Talking Mets Catchers With Mets Today

Posted on by Kerel Cooper

The Mets made it a priority to completely change their catching situation over the off season. With that said, I recently asked Joe Janish of Mets Today to give me his thoughts on how the catchers have done so far. Read below as we discuss Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, personal catchers and the future of the Mets catching situation.

Q. I don’t think you were a big fan of signing Barajas or Blanco. How would you grade the job they have done so far?
A. I have to say I’m pleased with both catchers inasfar as handling the pitching staff, calling games, and playing defense. The offense is nonexistent, but these days it is difficult to extract much offense from the catching position outside of Minnesota. Both Blanco and Barajas are professionals behind the plate, won’t make mistakes, and will keep their pitcher focused on the ballgame. Those are important traits that can’t be measured on Fangraphs but do have an impact on a team’s won-loss record.

Q. Who’s been a better game caller so far? Blanco or Barajas? and why?
A. Too early to tell. Though, honestly, I don’t know that there is much difference between the two. How a game is called is not nearly as important as the pitcher trusting the catcher to call the game. Ideally, a pitcher shouldn’t be thinking about how to set up hitters — he should be spending all his energy on executing the pitch. This is an especially vital issue with the Mets’ pitching staff, which includes a number of young men who don’t need any more to think about. And this is where the veteran leadership of Blanco and Barajas really comes into play. Last year, Omir Santos did not fill the role of leader. He did an admirable job in all other phases of the game, but it did not seem that the pitchers truly trusted his pitch calling — in fact, Santos himself did not seem to have much confidence. Blanco and Barajas have their faults, but the one thing they share in common is the ability to take charge of the game, and that is a valuable asset. It doesn’t matter whether it’s baseball, business, or tag-team tiddlywinks — to have success there must be an “alpha dog” to make decisions and lead the way. Blanco and Barajas fill that role.

Q. Blanco has caught 3 of 4 Mike Pelfrey starts. It seems like Pelfrey is very comfortable with him. What are your thoughts on pitchers having personal catchers and do you think there could be a negative impact, long-term for a young pitcher having a personal catcher?
A. It’s funny, I thought for sure that Blanco would end up being Johan Santana’s “personal catcher”, because of their shared success in the past and Venezuelan camaraderie. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of a pitcher needing to pitch to a specific catcher, but the Mets (read: Jerry Manuel) are desperate to count on someone to pitch consistently behind Santana, so I understand the idea of continuing to pair Blanco with Pelfrey. If there was a significant difference between Blanco and Barajas, I might have reservations, but this isn’t a Jorge Posada – Jose Molina contrast. And Barajas isn’t going to catch 162 games, so what’s the problem with giving Blanco 30-32 starts with Pelfrey and giving Barajas a guaranteed day off every five days?

Q. Barajas – it seems like his approach at the plate is to swing for the fences every time up. Considering the Mets are lacking punch at the bottom of the lineup, do you agree with or like his approach at the plate?
A. It doesn’t matter whether I agree or disagree; at this point, Barajas is who he is and isn’t changing. Considering that Barajas will be lucky to reach base 25% of the time, it’s probably a good thing he has some homerun power — at least the Mets will get something out of him. More importantly to the Mets’ public relations damage control plan, he fits the mold of a slugger who can counteract the team’s inability to hit the longball in 2009.

Q. Future of the Mets catching situation: This past off season I really thought that either Santos or Thole would get a shot as at least a back up. Do you think either have a shot to be the Mets starting catcher sometime in the next year or two?
A. No. Santos is a mediocre second-string catcher at best, because he has no single “plus” MLB skill and as mentioned earlier, he lacks leadership skills. Thole will have to really light up AAA with the bat to be considered a viable MLB catcher — as a starter or backup. With the arrival of PEDs testing, the speed game is coming back, and the ability to catch well and throw out runners will once again become a priority. That said, Thole has neither the God-given skills nor the coaching instruction to develop into even an average defensive catcher — so he will have to be an incredible offensive player to make up for his deficiencies behind the dish. I know a lot of Mets fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s the reality. Right now, Thole isn’t even as good defensively as Mike Piazza was — and Piazza was pretty bad back there. That’s not to say it’s impossible to believe Thole can improve his skills — he’s a hard worker — but I don’t know that he can improve them dramatically enough to be a regular MLB catcher within the next year or two. His best position for the future may end up being second base — no kidding.

Special thanks to Joe for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to check out Joe over at Mets Today.

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