Life after Littlefield: Pirates 2012 Recap: Catcher


Jarrod Blumer, Contributor

I’m going to start this post by saying that the Pirates have not had a “real” catcher since Jason Kendall was traded by the one and only, Dave Littlefield.  Since then, it has been a revolving door behind the plate, as the Pirates have had 17 different catchers play a game for them since the beginning of the 2005 season until now.

And that brings us to now, with the Pirates catching duties from the past season being filled by veteran Rod Barajas and backup Michael McKenry.  Evaluating a catcher is tough to do, primarily because there are so many attributes that make a good major league catcher.  He has to play, at the very least, above average defense. He has to be able to control the opposition’s running game.  He has to be able to handle an entire pitching staff. And on top of all that he has to be able to hit to a certain extent.  Barajas and McKenry rarely did any of those 4 things mediocrely, let alone above average.

We’ll start with Rod, beginning with what he did best and ending with what he did worst.  Out of the 4 things mentioned above, Hot Rod excelled the best in his ability to handle the Pirates’ pitching staff.  The relationships that he developed with some of the pitchers, mainly AJ and Wandy, allowed them to pitch at ease knowing they had a trustworthy battery-mate.  It was really the only reason why he was getting more starts than McKenry down the stretch. At least that’s the only logical explanation.  Next would be his defense, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with his handling of the staff, where he had 6 errors, 7 passed balls and 25 wild pitches in 827 innings.  Those really aren’t numbers to write home about.  Following that would be his hitting, or lack there of.  With a slash line of .206/.283/.343, it’s safe to say that the Pirates were expecting much more from their $4 million starter, even though he is 36 years old.  Now it’s time to discuss Rod’s ability to prevent stolen bases.  Honestly, it was flat-out embarrassing.  He threw out 6% of runners trying to steal this year.  That was the lowest of any regular in the entire MLB.  So that sums up everything you need to know about how bad Rod was this season.

I’m getting this out of the way now; I don’t care what kind of personality traits you label players.  This goes for anyone who thinks that idea of Michael McKenry being “scrappy” matters at all, because it doesn’t.  The fact that McKenry wasn’t anyone’s personal catcher (AJ and Rod) isn’t all that significant because this was really his first full season, which was only 88 games, in the big leagues.  He was a little bit better defensively with 3 errors, 2 passed balls and 20 wild pitches.  Offensively, McKenry was better than Barajas (.233/.320/.442) and also more consistent.  As for dealing with base runners, The Fort was better than Rod there to with a CS% of 17%.

Everything is right there in front of us.  The only good quality that Rod brings is that he is best buddies with AJ, which when it comes to winning baseball games means almost nothing.  McKenry still has some room to grow, but at 27 catching is only going to wear on him more.  So the Pirates have 2 options: give Tony Sanchez a chance or sign a worthy free agent to replace Rod (Hint: Mike Napoli.)