Catch a Shining Star: Rookie Reds

After a brief taste in 2011 we will now be able to sit back and witness the rookie campaign of Devin Mesoraco.  He has been charged with a great responsibility given the departure of free agent catcher of Ramon Hernandez.  He can probably expect to share time with Ryan Hanigan as most MLB catchers do these days to protect them from the constant abuse of crouching on the job all day, but a lot of weight will descend on his young shoulders as he enters what will be considered his rookie season.  With encouragement from a reader of this blog I decided to look at a couple of Reds rookie catchers through the years.  Of course, it should be noted before I ever begin this exploration that it is unfair to judge any rookie against the likes of Johnny Bench but who said life is fair.  To make this a bit more interesting I decided to throw in other NL Central catchers to see if they measure up to standards our own #5 established over 40 years ago.

Only two teams in the storied history of baseball can claim to have 2 MLB Hall of Fame catchers wearing the uniform of the home team.  The New York Yankees with Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra and our own Cincinnati Reds with Ernie Lombardi and the only catcher ever elected on the first ballot by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Johnny Bench.  Let’s start by examining the “rookie season” of each of these men.  Major League Baseball defines the rookie season of a fielder as the season where they amass a total 130 Major League at bats.  Here they are:

Legend:

  • Game:  (G)
  • At Bats:  (AB)
  • Hits:  (H)
  • Home Runs:  (HR)
  • Runs:  (R)
  • Runs Batted In:  (RBI)
  • Batting Average:  (BA)
  • On-Base+Slugging Percentage:  (OPS)
  • Fielding Percentage:  (Fld%)
  • Caught Stealing:  (CS)
  • Caught Stealing Percentage:  (CS%)
  • Passed Ball:  (PB)
  • Wild Pitch:  (WP)
  • Total Zone Total Runs Above Average per 1200 Innings:  (Rtot/yr)  This is defined as the number of runs above or below average the fielder was worth per 1,200 innings per baseballprojection.com as recorded by baseball-reference.com.
Rookie Season Rookie Team Age G AB H HR R RBI BA OPS
Johnny Bench Cincinnati Reds 20 154 564 155 15 67 82 .275 .743
Ryan Hanigan Cincinnati Reds 28 90 251 66 3 22 11 .263 .692
Ernie Lombardi Brooklyn Robins 23 73 182 54 4 20 23 .297 .752
Jonathan Lucroy Milwaukee Brewers 24 75 277 70 4 24 26 .253 .628
Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals 21 51 135 36 2 12 15 .267 .684
Humberto Quintero Houston Astros 25 18 54 10 1 6 8 .185 .459
Chris Snyder Arizona Diamondbacks 24 115 326 66 6 24 28 .202 .598
Geovany Soto Chicago Cubs 25 141 494 141 23 66 86 .285 .868

One of the first things I noticed was just how old Ryan Hanigan was when he finally stuck with the big club.  You will note that both Bench and Geovany Soto were recognized with the Rookie of the Year award in 1968 and 2008 respectively.  Catchers are prized first for their defense, then for their bats so let’s look at how the do behind the mask.

Rookie Season Rookie Team Age G Fld% CS CS% PB WP Rtot/yr
Johnny Bench Cincinnati Reds 20 154 .991 44 47% 18 55 1
Ryan Hanigan Cincinnati Reds 28 90 .998 21 43% 3 23 11
Ernie Lombardi Brooklyn Robins 23 73 .984 12 39% 3 n/a n/a
Jonathan Lucroy Milwaukee Brewers 24 75 .992 17 31% 1 40 -5
Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals 21 51 .993 8 47% 4 11 10
Humberto Quintero Houston Astros 25 18 .989 2 22% 0 3 0
Chris Snyder Arizona Diamondbacks 24 115 .997 17 27% 3 10 -5
Geovany Soto Chicago Cubs 25 141 .995 25 27% 5 40 1

 I found it interesting to see how many passed balls and wild pitches Bench faced in the Year of the Pitcher, 1968.  I was also interested to note that Yadier Molina had the same Caught Stealing percentage as Johnny did in his rookie year.  Another thing I learned here was that for a period of time the Brooklyn Baseball Club was affectionately known as the Brooklyn Robins for a brief period of time after Wilbert Robinson the manager through the 1931 season.  That was also the year Ernie Lombardi started his career with the Robins.

Last season the current NL Central catchers had a tough year.  They

Last Year Current Team Age G AB H HR R RBI BA OPS
Devin Mesoraco Cincinnati Reds 23 18 50 9 2 5 6 .180 .586
Ryan Hanigan Cincinnati Reds 30 91 266 71 6 27 31 .267 .714
Jonathan Lucroy Milwaukee Brewers 25 132 430 114 12 45 59 .265 .703
Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals 28 139 475 145 14 55 65 .305 .814
Humberto Quintero Houston Astros 31 79 262 63 2 22 25 .240 .575
Chris Snyder Pittsburgh Pirates 30 33 96 26 3 13 17 .271 .772
Geovany Soto Chicago Cubs 28 125 421 96 17 46 54 .228 .721

Devin got his first taste of Major League play at a time when the team was struggling just to cross the finish line and that may have affected his play as well.  He will need to raise his offensive game in 2012 for the Reds to make a serious run at the post season and his play in AAA Louisville seems to indicate he will succeed.  Geovany Soto has never equaled the success of his rookie season, Chris Snyder played backup behind Ryan Doumit last season, and Humberto Quintero struggled at the plate.  The Reds had a strong platoon of Hanigan and Martinez and Yadier Molina had a competitive advantage over the rest of the catchers in the division.

Last Year Current Team Age G Fld% CS CS% PB WP Rtot/yr
Devin Mesoraco Cincinnati 23 18 .973 3 27% 0 7 -14
Ryan Hanigan Cincinnati 30 91 .993 18 35% 2 18 8
Jonathan Lucroy Milwaukee 25 132 .993 30 28% 1 62 -7
Yadier Molina St. Louis 28 139 .995 19 29% 6 35 7
Humberto Quintero Houston 31 79 .992 14 23% 3 13 5
Chris Snyder Pittsburgh 30 33 1.000 6 26% 5 9 -3
Geovany Soto Chicago 28 125 .987 36 30% 5 33 1

Ryan Hanigan had the best caught stealing percentage in the division.  Great news for the Reds, not so great for the prospective addition to the free agent market one year from now.  Yadier Molina has been one of the most effective throwing arms in baseball.  Through the 8 years of his career he has actually collected a better caught stealing percentage than Johnny Bench did in his Hall of Fame career as you will see in the next table.  What may be a concern for Molina and his agent and may also be the reason some writers  have indicated the Cardinals should at least consider trading Yadier, is the precipitous drop in his CS% in 2011.  Over the course of his career Molina has averaged a 44% success rate throwing out base runners.  In 2005, Molina had his best year throwing out 64% of those who attempted to run against him.  He has led the league 3 years in this category.  The problem is that until 2011 the lowest success rate was 35% in 2008 yet in 2011 he only caught 29% of base runners and allowed a career high 46 stolen bases.  Given that he turns 30 in July it may be that his arm is slipping a bit.  Johnny Bench dropped to 29% CS in 1980 from his previous low of 39% in 1979.  Molina may have just had an off year or he may be showing signs of age.

As we close this article, I decided to include a career comparison of the Reds two Hall of Famers with Molina and Soto.  It is good to remember the “Good Ole Days” cause they really were magical…

MLB AVG/Season  Team Yrs G AB H HR R RBI BA OPS
Johnny Bench Cincinnati 17 127 450 120 23 64 81 .267 .817
Ernie Lombardi Cincinnati 17 109 373 105 11 35 58 .306 .818
Yadier Molina St. Louis 8 118 394 108 7 35 49 .274 .707
Geovany Soto Chicago 7 72 235 61 10 28 36 .258 .803
MLB AVG/Season Team Yrs G Fld% CS CS% PB WP Rtot/yr
Johnny Bench Cincinnati 17 127 .990 469 43% 94 446 8
Ernie Lombardi Cincinnati 17 109 .979 385 47% 152 n/a n/a
Yadier Molina St. Louis 8 118 .993 181 44% 48 218 13
Geovany Soto Chicago 7 72 .993 36 30% 15 139 1

Devin Mesoraco has big shoes to fill in 2012 and beyond.  He proved in 2011 that he has the chops now it is time to raise it a level and shoot for the stars.  It will be exciting to watch the progression.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz

Topics: Catchers, Chris Snyder, Cincinnati Reds, Devin Mesoraco, Ernie Lombardi, Geovany Soto, Hall Of Fame, Humberto Quintero, Johnny Bench, Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Hanigan, Yadier Molina

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