling’ in the clubhouse would care about those seven runs above replacement.
But there’s Pena’s BABIP. And his ISO. And his contact rate. If those returned (even mostly) to career levels – say, if we used the ZiPs projections from here on out – then Pena would cost the team only 2.4 runs in 34 starts. Since Kendall’s production right now is so in the norm for him, he would cost the team 4.5 runs going forward – he might actually be worse than Pena.
The worst part of this whole thing is – even if Kendall wasn’t worse than the youngster, wouldn’t a good organization pay a possible win in the standings to find out what they might have at a key position? Wouldn’t a coach that would like to stick around for next year want to know if the young guy could do more than just ‘work real hard?’ The fact that it’s not Pena taking the 34 starts, and Kendall the 15, is yet another reason why the snark storm always seems to settle around Kauffman Stadium.