April Is Good (and Big Catchers)

April is a good time.  After the month-long tease of Spring Training, we finally have major league baseball games again that count toward the championship season.

Only three or four games into the 2013 season, we’ve seen Bryce Harper become the youngest player to hit two home runs on Opening Day and the fourth youngest player to hit a home run on Opening Day, Clayton Kershaw become only the second pitcher since at least 1916 to pitch a shut out and hit a home run on opening day (Hall of Famer Bob Lemon did it in 1953), and Yu Darvish come within one out of a perfect game.  That’s what we’ve been waiting for since the 2012 World Series ended five months ago!

One start into his major league career, Hyun-Jin Ryu, the 2012 off-season’s most exciting foreign signing, looks like the real deal.  While he took a hard-luck loss against the Giants, he allowed only one earned run in 6.1 innings pitched and struck out five while walking none.  However, he also allowed 10 hits and two unearned, suggesting he’s still got some things to learn about pitching to major league hitters compared to those in the Korean Baseball Organization.

I read somewhere during Spring Training that Ryu was probably only a fourth or fifth starter in MLB.  However, his spring training numbers didn’t show it.  In six starts and seven appearances this spring, he had a 3.29 ERA with a pitching line of 27.1 IP, 17 hits, one HR, eight BBs and 27 Ks.  You couldn’t ask for much more than that from a pitcher pitching against major league (and high minors) hitters for the first time.

I’m sure Ryu still has some things to learn, he could blow out his pitching arm before the 2013 season’s over, and I still think he needs to lose a few pounds, but so far he hasn’t done anything to suggest he isn’t worth the big contract the Dodgers gave him.

I read yesterday on mlbtraderumors.com that the Orioles tried, but were unable, to sign catcher Matt Wieters to a long-term contract extension this Spring.  This may be the best contract the Orioles never signed.

Catchers Matt Wieters’ size (he’s listed by baseball reference as 6’5″ and 240 lbs) very rarely have long major league careers.  Of the top 20 catchers all-time in terms of games played at the position, the largest to date was Lance Parrish, who baseball reference lists as 6’2″ and 210 lbs (fangraphs says he weighed 220 lbs).

Players at all positions are steadily getting bigger, and A. J. Pierzynski (who is listed as 6’3″ and 235 lbs, is currently 27th all-time in games played at catcher, and has averaged 124 games caught per season for the last three years) is only 75 more games played away from jumping up to 19th all-time in games caught.  However, the only other catcher of that size in the top 30 is Ernie Lombardi (6’3″ and 230 lbs) who is currently 28th all-time.

Matt Wieters has played 126, 132 and 134 games at catcher the last three seasons, and, so long as he doesn’t get hurt, is likely to play roughly that many each of the next three seasons before he becomes eligible for free agency.

I’ve written many times over the last few years about how the Twins should stop running Joe Mauer (6’5″, 230 lbs) out at catcher 120+ games a year at catcher, and Brian McCann (6’3″, 230 lbs), who had his best two offensive seasons at ages 22 and 24 and has seen his OPS drop each of the last four seasons, is pretty much the poster-boy for the problems with playing a man that size at catcher 120+ games a season year after year.

Wieters is represented by Scott Boras, which usually means that it will take the absolute maximum to get Wieters signed long term.  If the O’s plan to play Wieters 130+ games a year at catcher for the next three seasons, they’d almost certainly be better off letting some other team give him the ginormous contract he’ll get as a free agent.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball History, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals

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