Last week the Colorado Rockies added former draft pick Michael McKenry to the mix for the catcher position in 2014. More sound behind the plate than Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco, McKenry brings a bit more defense into the mix.
Will that be enough to earn him a spot as the back-up catcher?
On the same day that the Rockies signed McKenry, Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated wrote that the failure to add help at catcher should be considered “unfinished business” when trying to grade the Rockies’ winter.
Heading into the offseason, Colorado appeared to prefer signing a catcher and converting starter Wilin Rosario to a backup who would see more time at first base or rightfield, thus serving two purposes: getting his powerful bat (.292/.315/.486 with 21 homers in 121 games) into the lineup more often and escaping his defensive woes, which include some of the game’s worst pitch-framing work.
Unfortunately McKenry, signed for his solid defense (he batted only .217/.262/.348 in 41 games last year), does not frame pitches terribly well either.
According to StatCorner’s Catcher Report, the percentage of pitches caught within the strike zone by McKenry that were called a ball (zBall%) was 16.2; his percentage of pitches caught outside the strike zone that were called strikes (oStr%) was 5.4. Acknowledging a smaller sample size for McKenry, those numbers are frighteningly close to the 17.1 zBall% and 5.7 oStr% of one Wilin Rosario.
In an even smaller sample, one that might be too small to consider, Pacheco had a 19.9 zBall% and a 6.1 oStr%. If considered, those numbers certainly does not position the utility-man turned catcher as an improvement in that regard.
Of course defense behind the plate extends beyond pitch-framing, and McKenry allowed only one passed ball in his limited action last season (vastly better than Rosario’s approximately 150 PB). In total he allowed that single passed ball and 13 wild pitches in 41 games. It’s hard to know where Pacheco stacks up number wise (he had two PB and two WP in 15 games last year) but he hasn’t done much to date to inspire confidence in his ability to block pitches in the dirt.
To win the back-up catching spot, each player must prove something.
McKenry must prove that his moderate improvement in defense puts him ahead of Pacheco’s bat.
Pacheco must prove that the upgrade he provides on offense, as compared to most back-up catchers, is worth leaving McKenry off the big league roster and running with two bad defensive catchers.
I believe that the Rockies have underestimated the positive impact that would come with a catcher who plays better defense. I would have liked to see them more aggressive in the pursuit of such a catcher this off-season. Does McKenry provide enough improvement with his glove to be that guy? It’s not likely.
You might find yourself cheering extra for Rosario and Pacheco to hit, because it might take a whole lot of offense to justify their combined struggles on defense this season. Even so, I believe Pacheco will distinguish himself as the preferred option to McKenry to be the back-up catcher next season.