Even the most casual Rays fan knew at the end of 2011 knew the Rays needed to spend some time focused on their catching corps during the winter. Kelly Shoppach, John Jaso, and their host of understudies were simply underwhelming in all facets of the game in 2011.
Despite this glaring weakness, the winter market was unkind to the Rays and they were only able to add Jose Molina. While Molina has a big last name, he is a career backup and, we spent all winter trying to convince ourselves to the contrary. After a month of real baseball, it looks to me like our other offseason “acquisition” will be the actual “solution” at catcher.
Molina was acquired, ostensibly, for his defense. Catcher “defense” means a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, it means a good throwing catcher that keeps pitches away from the backstop, like Pudge Rodriguez. To others, it means an intelligent catcher that manages a pitching staff and calls a good game, like Brad Ausmus.
Gimenez and Molina seem to be on par in the Pudge categories at the moment. Molina has caught 1 of 5 base stealers and allowed 1 passed ball. In half as many starts, Gimenez has caught 2 of 5 base stealers (both last night) and not allowed any passed balls. That is a push.
But, there is a developing body of evidence that suggests that the pitchers like throwing to Gimenez better than they like throwing to Molina. It was on full display last night. The always calm Jeremy Hellickson looked much more comfortable than he had in any previous start — all of which were thrown to Molina.
Take a look at the Rays’ pitcher splits by catcher.
Rays pitchers are more than a half-run better with Gimenez in the bucket than they are with Molina in the bucket. The Rays ERA to Molina spikes to 5.76 if you take out the Shutouts thrown by James Shields and David Price in Boston and versus LA. (Why would you take those out? Because Shields is in a place in his career where he is going to feel comfortable throwing to anyone. He’ll shake Molina off and do what he wants. Price, on the other hand, throws one pitch. It doesn’t take a genius to call one of his games. Anyone with an index finger can do it.)
What is Gimenez doing better than Molina? It looks like he is more aggressive in the strike zone. (And, haven’t we spent the entire month wondering why the Rays rotation is suddenly nibbling at the edges and getting yanked early in games?)
With Molina in the bucket, the Rays have walked 4 hitters per nine innings and thrown a whopping 6 wild pitches. With Gimenez, they have walked just 1.3 hitters per nine innings and thrown just two wild pitches. Moreover, the strikeout-walk ratio achieved by Gimenez’s approach far exceeds the same ratio from Molina.
Finally, Molina leads baseball in mound visits. The guy is going to lose 20 pounds this summer walking out to mound every 5th pitch. There is a great Bob Gibson story about McCarver going out for a visit and getting yelled at. Pitchers generally hate that stuff so, you better have a good reason if you are headed to the mound. This isn’t Bull Durham.
Seriously though, For whatever reason, he cannot get on the same page with our guys. That generally isn’t a good sign.
This is a small sample size, obviously. But neither Gimenez nor Molina can hit. So, if Gimenez has the staff working the way we want them to work, then I expect he is going to see a lot more time in the bucket.