Pena or Quintero? (It’s Rhetorical the Answer is Pena)


So, I’m randomly walking through LAX in March, catching a connecting flight to Las Vegas for a friend’s bachelor party. Yes, it was wild. Yes, it was fun. No, it wasn’t like The Hangover. While walking, I do the stupid thing and try to read Royals news on my cellphone, risking a collision in the process. All of a sudden, I hear my brother start yelling.

“Hey, Salvy! It’s Salvy Perez. Hey man, feel better! We’re all hoping for a speedy recovery!”

Rolling through the terminal at LAX was Salvador Perez. He was in a wheelchair after having injured his knee. He was smiling like he always does and waving at us. In my mind, he was happy to see Royals fans way out in the wild west. In my mind, he wanted to grab a drink with us, but he had to catch a plane *delusional*.

Since that injury, Royals fans have waited and waited and waited for Salvy to return. Since that day at LAX, it feels like we’ve had the bachelor party, the wedding, the honeymoon, and three kids. That’s how long this wait for Salvy’s return has felt. And now that he’s back, I’m glowing.

But I’m also worried. One of the pillars of strength during our dark Salvy-less days was Brayan Pena. More than ever, we’ve gotten an up-close look at his electric personality and charm. I root like crazy for Pena because he writes cheesy tweets about pulling together and overcoming obstacles, stuff you find on really bad motivational posters. But he’s so sincere and genuine that I can’t help but love even the most cheddar-filled tweets, stuff like “A Great LEADER is not the one who speaks the Loudest,but the One who Speaks the most Sense. I believe in my TEAMMATES, We all SHOULD.“ From him, it doesn’t sound so phony, so cheesy.

The thought that the Royals might lose him soon makes me very nervous. I know he’s just a backup catcher, but it’s clear that he means a lot to this team, even in a backup role. Other players talk about him like an older brother. The Royals have made it clear that their backup will catch a significant number of games for the rest of the season as they remain conservative with Salvy’s recovery. The Royals backup catcher will get playing time this year, and the worry among many bloggers and fans is that they’ll choose to keep Humberto Quintero to justify trading for him in the first place.

Here’s why they should not—besides the fact that Pena’s an awesome clubhouse guy and fan favorite I mean. If we look at it strictly from a player comparison standpoint, the question comes down to which gap is bigger. The gap between Quintero’s superior and Pena’s inferior defensive abilities? Or the gab between Pena’s superior and Quintero’s inferior offensive abilities?

This gets at a larger question of what the backup catcher’s function is. Traditionalist thinking is that the backup catcher is a defensive player, meant to call a good game, throw out baserunners, and hit .220—Henry Blanco is a terrific example of this player. Why this became the understood narrative, isn’t completely clear to me, but I’d guess it’s because guys like Blanco made good careers doing this and so an archetype was crafted. This archetype is powerful in the minds of decision makers, especially those who view baseball in its traditionalist sense like Ned Yost often does. Certainly, having a guy who can handle a pitching staff is important, and that pressure only adds to the narrative that a backup must be a defensive guy. Also, the imbalance of capable major league hitters to capable major league fielders plays a role in constructing this notion that backups are defensive players.

Pena doesn’t fit that mold. He’s not the world’s worst defensive catcher, but he’s not Yodier Molina. Fielding metrics are pretty unreliable, especially for catchers, so I’d say he’s probably average in the field, maybe slightly below based strictly on the eye test. But really, Quintero’s not much better. Pena’s thrown out 33 percent of base stealers in his career. How does that compare to Quintero? It’s actually exactly the same. Quintero’s thrown out 33 percent of base stealers as well. Yet, Quintero has a great reputation as a “catch-and-throw” guy. Overall, they have about the same fielding percentage too.

I’m not suggesting that Pena isn’t inferior defensively; I think he is. I’m suggesting that the difference isn’t tremendous. In terms of handling the pitching staff, their CERA (catching earned run average) is nearly identical for 2012 (4.02 for Pena, 4.13 for Quintero). So, clearly Quintero doesn’t have some sort of special connection to the pitching staff that Pena does not.

Though Quintero isn’t leaps ahead of Pena defensively, Pena is significantly better than Quintero offensively. Here are their slash lines for their careers: Pena (.253/.291/.357), Quintero (.234/.267/.323). Across the board, Pena’s numbers are 14-34 points higher. I’m no scientist, but I believe that’s called statistically significant. Quintero has had a little power surge this season, but the small sample size and the large set of data previous suggested that it wouldn’t last, and he has cooled to Arctic levels since starting hot.

The real question should be what value does Quintero have? The real answer is very little to none. That’s no knock on him as a guy or a player. He seems like a pretty good dude. We rented him for three months and needed him to be what he is, a stopgap. We overpaid in prospects for him, but that ship’s already sailed and sunk. This is more a criticism of how Yost and Dayton Moore see Quintero, with value goggles. They gave up real value to get him in a desperate situation and now they may believe he’s actually worth what they gave up. He is not.

I like that metaphor. Imagine that the Royals are drunk and it’s last call. They’re looking to get a little somethin’ somethin’. Quintero looks pretty good because they’re desperate and hammered. The problem is they already have a significant other in Pena. If they choose to make a commitment to Quintero, they’re only going to wake up to the realization that they had the right gal, made a huge mistake letting her go to get with Quintero, and now it burns when they pee … metaphorically.