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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.