With pitchers and catchers set to report Feb. 18, we here are Philthy Stuff are grading the Phillies by position as they prepare to work towards a sixth-straight National League East title and try to return to the World Series in 2012.
The Phillies pitchers put together an unbelievable season last year as they ran away with the major league lead in ERA (3.02), wins (102), complete games (18), shutouts (21) and WHIP (1.17). The Phillies used their four aces, Vance Worley and a group of relievers to post those stats and behind each of those pitchers was one common thing -- quality catching.
Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider and the occasional showing by Dane Sardinha and Erik Kratz combined to catch the Phillies staff in 2011.
The Phillies backstops do a great job handling a great pitching staff but how do they measure up overall?
Let’s take a look.
Starter Grade: A+
Behind the starting trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, this is the easiest grade to give. Simply put, Ruiz is one of the best defensive backstops in the game and brings an above average bat to boot.
Let’s first look at Chooch’s offense. Chooch is a catcher so you don’t expect him to tear the cover off the ball. He is a career.265/.357/.393 batter. While the sub .400 slugging percentage is nothing special, his on base percentage above .350 really helps the Phils considering he often bats eighth -- meaning that by getting on base he turns over the order.
Compared to fellow National League catchers with at least 300 plate appearances last season, Chooch is first in OBP (.371) and third in average (.283). His six homers and 40 RBI are pedestrian at best but he impressively is one of only two catchers last season with at least a 1:1 walk to strikeout ratio.
Chooch has also earned himself the nickname “Senor Octobre” as he thrust fans into chants of “Choochtober” thanks to his clutch postseason hitting including a .353/.488/.706 line in 11 World Series games.
Despite the Fall Classic heroics, the greatest value of Ruiz remains to be his work behind the plate. He has a career .995 fielding percentage and posted a major league best (for qualified catchers) .996 fielding percentage last season. He also has thrown out about 26 percent of potential base stealers over his career.
Yes, the stats aren’t overwhelming to earn Chooch that A+ but, like I stated above, the Phillies pitching staff is all world and Chooch is credited by guys like Halladay, Hamels and Lee as being a major reason why -- I will defer to the aces.
Reserve Grade: C
Brian Schneider is back to back up Chooch and likely serve as Worley’s personal signal caller again. The 35-year-old’s career line .247/.321/.369 is nothing special and neither is his .992 fielding percentage but he does boost a very impressive 36-percent caught stealing percentage.
The biggest knock against Schneider is his decline at the dish. Last season, while battling injuries, he managed just a .176/.246/.256 in 139 plate appearances. Considering he has only once slugged above .400 in the past decade, it’s likely we won’t see him doing much at the dish this season.
The two things that make Schneider valuable are the work he does with young pitchers like Worley and the fact that being from Pa. (he went to Northampton High) he really enjoys playing for the Phillies and seems willing to do whatever it takes to bring a championship here.
When you take it all into consideration he’s an average backup catcher -- nothing more, nothing less.
Minors Grade: C
Stepping into the role of “third catcher,” a.k.a. the guy who gets called up from Triple-A when one of the regular backstops inevitably gets hurt, is Kratz. Gone is Sardinha so this is Kratz’s position to lose as he handles the staff in Lehigh Valley. The 31-year-old caught two games for the Phils last season -- going 2 for 6 and making no errors in the limited opportunity. Kratz, another local guy (he’s from Telford, Pa.), has career minor league stats (.257/.332/.439) that are similar to Chooch’s major league stats and a .992 fielding percentage identical to Schnieder’s.
Kratz is a known entity, the rest of the Phillies minor league backstops aren’t as much. Sebastian Valle -- who is on the 40-man roster -- could be Reading-bound after an impressive season in Clearwater last season (.284/.312/.394). Valle needs to learn more plate discipline before he is ready for the pros but he could be someone to watch.
Former Orioles and Pirates minor leaguer Steven Lerud and long-time Phillies minor leaguer Tuffy Gosewisch round out the Phillies minor leaguers who are invited to spring training. Gosewisch, .236/.308/.363, has more upside than Lerud, .221/.309/.356, but neither catcher looks to factor much in the Phillies plans this season besides maybe playing at Lehigh Valley.
I would have canned this crew of catchers with a D grade but what can you expect from minor league catchers? There are so few great backstop out there that you can’t rip the run-of-the-mill guys. This is an average crew of catchers with Valle -- who is all of 21 years old -- worth keeping an eye on.
Overall Grade: B-
It feels strange to knock the guys responsible for catching this pitching staff with anything less than an A, but with Schnieder another year older and Valle still nowhere near the majors, everyone behind Chooch isn’t overly impressive. If Chooch stays healthy all season this grade easily goes to an A, but you can’t count on that, so B- it is.