We conclude The Throwdown with a look at the NL Central catchers. Will a late edition to the hometown nine be enough to move them up from the cellar which they almost assuredly woud have dwelt in?
Chicago Cubs catcher: Geovany Soto
A clear cut favorite, Soto won the NL Rookie of the year in 2008 despite a late charge by fellow NL Central player Joey Votto. There are a lot of great things about Soto- his walk rate was above 11% last season, a tidy percentage no doubt. He also caught 141 games in his first major league season. On the negative side- he does strike out a lot, and he doesn't have a great "baseball body". But Babe Ruth didn't either! No, he didn't. But The Babe didn't play catcher for a team that consistently plays day games during the summer time. Just something to think about. He's a masher for sure, and should only continue to improve. Points Awarded: 6
Pittsburgh Pirates catcher: Ryan Doumit
While hampered with injury early in his career, Ryan Doumit wasn't able to make good on his potential. More than that he was a backup to Ron Paulino, and was forced to shuttle between left field, first base and catcher as a result. Last season saw the end to both of those trends, and Doumit responded by having a monster year. A solid LD% was able to help him get on base with more regularity than most players with BB% as low as his would. A good bat is hard to find at catcher, but the Pirates have found one. After signing a three year extension with the team this offseason, the future is pretty bright for Doumit. Points Awarded: 5
Cincinnati Reds catcher: Ramon Hernandez
After playing the past three seasons in Baltimore, Hernandez returns to the NL in 2009. He should Camden Yards though, after taking advantage of its tendency to give up home runs to righties. Great American Ballpark also has this tendency, so Hernandez should have an even better season than he did in 2008. Not having to face the other AL East teams and their pitching staffs should help as well. At 33, his throwing ability has regressed, but that's to be expected. The Reds got Hernandez for Ryan Freel and a few minor leaguers, and the Orioles got a clear path for VORP-darling Matt Wieters. Win-win. Points Awarded: 4
St. Louis Cardinals catcher: Yadier Molina
What sticks out about Molina is his BB:K rate. It's nearly 1:1. The best of any catcher in 2008, in fact. In exchange for that low K rate, Molina doesn't hit many home runs, or doubles for that matter. Any offense he offers the Cardinals is gravy, though. He shuts down opposing running games, and threw out a respectable 35% of potential base stealers last season. If you wanted to pick nits, I guess you could point out that he hit into 21 double plays last season, but he's a catcher, and that's what catchers do. Points Awarded: 3
Houston Astros catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
Rodriguez is an improvement for the Astros, due in large part to the players he is replacing. Lou Palmisano/Humberto Quintero/JR Towles showed the Astros nothing this spring. It would have been an embarrassment to field a team with two of those guys caddying for our pitchers and hitting in the eight slot on offense. Pudge comes to town as a one year rental, filling the interim period between Brad Ausmus and the arrival (hopefully) of Jason Castro in 2010. His EqA was an atrocious .208 last season with the Yankees, and he contributed nothing more offensively to the Yankees than Jose Molina was before Pudge's arrival. Still, this is probably a risk worth taking for the Astros in 2009. $1.5 million, and the team can have a "name" catcher. It won't help the team dramatically, but it will help Drayton sleep at night. Points Awarded: 2
Milwaukee Brewers catcher: Jason Kendall
The last player in The Throwdown series, Kendall does not hit home runs anymore. Well, he does but not with any regularity. Like Molina, Kendall doesn't strike out very much and will step into a pitch and take one for the team. Another positive about Kendall is his durability- he had 587 PA last season. Other than that, his OBP is still higher than his SLG%, and he will almost surely wear down this season after all that time behind the dish in 2008. Points Awarded: 1
Final Points Standings (10 comparisons):
Chicago Cubs- 49
St. Louis Cardinals-33
No way was I going to include a picture of Soto and a Cubs logo.
There ya have it. Congratulations go to the Chicago Cubs. In October 2009, when Cubs fans are engaging in their familiar autumn-time activity of complaining and crying tears of unfathomable sadness, they can look back on these days of blissful optimism and perhaps a smile will cross their sad, haggard faces.