Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed free agent first baseman Lyle Overbay to a one-year, $5 million contract. Overbay’s addition moves Garrett Jones to right field to platoon with Matt Diaz, another free agent pick-up. And, with Chris Snyder set to start behind the plate, the Overbay signing further diminishes Ryan Doumit‘s role with the Pirates.
Considering that Doumit’s $5.1 million salary makes him the second-highest paid player on the team (Snyder technically makes more at $5.75 million, but the Bucs got $3 million from Arizona last July to cover a portion of his contract), it’s highly unlikely that he opens the 2011 season in Pittsburgh. But, if and when the Pirates do find a trade partner, they won’t obtain much more than salary relief.
Turning 30 in early April, Doumit’s an intriguing player in the abstract. After all, he’s a career .268/.332/.438 hitter with a .333 wOBA in 1,900+ major league plate appearances. Adjusted for league and park factors, Doumit’s bat has been five percent better than the average hitter (105 wRC+). The switch-hitter isn’t all that patient, with a career walk rate of 6.8 percent, but as his .170 Isolated Power shows, he’s capable of driving the ball. It’s difficult to find a catcher capable of such offensive production – the cumulative line for MLB squatters last season was .249/.319/.381.
The Pirates likely used that line of thought when they signed Doumit to a contract extension two winters ago, including in the deal club options for 2012 ($7.25 million) and 2013 ($8.25 million) that must be picked up or rejected simultaneously following the 2011 season. Unfortunately, it’s now clear that Doumit’s lack of durability and his defensive woes make him a less interesting real-world proposition for MLB clubs.
Doumit has spent a chunk of the season on the DL in each of the past five years. According to the Baseball Injury Tool, Doumit tore his left hamstring in 2006, sprained his left wrist and ankle in 2007, fractured his left thumb in 2008, had right wrist surgery in 2009 and suffered a concussion this past year. He has had injury issues dating back to his prospect days, when back, knee, hand, and elbow ailments slowed his ascent to Pittsburgh. Doumit is injury prone, and playing such a physically taxing position exacerbates those problems.
Of course, there’s also the issue of whether Doumit is someone you want catching even when he is healthy. Measuring catcher defense is difficult due to the interdependence between battery mates. But in what we can currently quantify, Doumit’s living up (down?) to the “No-Mitt” moniker that dogged him in the minors.
Baseball-Reference lists Total Zone catcher defensive stats, looking at stolen bases allowed, caught stealing, errors, pickoffs, passed balls and wild pitches (adjusted for pitcher handedness) and then converts those numbers into a run value above or below average. Per 135 games behind the dish, Doumit rates as a -8 run defender. Matt Klaassen has his own measure of catcher defense (methodology here), using linear weights saved above or below average in terms of fielding errors, throwing errors, passed balls and wild pitches, and caught stealing. Doumit finished in a three-way tie for last place among all major league catchers in 2010 at -9.4 runs below average, due in large part to throwing out just 11 base runners in 90 stolen base attempts (12 percent). For comparison, other Pirates catchers threw out 36 percent of would-be base thieves.
If Doumit could stay on the field and hold his own at catcher, he’d be pretty valuable. But as an oft-injured player with dubious defensive qualifications, he looks to be entering a phase of his career in which he’s a dime-a-dozen first baseman/corner outfielder who only occasionally crouches. Perhaps a team like the Padres or the Blue Jays will take him on if the price is minimal. But if he’s not a catcher, Doumit loses much of his appeal.