Friday, April 29, 2011

Chicago Cubs 25 Man Roster: Catcher Grades

Soto's had a rough start with his bat, but things should turn around.
Let's continue our examination of the Cubs roster, examining ye odle backstops today:

C Geovany Soto: .227/.318/.320 (.293 wOBA)

Soto has not played with any of the magnificence we should expect from him. He has an unlikely 1 home run. This mean Koyie Hill, as of yesterday, has caught up with the good sir from San Juan in the Homer Department. Ouch. In truth, Soto's BABIP is low, so as long as Quade doesn't go crazy and start Hill in Soto's rightful place, everything should even out here.

On the defensive side, Soto has been pretty impressive, catching 11 of 33 attempted thieves while posting a strong 1.0 early season Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Soto's good, and if his defense improves, then he's extra great.

C Koyie Hill: .167/.333/.417 (.338 wOBA)

Ol' Hill gets a bad rap around these -- and almost all other -- parts. He's got a terrible history of hitting (.256 wOBA over 700+ PAs) and has never made UZR swoon (a mere 2.0 runs saved for his career). Still, the Cubs seemed awed by the catcher and have awarded him roster spots and contract extension.

To be fair: Catcher's do not get a full and fair treatment from UZR. They do far too many things -- namely, calling games -- to ever got proper credit. So, if we assume the Cubs' scouts are smart (and in general, they are very smart) then we can assume Hill is in fact a great defender.

Moreover, we cannot say his career line fully indicates his hitting ability. He's been a part-time catcher his entire MLB life, and part-time plate appearances typically mean sub-par hitting (regardless of the hitter). The last time he did get full time plate appearance, 2008 in AAA, he hit 17 homers in under 400 PAs (good for .362 wOBA -- well above average for a catcher).

The only problem with Hill: He's largely replaceable. In Max Ramirez, the Cubs have a near-identical, yet 26-year-old, replacement for Hill. Ramirez can't hit very well, but since he'd be the backup catcher, that wouldn't matter a whole lot.

Conclusion
Overall, the Cubs have an actually great catcher group at the MLB level -- assuming Soto gets the absolute most possible plate appearances. Hill is not as terrible as we may emotionally feel he is, but he's not anything worth starting two games in a row -- or paying $1M for. Still, this group is solid and should only improve as Soto's luck returns to normal.

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