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!