Sunday, 9 June 2013

#TholeFreed - What Now?

Josh Thole is also happy about less playing time for Arencibia.

After two months of watching the offensive black hole that is Henry Blanco (.184/.262/.263) getting run out there as Dickey's personal catcher every fifth day, proponents of the #FreeThole movement have finally got their wish. He makes his debut today against the Rangers after being recalled on Friday.  It's almost a certainty that he will take over the duty of catching Dickey, and as a replacement for Blanco in that role he can't help but be an improvement.  Thole sports a career .260/.330/.332 line so he should be an offensive upgrade, and he caught Dickey's Cy Young season so he should be capable behind the dish as well.  What will this mean for Arencibia though?  Could his playing time be in jeopardy? Let's hope so!

Now I'm not going to hold Thole up as some kind of saviour, but he does do some things well that J.P. doesn't.  For example, he drew a walk in his debut today, proving that Blue Jays catchers are still allowed to do that, despite all recent evidence to the contrary.  He's a fifth of the way to J.P.'s season total already!

Getting on base has always been a strength for Thole.  Since A Ball, he has only had one season with an OBP under .345.  It was last year, which many believe was impacted by a concussion he suffered in May.  The 2012 season saw him post a .234./.294/.290 line, well below his career norms in every category.  That season also drags down his career OBP, as prior to 2012 it was about 20 points higher.  There's not really any good way to predict how much a concussion will affect a player, or for how long (see: Morneau, Justin), but his 2013 AAA slash line of .322/.383/.510 gives hope that he may have returned to his pre-concussion form.

A catcher that gets on base from time to time should be a refreshing contrast to J.P.'s all or nothing approach that I, for one, have been tired of for a while now.  Arencibia's career OBP is is a cringe inducing .268, and he's not even playing up to that low bar this season.  So far he's getting on base at a .240 clip, which is second last among qualified hitters.  So far this year he has 72 Ks against just 5 walks.  That's a 32% K% and 2.2% BB%, which are eighth worst and second worst among all qualified hitters.  It's impossible to overstate just how bad J.P. has been at avoiding outs this season, and avoiding outs is a hitter's number one job.

Certain old school baseball commentators (*cough* Gregg Zaun) will that say walks and OBP don't matter for catchers, because you don't want them out there clogging up the base paths anyways since catchers are, as a rule, slow. Well to them I say: bull! More base runners are always better than less base runners, regardless of how slow they may be.  The effect of base clogging isn't even close to being significant enough to outweigh the value of more base runners.

"But JPA hitz DinGerZzz!!!!" the idiots will bray, and I can't argue with that.  Homers are fun, and homers are valuable, and Josh Thole will never give them to you.  His career ISO is .072 against JPA's .212.   But how's that working out for Arencibia?  Well, despite his power, J.P. has posted a career 87 wRC+.  It's never been higher than 92, and so far this season is just 78.  Thole, on the other hand, has posted a career 84 wRC+, but that is significantly weighed down by his 2012 season when it was a meager 60.  If you exclude that season (and I'm not saying that it's necessarily wise to do so because, well, concussions...) he has a career 99 wRC+ in the bigs, essentially a league average hitter.

It doesn't hurt that he's an option that bats left.  Don't let JPA's weird reverse splits in 2013 fool you, in that he's currently putting up a 38 wRC+ against LHP and a 90 wRC+ against RHP.  The smart money is on those numbers normalizing.  After all, he's only had 51 PAs against left handed pitching.  For his career he's been a bit better against lefties posting a 91 wRC+ against them and an 85 wRC+ against righties.  Thole has been slightly better for his career against righties, having posted a 92 wRC+ against them, and that goes up to 109 if you once more exclude 2012.

Defensively, DRS has them as roughly equivalent players with JPA at -5 and Thole at -4 so neither of them are great behind the dish, but I'm inclined to tip the balance slightly more towards Thole for having posted equivalent numbers while having to catch Dickey every fifth day.

So where does this leave us?  Depending on how much you believe Thole's 2012 was a result of his concussion, he certainly looks like a better every day option than JPA, or at least a better option against against RHP.  However, he was really bad in 2012 and JPA has been the guy in Toronto for long enough that I don't expect them to turn the keys over to Thole right away, if they ever even do.  I would expect him to catch Dickey and get the standard backup games (day game after night game) at first, but if he shows signs of being back to his pre-concussion self I am hopeful that he starts chipping away at JPA's playing time more and more as the season progresses, perhaps getting the occasional start against tough righties until they're in some sort of 60/40 playing time arrangement.  Also, I don't generally put a lot of stock in the thinking that guys need their jobs threatened to be motivated.  I generally think that if they're in the bigs, they've shown a willingness to work hard and improve, and by all accounts JPA is no exception even when he seems to think too highly of himself.  But if you believe in that sort of thing, then having Thole kicking around the clubhouse should have JPA looking over his shoulder a lot more than Blanco did.  Henry Blanco was never a threat to anyone's job.  Unless that job is Latin American drug cartel enforcer.  After DFA'ing him, maybe it's Anthopolous that should be looking over his shoulder...

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