The Buccos Bring In Barajas

In 2011, the Pirates received 2.5 WAR and a 92 wRC+ out of their catchers, mostly because Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder spent most of the summer on the DL. Pittsburgh declined the duo’s expensive options after the season, and today they brought in a new backstop via free agency, former Dodger Rod Barajas. The damage: one-year and $4 million with a club option for 2013 worth $3.5 million. It’s not often you see an option worth less than money than the guaranteed years, but I digress.

At 36 years old, Barajas is a known quantity. He’s managed to match or exceed a .307 wOBA in three of the last four years, though his on-base percentage hasn’t been able to crack .295 since 2007 – he’s had to make up for it by providing power, which is exactly what he’s done. Barajas is a Grade-A hacker that can punish mistakes, hitting at least 11 homers in his seven seasons with 300 or more plate appearances. He’s gone deep at least 16 times in each of the last three seasons, something accomplished by exactly one catcher in the long history of the Pirates franchise: Jim Pagliaroni in 1965, who hit 17.

Barajas does have some defensive value, at least in terms of things we can measure. He threw out 25% of attempted basestealers in 2011 and has a career success rate of 31%, both right around average. Our fielding values have him ranging from -4.0 runs to +2.2 runs over the last four seasons, so while he’s not an amazing defender, he’s at least an upgrade over the likes of Doumit, anyway.

At $4 million, Barajas is currently the highest paid player on the team’s roster. Joel Hanrahan has a shot at exceeding that through arbitration, but work done by our own Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors forecasts a $3.9 million salary for the closer. The Bus are paying their new catcher to be worth just about one win, something Barajas should be able to do just by staying healthy and running into the occasional fastball. The move also allows them to be a little more patient with top catching prospect Tony Sanchez, the former fourth overall pick who had a rough go of it in Double-A this past season (.306 wOBA). It’s not a great value signing, but it’s hardly a disaster, and gives the Pirates some stability at a position where they’ve had a lot of turnover.

So far this offseason, we’ve seen three flawed players in Barajas (lack of OBP), Juan Rivera (declining pop), and Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder problems) sign for a $4M base salary in 2012, essentially setting the market for mediocre role players. Willie Bloomquist got half that annual salary as part of a two-year pact.

The rising prices for filling out the bottom 20% of a team’s roster is showing that teams do place a value on below average but better than replacement level players. Like his fellow free agents to sign so far, Barajas isn’t a difference maker, but he provides some security against disaster, and teams are showing that they’re willing to invest in these kinds of insurance policies.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

10 Responses to “The Buccos Bring In Barajas”

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  1. Steve says:

    Another 5 Barajas and the Pirates will get the full value of a Pujols.

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  2. PiratesHurdles says:

    Probably the 2nd best catcher available on the market, not bad on a cheap one year deal.

    I found that Pirate C HR history stat fascinating.

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  3. VS says:

    Jaramillo looked good in limited time last year, how do you think playing time will be split?

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    • Blue Jays Fan says:

      Barajas isn’t more than a 450 PA catcher anymore, but the Pirates will most likely use him that much if he stays healthy and somewhat productive because he’s earning the most on the team. Jaramillo could pick up most of the remainder, as Sanchez will probably be a September call-up only

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  4. NM says:

    Ah, Rod the Bod is funny…. and painful. When the Mets signed him for the 2010 season but I didn’t expect much considering the terrible on-base rates. He was pleasantly surprising though; he punished just about any fastball left up in the zone and managed to post an .844 OPS with 11 HR in less than 150 AB across the first 2 months of the season. Unfortunately, he pretty much fell off a cliff from there; his slash line from June until August 19th (his last game with the Mets before being dealt to the Dodgers) was .163/.223/.221. Yeah. And his at bats were every bit as painful as that would have you to believe.

    Anyway, he’s nothing more than 1 WAR catcher, but I guess I’m just trying to give Pirates fans some perspective of what expect; he can be a fun hitter to watch when he gets a fastball to his liking but his swing-for-the-fences-at-every-pitch plate approach will equally drive you nuts.

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    • Drew says:

      If you think watching Barajas hit in June, July, and August was painful, you should have tried watching Kelly Shoppach hit in any month last season.

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  5. LRG says:

    I’m a pirates fan but wasting time writing about this dead, decaying franchise is a waste of time. If the cubs cant win a world series, the pirates sure as hell never will. It’s sad that such an awesome sports market is being exploited by a greedy owner that realizes the loyal fan base will dish out money regardless of the product on the field. The thing Bob Nutting doesn’t realize is that IF he were to go out and get Prince Fielder and say CJ Wilson this year in Free Agency, (which would be about an extra 40-45 million a year on the pay roll) he would get that money back tenfold. Pittsburgh was a baseball town before it was a football town or so my dad says and if we got some serious Major League players, PNC Park would be filled on a nightly basis and that’s a fact.

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  6. Steve C says:

    No mention of catcher framing?

    Sure it may be new research, but you can probably write Barajas in for a 10 run improvement over Doumit.

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    • mickeyg13 says:

      The catcher framing statistics are very cutting edge and very interesting to me. The Mike Fast study from BP indicated that Barajas, despite being below average at framing, is nevertheless a significant upgrade over Doumit in that department. An older study showed Barajas as being pretty good. There are still lots of questions in this arena, but it’s very interesting data to look at.

      I wonder if perhaps the Pirates have their own proprietary technique that shows that Barajas is indeed quite good at framing and/or game calling. In recent years they’ve become more and more interested in sabermetrics…

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