Thursday, May 19

What good's a pitcher anyway?

...without an adequate catcher calling the game, that is. On this day-off for the Cubs I'm going to divert some of our collective attention from the closing pitchers and talk about our catchers for a moment. My curiosity was peaked when contemplating the decision yesterday by Baker to replace Michael Barrett by Henry Blanco in the bottom of the ninth inning -- after Barrett had called the entire game and part of that inning. Did Baker replace Barrett because he could see Dempster getting into trouble, and did he have more faith in Blanco in that position? After all, after Blanco entered the game Sanchez laid down a poor bunt allowing Dempster to get the lead baserunner out. He then got Lawton to hit the ball right to Hairston, Jr, who could have ended the game with a double play. Even after JHJ's error, he got the red-hot Jack Wilson to hit into a game-ending double play. Definitely good pitching by Dempster to get himself out of the jam, but some of that credit should go to Blanco for making the right calls.

So, did Dusty foresee that Blanco was the better man to catch Dempster in the ninth?

Well, not quite. I found that Barrett was pulled because of "recurring stiffness in his right shoulder,"(Yahoo! Sports) but before I found that out I was already salivating all over my computer at the prospect of digging up more stats before this weekend's series with our crosstown rivals. So without further adieu, here we go: Barrett has started 29 games so far this season and Blanco has started the other 9. The Cubs are 13-16 in games Barrett has started and 5-4 in games Blanco has started. Note also that two of Blanco's losses came during the Cubs' abyssmal 7 game losing streak, where the bats were notably quiet. In those two losses, the Cubs scored 1 and 2 runs, respectively, and allowed only 4 and 3 runs. Another feather in Blanco's cap: He was signed by the Cubs after being heralded as the best defensive catcher on the market.

So why isn't Blanco starting more regularly? Let's compare Barrett and Blanco offensively for a moment. Barrett was aquired before the 2004 season from the Montreal Ex-Nationals with the potential of being a great offensive player on the verge of his breakout year... and he didn't disappoint. Barrett hit a very respectable .287 in 2004, starting about 4 out of every 5 games, as Bako remained Maddux's personal catcher. However, this year he definitely started a little slow, batting .253 in March/April. However, in May his bat has gotten hot and he has hit .378 so far, already matching his RBI total for March/April. This yields a season average of .278, slightly higher than the league mean. Blanco started the year even worse, recording 1 hit in March/April for an average of .059. He also has done better in May, hitting .273 thus far.

So is Blanco the better catcher for the Cubs right now? I honestly don't know, but I think Barrett is pretty good behind the plate, and with his bat hot, I'd stick with him if I were managing... but I'll leave the question to the masses... give us all your thoughts!


At 1:53 PM, Blogger JT said...

I think it's hard to find that balance between incredible offensive catcher and experienced, steady pitch-calling catcher.

There aren't many out there that do both well on a consistent basis.

Cardinals - Yadier Molina calls a great game for such a young guy (although he does have catching in his blood, with 2 brothers on the Angels roster), but his offense is just as off/on as Blanco.

Tigers - I-Rod is a force with the bat, and yet his pitching staff always has an ERA on the edge and the danger of being stellar one game and fail to get out of the 1st inning the next.

Good examples of the "complete package"?

Joe Mauer is on his way in that respect, Paul Lo Duca is consistent in Florida, Javy Lopez just keeps getting better and better... I know I'm missing some here (thinking off the top of my head)... someone help me out.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger HappySam said...

this guy should be your chub of the week next week

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Jim said...

If you saw the game last year when Barrett threw his bat at a ball that was wide of the plate on a hit and run, and get the ball into the outfield, you know why Dusty likes him. He's a battler. If there is a way to get the job done, Barrett is going to find it.

Barrett worked all winter on his defense and improved it significantly. The concern now is with his shoulder. If he can't make that quick throw to second, Blanco's gotta be the guy behind the plate, although it might not matter with Maddux on the mound. I could steal second with him pitching.

By the way, the key to the weekend series with the Sox will be in keeping Podsednik off base. Before the season is over, pundits are going to be talking about the importance of the stolen base and the Sox shrewd move in acquiring the speedy outfielder.

That is, unless A-Rod can carry the Yankees on his back all the way to the World Series. Ten years from now, people will be arguing about whether A-Rod or Bonds was the greatest player of all time. Like they used to about Cobb and Ruth. And like Cobb, they will say that Bonds was a selfish player, while A-Rod, like Ruth, willingly made the transition to a new position for the benefit of the team.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Don't forget that Blanco has been Prior's personal caddy this year, and thus has had almost all of his starts at the same time as our best pitcher. That may have something to do with his superior won/loss record.

Give me Barrett any and every day over Blanco (well, everyday he is healthy, anyway).

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Before the 1963 season opened, the White Sox traded their All-Star short stop, Luis Aparicio, to the Baltimore Orioles, for the league's best reliever, Hoyt Wilhelm.

The 40-year-old Wilhelm had some of his best years with the Pale Hose, and in '63 he made 55 appearances while saving 21 games and winning 5 that year; he also lost 8.

Wilhelm, whose knuckleball was the best anyone has ever seen, struck out 111 batters that season, while walking only 30 in 136.1 innings. These were the days when a reliever came into the game and pitched until he couldn't get anyone out.

One July afternoon—I was sixteen at the time—my dad and uncle, both of whom had played a good deal of semi-pro ball before the Second World War, decided to take in a game at Comiskey Park. The Sox were playing the Yankees.

These were the Yankees of Mantle, Maris, Berra, and Whitey Ford. We expected to see some real fireworks, but the game went down to the wire without anyone scoring a run. I don't remember who started the game for either team, maybe Bob Turley for the Yanks and possibly Pierce for the Sox.

The Pale Hose won the game in the bottom of the ninth, when the Yankees pitcher loaded the bases and, and with two outs, hit the Sox' third baseman in the ribs with a pitch, forcing in the winning run.

This would have been a very disappointing game for a sixteen-year-old to watch except that the Sox brought in their new reliever late in the game to face the Yanks' mighty hitters.

No one had ever been able to actually catch Wilhelm's knuckler. Catchers mostly just tried to knock it down with some part of their boddies. The pitch jumped three times, exploding around the plate.

The Sox, however, came up with the idea of using a giant catcher's mitt, the size—quite literally—of a bushel basket. (If you don't know how big a bushel basket is, run on down to the farmer's market and check one out.)

In a double switch that day, the Sox brought in Sherm Lollar to catch Wilhelm. Lollar, who had the unenviable reputation as the slowest runner who ever played the game, was a big guy for those days, but the huge catcher's mitt was big enough for him to hide every part of his body behind except for his head and feet.

The idea behind the glove was that Wilhelm's knuckler would hit it and bounce down at the catcher's feet. But the amazing thing was that Lollar could actually catch the ball with the giant mitt. The really funny part was watching the catcher trying to dig the ball out.

After that year, the league created rules about just how big a catcher's mitt could be. It was decided that half the fun of watching Wilhelm pitch was the sight of a catcher scrambling maddly to actually catch the ball.

Consequently, managers would not bring Wilhelm into a game with runners on base, prefering to let him start an inning. The catchers were instructed not to bother to even try to catch the ball until the batter had two strikes on him. At that point, the catcher would do his best to knock the ball down and throw the runner out at first.

Wilhelm, who was born in 1922, didn't make it to the majors until he was thirty years old. He continued to pitch at that level until 1972, when he appeared in 16 games for the LA Dodgers at the age of 50.

In 1970, Wilhelm appeared in three games for the Cubbies, but he had no success and the Cubs traded him away to Atlanta, where he was considerably more effective. Windy Wriggley just played havoc with Wilhelm's knucler.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Lazlo said...

I have to bring up another example of Barrett's fighting nature, and offensive ability. Not only have I seen him effectively throw the bat at the ball, actually hitting the ball after the bat had left his hands, and drop the ball in for a hit, but I also remember a moment last year when in the ninth inning of a game the cubs were losing he showed bunt, pulled it back, and hit the ball to the wall for a triple. Anyone who has ever tried to swing after squaring around for a bunt knows that is an amazing feat.

Blanco was a great acquisition in the offseason, and he is no doubt an incredible defensive catcher, but Barrett is nothing to sneer at either. I have to wonder though, if management is depending too much on these pitchers calling their own games. They are all all-stars, and I think that perhaps some of them don't value the catcher's take on the game enough. I'd like to know more on that subject. Also, it's important to remember, as someone already said, that Blanco has been catching Prior, who is one of the best pitchers in the majors, while Barrett has been catching EVERYBODY, including Leicester, Hawkins, and all of our other non-all stars.

Both of these guys are great catchers, but if Barret's shoulder is healthy, he is going to start many more games than Blanco, simply because he is a better hitter.

At 12:29 PM, Blogger Hyposquasher said...

ok so i agree as with the general consensus, which seems to be...

Blanco was a good aquisition for his defensive catching ability, which is important. But as two of you pointed out (and I forgot when I made the original post) Blanco has in fact been catching our beloved Mark Prior. So the record thing that I pointed out sort of goes a little out the window.

Barrett is still a great catcher behind the plate and has the offensive pizazz to back it up, so as long as his shoulder (which is a concern for some of you, myself included) is healthy, he should be our day-in day-out catcher.

Did I pretty much get it? Cause it makes sense to me!

At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

happysam, I think I know who you are.

At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happysam is AdicaRoy.


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