Thursday, August 30, 2012

Have The Mets Finally Found A Catcher In Shoppach?

Newly acquired backstop Kelly Shoppach is starting to make Mets fans believe they might have finally found a catcher who:
  1. Can actually catch
  2. Knows how to manage the pitchers
  3. Hits better than .240
The Mets still have yet to realize what I and many Mets fans have known for two years: Josh Thole is a bust. 

The only reason Thole made it to the pro club in late 2009 is because he can hit. He was learning a new position as a catcher, and Thole, like many of the recent Mets prospects, is a hitter without a defensive position. In the three full seasons he's been a full time starting catcher, one thing is for certain - Josh Thole is not a Major League starter.

Thole's defense is offensive. He has not improved much, if at all since his call-up. If you ever watch him catch a game, he never positions himself well and he tends to backhand every pitch thrown, especially pitches in the dirt. Any decent high school catcher understands that balls in the dirt must be fore handed while keeping your body in front of the ball. Thole's body is always out of position because he backhands everything and doesn't get his body in front of the ball. Although it is not said, it seems like the Mets pitching staff does not like throwing to him. Nickeas and Johnson took control of the game, while Thole still seems reluctant to put his stamp on a game. Nickeas and Johnson would work with a pitcher and get on the same page, as well as going to the mound to settle the hurler down. Thole doesn't do this.

This wouldn't be so bad if Thole was bringing it at the dish, but he isn't. Over the last three seasons (2010, 2011, 2012) Thole's batting average has plummeted: .277, .268, .242. What little power he has has decreased also: 3, 3, 1. 

As primarily a starting catcher, and having been in 88 games this year, Thole has only 18 RBI. Rookie pitcher Matt Harvey has a third of that in merely 7 games.

Now enter Kelly Shoppach. The newly acquired backstop (from Boston for Pedro Beato) has shown more leadership qualities than Thole, and has hit 2 HR's and knocked in 5 in 25 official AB's while hitting .250. Shoppach isn't an All Star, but what he has shown in his brief Mets career is that he is certainly a much more viable choice to start than Thole.

Shoppach has had an elementary approach to the National League, a league he has never played in:

“This actually helps me calm down, coming to a league where I don’t really know what anybody’s doing. I don’t have the luxury of having faced them, most of them, in the past. So I just try to find a pitch in the middle of the plate.”

As for working with a new pitching staff in Flushing, Shoppach has approached his new teammates:

“I’ve been working hard to get to know these guys. For me, it’s more getting to know their personalities, understanding how they tick. They are all talented, but trying to know what they do well is a challenge.”

Mets manager Terry Collins has said he wants to play Shoppach more to see if he is a good fit with this team. Shoppach is a free agent at seasons' end, and TC and the Mets want a thorough evaluation to see if Shoppach is worth pursuing/retaining beyond this year.

Whether the Mets decide Shoppach, a career back-up catcher, is the answer or not, one thing is resoundingly clear: Josh Thole should not be a starting catcher for this club.

Sources: NY Times, Newsday, The Record, Baseball Reference


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