March 3, 2011

2011 Position Preview: Catcher

Although he didn't hit at all after joining the Pirates last season, Chris Snyder either showed enough on defense to keep the job, or there was just no one else to take the job. Either way, Snyder returns this year with a chance at a full season as the starter.

He may not be interesting, but I think Snyder is one of the most important hitters in the lineup. It's important for a National League lineup to go seven deep, and I'm not expecting anything from Ronny Cedeno. If Snyder can match the numbers he put up in his better seasons, he'll be a major benefit to the offense.

2008: 115 games, .237/.348/.452, 47 Runs, 16 HR, 64 RBI
2009: 61 games, .200/.333/.352, 20 Runs, 6 HR, 22 RBI
2010: 105 games, .207/.320/.376, 34 Runs, 15 HR, 48 RBI

After compiling numbers of .251/.346/.438 from 2006-08, great for a catcher, Snyder's offense has completely fallen off for the past two seasons. He's set to earn $5.75 million and is only 30, so the Pirates have little choice but to play him and hope he regains his earlier form at the plate. Snyder's defense has always been major league average, which was a revelation in Pittsburgh.

The silver lining offensively is Snyder's walk rate. He's walked in between 14 and 16 percent of his plate appearances since 2008, which is huge for a player who hits for a low average. Snyder is a reliable 15 home run hitter with regular playing time, so he won't hurt the offense much if he continues to be selective at the plate. I'm counting on 400 at bats and a line of .220/.340/.380 with 40 runs, 15 homers, 55 RBI, and an eighth consecutive year of zero steals.

Backup: Ryan Doumit
The Opening Day catcher for the past three years, Ryan Doumit enters 2011 as a backup who is also on the trading block. Despite Doumit's above average offense for his position, the Pirates have yet to find a taker for his $5.1 million contract. So Doumit will open 2011 as the Pirates' backup catcher and top pinch hitter.

2008: 116 games, .318/.357/.501, 71 Runs, 15 HR, 69 RBI, 2 SB
2009: 75 games, .250/.299/.414, 31 Runs, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB
2010: 124 games, .251/.331/.406, 42 runs, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 1 SB

A lot has been made of the idea that Doumit should be a designated hitter, but he's really not a good enough hitter to do that. He's a good enough hitter to be the best hitting backup catcher in baseball. He's also a defensive liability, but what backup catcher is perfect? I'm fine with keeping him for 2011 if no team wants his contract.

Doumit should get only about 250 at bats in his initial role, catching twice a week and pinch hitting. However, as it did late in 2010, his playing time could increase into a 50/50 timeshare if Snyder doesn't hit. In either event, I think he'll benefit at the plate by not catching every day. I expect Doumit to hit .260/.330/.440 with 30 runs, 10 homers, 40 RBI and three steals.

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