It has been a rough week for the population of former Montreal Expos in the major leagues. On the heels of Nick Johnson’s retirement, former Expos, Nationals, Mets, and Phillies catcher Brian Schneider announced that his baseball playing career was over. Schneider started his professional career after being drafted by the Expos back in 1995, when they still may have seemed to have a viable future in Montreal (remember that 1994 team?). Schneider was never a star or even a “what if” guy like Johnson, but he he did manage to play 13 seasons in the majors. Schneider was hardly a career backup, either, as he started at least 95 games at catcher every season from 2003 to 2008. He was not ever an average bat (other than in his 48 plate appearance stint in 2001), but he was not terrible, especially considering his position. Schneider was good defensively. He threw out more base runners than average, and the limited records we have show Schneider to have been good at framing pitches.
Schneider was on two teams (the 2010 and 2011 Phillies) that made the postseason, but never got a plate appearance in the playoffs. Schneider may not have been much more, at least by the numbers, than an adequate catcher with a diverse combination of skills, but even players like that can have some pretty exciting hits. As we often do on these occasions, let’s take a look at Schneider’s three biggest hits according to the “story stat,” Win Probability Added (WPA).
On June 3, 2006, two bad teams, the Nationals and the Brewers, were in a showdown. Ned Yost was managing the Brewers, still a couple years from getting fired with just a couple of weeks left in a playoff race, and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was managing the Nationals. The contest went back and forth, and in the top of the ninth, the Brewers sent their stud closer Derrick Turnbow (who would finish the year with 24 saves and a 6.87 ERA) to the mound. Turnbow gave up a single to rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Turnbow then tried to pick off Zimmerman, but made a bad throw and Zimmerman went to second. This became more significant when Turnbow then got what could have been a double play ball from Marlon Anderson if Zimmerman had been on first. That would have left the bases empty for Brian Schneider, who hit a home run that put the Nationals up by one, and ended up winning the game for them (.382 WPA).
If you thought the teams in the previous game were bad, on September 28, 2001, Schneider had a huge hit in a contest between two teams that each would end up winning fewer than 70 games. Remember when Bob Boone managed the Reds? Dmitri Young playing third base? Adam Dunn slugging .578 as a rookie? Good times.
Schneider himself started the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth that drove in Vladimir Guerrero, but Da Meat Hook tied things up in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. By the top of the ninth, the Expos were down 6-3, and the Reds sent our closer Danny Graves. Graves was a fairly effective closer for a few years despite a lack of strikeouts, but this was not to be one of his better outings. He gave up a single, got an out, another single, yet another single (which loaded the bases), a sacrifice fly to Guerrero, another run-scoring single, and then a walk to reload the bases. Still, there were two outs, the Reds led 6-5, and some catcher named Brian Schneider, without even 200 MLB plate appearances to his name, was at the plate. Schneider singled in Orlando Cabrera and Jose Vidro for what would turn out to be the game-winning hit (.552 WPA), although Young made a valiant effort in the ninth by opening the inning with a double off of Graeme Lloyd, then promptly getting picked off.
The Expos became the Nationals after 2004, and on April 12, 2005, they faced off against an Atlanta team that would eventually be vaulted into the playoffs by stud rookie Jeff Francoeur. However, April 12 was all about Brian Schneider. Okay, that is not true, but since he just retired, it sounds good. The 2005 season was probably Schneider’s best overall season, although 2004 has a claim, too. Even in 2005, .268/.330/.409 (94 wRC+) was more than acceptable from a starting catcher, especially one with a good glove.
The Nationals had a tough task ahead of them on April 12, as they were facing Tim Hudson, who had come over from Oakland in the off-season. Washington started the scoring in the fourth when Jose Vidro hit a home run off of Hudson, but the Jones Brothers drove in runs in the fourth and sixth, putting Atlanta up 3-1, a lead which persisted into the ninth inning. Facing Dan Kolb, the Nationals managed to load the bases with none out. Atlanta got a force at home, then Cristian Guzman hit a sacrifice fly to score Jose Guillen. Down 3-2, with runners on first and second and two out, the Nationals chances were still slim. However, Schneider drilled a double to center field that scored Nick Johnson and Ryan Church, putting the Nationals ahead (for good, as it turned out) 4-3, the biggest hit of his career (according to WPA — .678).
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