May 24, 2010

Our Imperfect Catcher

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 24, 2010

In just two games this weekend, we saw a microcosm of Ryan Doumit's career, both the good and the bad.

Saturday, Doumit came on as a pinch hitter and caught just one inning. During that innning he mishandled a two-out third strike with the bases loaded, allowing the Braves to score a key insurance run in their 4-2 victory. Then yesterday he redeemed himself with a walk-off home run in the 10th off of Takashi Saito, capping a 3-for-5 day.

Ryan is now hitting .286/.371/.459 on the season and appears to be on track to repeat his 2008 career year, when he hit .318/.357/.501 with 71 runs scored, 15 home runs and 69 RBI. His biggest pre-2010 offensive shortcoming was plate discipline, but he's managed a career-best 9.3% walk rate.

He's also showed a flair for the dramatic with each of his four home runs. In addition to Sunday's walk-off he hit a majestic three run shot in front of the sellout Opening Day crowd, a game-winning grand slam in the top of the ninth April 27 against Trevor Hoffman, and a pinch-hit, game-tying solo shot in the ninth inning the very next day.

Unfortunately, while Doumit has been one of the top hitting catchers in the league, he's been one of its worst defensively. He's thrown out only three of 37 opposing baserunners (8%). He's also struggled noticeably on balls in the dirt, allowing 15 wild pitches and leading the league with four passed balls.

With a better hitting club, the Pirates might be able to go with Jason Jaramillo behind the plate more often. Jaramillo is clearly the better receiver of the two but hits more like a typical backup catcher (.251/.306/.364 career). However, Doumit is an asset to this team as currently constructed. He and Andrew McCutchen are the only two hitters providing above average offense for their positions. Considering the number of good outfielders in the league, if Doumit keeps hitting he has a better than 50/50 chance to be the Pirates' All-Star representative - even if he's removed for a defensive replacement before he can catch the World Series clinching pitch.

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