A Catching Dilemma

By Editorial Staff

The catching situation of the Royals has been a major source of debate in the past couple years. With the absence of John Buck and Miguel Olivo, the dynamic duo for several years, the door was open for newcomers. There were lots of theories about what might happen, but in the end the Royals ended up with a two-year contract for gritty veteran Jason Kendall. Brayan Pena was allowed to play every twenty games or so at the start of 2010. And that was that. No one really liked it, but there wasn’t much we could do.

Well, we know the story. Kendall was injured. The Royals had acquired Luke May in the Scott Podsednik deal and he got his first major league experience soon after joining the organization. Pena and May weren’t a dream as a catching pair, but they were young and got the job done, so we couldn’t complain too much. It was better than Kendall, right?

Now, we’re facing a situation where the catchers, Matt Treanor and Pena, are batting .224/.335/.333 through 62 games. They have 12 extra-base hits, including five home runs. They do have a BB:K of 0.91, which is nice, and have only grounded into three double plays. However, they’re not offensive titans. Pena isn’t a defensive wiz. They just are sort of…there. May has been traded to Arizona and no one is really primed to replace them. So, what do they do?

It’s arguable whether the Royals will try hard to win from here on out, so their main goal will probably be to develop the young pitchers and basically not be run out of the park on a nightly basis. After all, that’s one of the main reasons the Royals cited for bringing in Treanor. He was supposed to help the rookies and other pitchers do their early work in the majors. I don’t know that this necessarily means they have to pitch better with Treanor, but you might suspect a veteran presence might lend more experience to help guys pitch. Well, here’s how the youngest pitchers have done so far with Pena and Treanor:

*The averages of ERA, K:BB, and BA are weighted by the number of innings each pitcher threw with that catcher over all of the innings for each catcher.

What does this tell us? Well…maybe Treanor is doing something. Interestingly enough, he is apparently going for the pitching-to-contact technique, as the K:BB when he is catching is surprisingly lower than Pena’s. Even still, the batting averages often drop when Treanor catches, as does the ERA (especially without Mazzaro). Of course, the numbers suffer from a classic case of small sample size, but it gives us an idea of what we’re looking at.

So, at least Treanor’s role with the young pitchers isn’t greatly exaggerated. Still, when you have a catcher that seemingly benefits the rookie pitchers but can’t hit, what do you do?

The Royals are sort of stuck here. The catchers aren’t providing a whole lot of offense, though Treanor’s .363 OBP is nice, and combine with Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz to create a hole at the bottom of the order. If Mike Aviles is on one of his patented cold streaks, the hole gets even larger. One of these pieces has to change, but the Royals just don’t have many options at catcher.

Manny Pina is the worst hitter at Omaha. Cody Clark, who took over after the trade of May, has played in only five games there this season. Pina is a defense-oriented guy. Clark has been a system catcher for several years and could fill in in an injury situation. The next-closest catcher is Sal Perez, who is just treading water at Northwest Arkansas and isn’t close to ready for the major league situation.

After those three? Well, it’s our old friend Kendall, of course. It was just reported that he started taking live batting practice and could find himself into a rehab start by the end of June. If this is the case, he could be in Kansas City by mid-July, depending on how everything goes. And when you have a complicated problem, complicating it more with an aging, overpaid player just makes logical sense, right?

So, the Royals will just bide their time. I foresee a Treanor/Kendall duo of catching fun, with Pena possibly being traded to someone in need of a backup. With Kendall’s offensive woes, things could change, but based on the results with Treanor and rookies, he probably gets the nod over Pena. Unfortunately, there’s no real solution right now, either within or outside of the organization. If there’s a spot the Royals are just plainly short at, it’s catcher. There are at least some replacements at other positions, but catcher is just one average or below average player after another.

At least we know Treanor is doing something. What it is, I’m not completely sure. He is working a different zone than Pena is and seeing different results. From that, I can’t really disagree with the sentiment of starting him with the younger guys. It’s not like he’s completely opposite of what they’ve said. He’s been successful and that’s that.

Now, if we could make one of the two catchers start hitting, things could really open up.

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