Shoppach to the Rays

After getting a putrid .274 wOBA from the catcher position in 2009 (thanks Navi!), the Rays picked up Kelly Shoppach from the Indians today in exchange for the ubiquitous player to be named later. As an arbitration-eligible 30-year-old coming off a mediocre season, and with hot catching prospect Carlos Santana nearly major league ready, the Indians weren’t overly attached to Shoppach, so the price in talent was right for the Rays.

What will Shoppach offer the Rays? Significantly more power than you expect from a catcher, for certain. Shoppach has a career ISO of .208, lining him up with players such as Nick Swisher and David Wright. The ability to drive a fastball is what got him to the big leagues, but it comes with a flaw – Shoppach is an all-or-nothing hitter who strikes out an awful lot.

His career K% of 37.3% puts him in the company of notable whiffers such as Mark Reynolds and Jack Cust. Given how often he misses when he swings, low batting averages are inevitable. It might be tempting to look at Shoppach’s career .241 BA and think that last year’s .214 means he’s in for a bounce back, but in reality, last year may represent more of his true talent.

Shoppach’s .257 batting average from 2006 to 2008 was propped by an insanely high .366 batting average on balls in play. It would be one thing if he was a guy who could run well, but as a big slow catcher, that number was just shocking. Not surprisingly, it fell to a more normal (for his speed) .286 BABIP last year, and his average went south with it.

So, Tampa fans shouldn’t expect too much of a bounce in the batting average. He’s a guy who will hit in the low .200s, simply because of his contact issues. But the reward for all this striking out is some serious power and a decent amount of walks, adding up to a better offensive package that you usually get from a catcher. Even with the .214 average a year ago, Shoppach’s wOBA was .329, making him a league average hitter.

Catchers who can hit at a league average rate are pretty valuable. Given his overall production, Shoppach projects as something like a +2 win catcher if given regular playing time. He’s likely to be worth $7 to $9 million next year, and due to his poor 2009 season, he won’t get anything close to that in arbitration. The Rays picked up a nice player at something of a discount, as they have been known to do.

One last note on Shoppach – don’t read too much into his huge L/R splits. He has less than 300 career PA against LHPs and the numbers against them are inflated by that flukey high BABIP. In general, you need some pretty large samples to start making real decisions on whether a guy has abnormally large true talent platoon splits, and we just don’t have that kind of data for Shoppach. It’s much more likely that his numbers against LHPs will regress next year and his platoon split will end up looking fairly normal. Don’t write him off as a part-time player just yet.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

26 Responses to “Shoppach to the Rays”

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  1. Samuel says:

    I think you’re being a bit pessimistic about Shoppach’s chances for a rebound, since he hits the ball so hard. His .350+ career BABIP before this past season may be a bit high, but I bet he posts an above average BABIP despite his speed this year since everything he hits is a rocket. I’d expect something more like .240 or .250 than .220 again, but then I suppose hitters of his profile will always be heavily reliant on luck to fuel their batting average.

    The thing I’d wonder about is whether he can maintain his walk rate. It’s risen the past two years, after he finally started getting regular at-bats, so if he can keep it around %10 like it was last season he’ll still have at least a league average OBP, and when all half hits are going for extra bases that’s pretty good for a catcher.

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  2. Jon says:

    As a Cleveland fan, I watched quite a bit of Shoppach over the last few years. One thing to consider is that his OBP in 2009 was inflated since he was hit by an ungodly number of pitches. Is HBP a repeatable skill? I don’t know if anyone has looked at year-to-year correlation, but if that goes down, he doesn’t get on base at nearly the same rate he did in ’09, which would make that wOBA figure drop quite a bit (if you’re right, as I suspect you are, about his “real” BABIP skill being in the .280 range).

    I’m glad he’s gone, because in Cleveland in 2010, there’s no way he would be worth $3 million for one or two marginal wins when we’re looking at 70-75 wins anyway. Perhaps the Rays will have more use for him, but I say let the Marson-Torregas-Santana era begin in earnest.

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    • Bodhizefa says:

      Yes, HBP is a repeatable skill.

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    • hello says:

      HBP is absolutely a repeatable skill. Chase Utley has led the majors for the last 3 years in HBP with 25, 27, and 24. Carlos Quentin is another guy who gets hit at a rate of about 20 per season (if he ever stayed healthy).

      Shoppach got hit a lot in ’08 too, though not as much as he did in ’09. He’s still a magnet, though.

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  3. Guys who hit in the .215′s are going to be overrated when you look at a stat like OBA. Because the way it’s calculated, OBA is going to assume that a given hitter has an “average” BA, and consequently drive in an average amount of runs. When you’re hitting .215, you’re not going to drive in an average amount of runs. Shoppach drove in just 12.1% of the guys on base in front of him in 2009, including a paltry 8% who were on 2nd base. A guy who drives more of his OBA (or OBP and slugging, whatever) from singles is going to drive in more runs than a guy who walks and gets hit by a lot of pitches.

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    • Tom Coughlin says:

      that’s true, though from the Rays perspective Navi hit for a .258 wOBA last year, so a 70 point upgrade from a position is still a great move when you’re most likely giving up one of your #25-40 ranked prospects.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      That’s why we use wOBA, which is based on linear weights and accounts for the run production of individual events.

      wOBA, not OBP. They’re different.

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      • Ahh thanks, I had assumed that OBA was valuing walks and singles equally.

        Still something stinks about your player valuation in this article. One one hand you contend that Shoppach is an $8 million player, yet we can see that a large percentage of GM’s in baseball value him no higher than what he’s likely to get in arbitration… yet you contend that your player values are directly derived from what baseball GM’s think FA’s and players available in trade are worth.

        Why is that? Do GM’s not value OBP and Slugging? Do they not value average catching skills? Obviously some of the error lies in things like baserunning and productive outs, which Shoppach is pretty bad at, but certainly not $4 or $5 million worth of error.

        Or is it, that your underlying player valuation model is incorrect?

        It’s actually option B. For years there has been talk about how baseball isn’t a free market system. Which essentially is correct. However when you read things like “However, a huge share of those wins were created by players whose salaries were not determined by a free market system. Every player with zero to six years of service time had an artificially depressed salary due to not being able to qualify for free agency.” you can see that the writer has forgotten the most basic principle of economics- supply and demand.

        If baseball was a totally free market. Each player signed contracts for only one year, and had free agency granted every year. No draft, no arbitration, ect. What would happen? Would the MLB owners suddenly decide to increase their player budgets 60% as suggested by your player valuation model? No, of course not. Some players would certainly get more than they’re getting now – but other players would get less, and amateur signing bonuses would become non-existent (and by the way, you haven’t included non-drafted FA money in your calculations, have you?)

        When free agents get contracts after the season, there is some element of scarcity involved. In a true “free market” the scarcity would only be for the top players. You may see a greater stratification of salaries, but you certainly wouldn’t see the owners on a yearly basis increase their payrolls like your valuations imply.

        Basing your valuation model on only players who were free agents makes as much sense as basing it on rookies or third year players. All teams have access to free agents, and they all have access to a minor league system and other team’s tradeable players.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Your comments simply understate that you don’t really get the point of the valuation. Given that you don’t understand the metrics here, you’re not really qualified to figure out if they work or not.

        If you’re interested in learning, feel free to ask questions after you’ve read the explanations we’ve already written. If you’re just going to assume that I don’t understand supply and demand, or that different levels of service time affect salary, you’re not going to add anything to the site.

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      • djw says:

        Real Neal,

        If baseball was a totally free market. Each player signed contracts for only one year, and had free agency granted every year.

        If your idea of a perfect free market makes bans multiyear contracts, I’m afraid that means your even more confused about the meaning of the phrase ‘free market’ than you are about wOBA.

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  4. W. Palm Bch says:

    This is an upgrade for the Rays, and that’s what really matters at this point.

    Take one look at Navarro’s OBP last season and the fact that he was gonna be getting paid somewhere in the same league as Shoppach and you getta W for the Rays

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  5. John says:

    Part of me wonders if this was really a better option that just retaining Greg Zaun. Anyone else?

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    • BurGi says:

      They would make a great platoon behind the plate with Zaun getting most of the AB’s against RHP and Shoppach most against LHP as well as some against RHP.

      It’s just questionable whether Zaun accepts the arbitration offer or not!

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  6. lazlo_toth says:

    I love wOBA. Have since I first saw it. Easy to use, easy to understand, and a hell of a lot more useful than OPS. In my opinion, anyway…

    I’ve been a Tribe fan for ages, and I say the sooner we find out what Carlos Santana is about, the better. I don’t think anybody outside the stat-head community gets how much of an edge having a dangerous bat in the catcher’s spot can give you. Santana is expected to be that guy for Cleveland, and Shoppach is a nice player, but he ain’t going to be that guy. I seem to be one of the few people in Cleveland who thinks that Shapiro is a shrewd guy, and that a) the Lee & Martinez trades were forced on him, & b) he actually got a decent bunch of guys from the Phils and Bosox (come on, nobody was going to get Drabek or Buchholz, period).

    Real Neal has a point that OBA can be over-rated in certain situations. A guy who hacks a lot can make up for it with walks, but he’s got to hit at at least a .250 clip or he’s just the second coming of Dave Kingman.

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  7. Kampfer says:

    dave kingman the catcher isn’t bad

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  8. John P. says:

    I’m not sure you’re right about Shoppach’s lower BABIP being more indicative of his “true level” of performance. According to the indispensable BABIP calculator, Shoppach’s xBABIP in ’09 was .332, nearly 50 points higher than his actual balls in play average. The guy posted a LD% of 21.8%, which is pretty great.

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  9. lazlo_toth says:

    Dave Kingman the catcher probably isn’t bad. But he’s probably not good, either. And there’s always the question of how well does he field the position? The two really good catchers the Indians have had since they opened their current park (Sandy Alomar & Victor Martinez) were both decent fielders. Shoppach isn’t bad, either. If Dave Kingman were a gold-glove level catcher hitting .204 with 30 HR, I would absolutely take that because it’s definitely better than what most anybody else has got, and the runs he saves with his defense might make up the balance.. But if he was merely average defensively (or worse), It’d be hard to justify keeping him in the line-up.

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  10. Dave,

    Very mature. I quoted from your explanation of the dollar values that you’re applying to players. Which part of that did I not understand? Then I used sound logic to explain how your underlying assumptions are incorrect. So I have evidence and logic on my side, and you give an ad hominem and irrelevant response. If you don’t understand what I said, ask for clarification.

    Answer this simple question:

    If every GM evaluated players solely using the metrics that you support and every player was a free agent during this off-season, Kelly Shoppach would get an $8 million contract?

    If the answer is no, then what does your player value represent? If the answer is yes, then do you really think that MLB teams would have an average payroll of $150 million in such an environment? Because that’s clearly flawed. You’re discounting all the money that MLB teams lose on players who never make it to the majors, or make it to the majors and contribute sub- replacement values. Owners pay a lot of money to get 6 years pre-free agency ‘value’ from players. Scouts, front offices, coaches, signing bonuses, spring and fall training facilities, administration, legal and probably a dozen other costs that I can’t think of off the top of my head are all paid for by the “value” that they get from 1 productive rookie.

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    • Brent says:

      You’re accusing Dave of not understanding supply and demand and then asking if Shoppach would get an $8 million contract in a ridiculously artificial situation in which every player were a free agent? And that’s supposed to be evidence that their player valuation model is flawed?

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      • The evidence that the player valuation model is flawed is self-evident. Add up all the player valuations. Then add up all the player salaries and see if there’s a difference.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      I have no interest in getting into a pissing match with you. If you want to understand the metrics, take a humble tone and ask for help. Until then, you’re wallowing in ignorance.

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      • Thank you so much, master, for allowing me this time to reply to your comment. I can only thank the creators of the universes, various and sundry, that your benevolence has chose to shine its most holy light in my direction.

        Why do you keep replying, without answering any questions?

        Are you too lazy? Or do you realize that you don’t have valid answers?

        I gave you a straight forward yes/no question that you refused to answer last time, let’s try another one.

        Is there any reason to base the valuation on “free agent values” rather than rookie salaries?

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    • djw says:

      This whole post, but the last paragraph in particular, is just a string of non-sequitors. I have no idea what you’re actually trying to argue.

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      • You should have stopped with “I have no idea”.

        What I am successfully arguing is that this statment:

        “He’s likely to be worth $7 to $9 million next year”

        is false.

        Do you know what non sequitur means, or do you just like to throw it around hoping that it makes you sound informed?

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  11. drew says:

    I’ve watched Shoppach a decent bit and the one thing where I think Dave might be off is suggesting that Shoppach won’t have a split issue. He really struggles with breaking pitches. He’s an out waiting to happen when he faces a righty with decent slider.

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