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Shopping for Shoppach

Kelly Shoppach is a potential non tender or trade candidate this off season. But the soon-to-be 30 year old still does have value despite a disappointing 2009 season.

He’s destined for a raise after making nearly $2 million in 2009 and the Indians have a MLB ready catcher in Lou Marson whose waiting in the wings. And don’t forget about blue chip prospect Carlos Santana who will be banging on the MLB door after destroying Double-A pitching in 2009.

The former Baylor standout was the first college catcher selected in the 2001 draft by the Red Sox. They used their first available selection on him in the second round. He appeared on Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospect lists for a few seasons before being dealt away to Cleveland before 2006 in the Coco Crisp deal.

Shoppach spent time as Victor Martinez’s backup and when Martinez went down with injuries in 2008 Shoppach ran with the starting opportunity. He led all starting catchers in 2009 ISO (.256) in 353 at-bats. All in all he hit for a .370 wOBA but his .261/.348/.517 line was fueled by a .359 BABIP.

David G. successfully predicted a decline in Shoppach’s 2009 production. While Shoppach’s 2009 batting average plummeted to .214 he still reached base at an above average clip (.335) but his prestigious power that the hacktastic Shoppach previously featured vanished. In 89 games and 271 at-bats Shoppach slugged .399 with 12 home runs.

Shoppach was squeezed for playing time this season. Before some late season trades he was vying for playing time with Victor Martinez as the regular catcher and Ryan Garko at first base. Travis Hafner gobbled up DH time when his shoulder cooperated with him. Prior to the trades Shoppach would typically see playing time when Martinez played first base, Shoppach caught, and Garko hit the pine or saw time at designated hitter. Shoppach didn’t receive an ample opportunity to produce at the rate he did in 2008 until the trades of Garko and Martinez.

With the acquisition of Lou Marson (who also received a September call up and could start 2010 as the starting catcher) Shoppach doesn’t seem to fit in with the Indians. They already have another capable and cheaper back up in Wyatt Toregas. Marson and someone else (possibly Toregas) will likely keep the catching seat warm until Carlos Santana bursts onto the big league scene.

While Shoppach didn’t receive the best opportunity to replicate his 2008 showing he still presents value to other MLB clubs if the Indians do indeed decide to move on. Shoppach’s always been known as a strikeout prone (his strikeout rate is right up there with Jack Cust and Mark Reynolds at 36%) catcher with plus power and solid defense. Scouting reports usually treat Shoppach well in the defensive department. But for what its worth from a recent quantitative standpoint/analysis from new Fangraphs contributor Matt Klaassen AKA Devil_Fingers he was rated as a smidge below average in 2009 (#84 on the list and -1.5 totalruns).

While a throbbing .359 BABIP aided Shoppach’s stellar 2008 campaign a .286 BABIP cut into his 2009 slash stats. The average 2009 MLB hitters BABIP was .299 and that may lead you to believe that Shoppach’s 2009 BABIP normally regressed to the mean. But that is wrong. Shoppach’s consistently over performed the league average BABIP throughout his short career until 2009. Dating back to 2006 his BABIPS has been .286, .359, .357, and .387. It’s likely a fluke that this number remained so high in 2006 and 2007 despite just 110 and 161 at-bats.

This data tells us that Shoppach isn’t a .286 BABIP hitter and that number damaged his 2009 numbers heavily even though he walked and struck out at a similar rate to his 2008 season. The Hardball Times has the best BABIP estimator currently available and this trusty tool can paint a much better picture than raw BABIP. The new toy (and new Rotographs favorite) finds an estimated BABIP based upon his rate of HR’s, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and groundballs. This tool gives us a .332 BABIP for Shoppach in 2009 and a .322 mark for him during his 2008 career year. This estimator suppresses his 2008 numbers but does not damage them as much as alternative methods suggest.

Over Shoppach’s career (right around 900 at-bats) The Hardball Times BABIP estimator has his estimated career BABIP at .327 so his 2009 expected BABIP of .332 doesn’t sound out of line at all. This represents a much more realistic BABIP skill for Shoppach. A .332 BABIP for Shoppach in 2009 would have given him a .260/.381/.445 line assuming that all of those extra hits were singles. It’s fair to assume that his power would have increased more than the normal player with a boosted BABIP due to his known knack to hit for power so this revised projection might be a little light on the power side. I’d personally suppress the batting average and OBP a bit while adding some to the slugging percentage. That gives you some nifty production from the catcher position that some team will have to find resourceful if Cleveland decides to cut ties with the arbitration eligible Shoppach.

It’s worth keeping a close eye on Shoppach’s situation this off season especially since he doesn’t appear to fit Cleveland’s plans very well. Wherever he lands the month of March will likely be key to his future. If Shoppach receives ample playing time he should be a cheap source of power from the catcher position and can be had extra late in your drafts or plucked off of the waiver wire due to his uninspiring, yet misleading, 2009 campaign.