May 1, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop John McDonald (16) beats the tag by Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (3) during the seventh inning at Nationals Park. The Diamondbacks defeated the Nationals 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Backup Catcher An Obsolete Term For Nats

There has been some chatter on the internet regarding the Nationals catching situation for this coming season, claiming that Kurt Suzuki will be the primary catcher and Wilson Ramos will be the backup catcher for the team.

This is silly. The terms catcher and backup catcher apply to a team that has one good starting catcher that they rely upon to catch 70-80% of their games, barring injury, and a lower quality catcher to handle the rest. The Nationals don’t have one good catcher and one adequate one. They have two very good catchers on their team for the 2013 campaign.

How can you call a catcher of the quality of Wilson Ramos a backup? How can you call a catcher of the quality of Kurt Suzuki a backup? Why does this team need to get locked in to having a starting catcher and a backup catcher? It would be best for both of these catchers if they are utilized more on a 50-50 basis rather than the traditional 70-30 basis.

I have never understood baseball teams overusing and abusing their primary catcher they way that they tend to do. Catching is a mentally and physically grueling position. Game commentators keep track of pitcher’s pitch counts and start to wonder when a starting pitcher hits 100 pitches how much further he can go. No one wonders that about the starting catcher, who has had to throw the ball back to the pitcher 100 times, getting up and down from a crouching position to do so. Catchers have to call the game, watch for signals from the dugout, change up the signs if a runner has been on second base too long, and take those nasty collisions at the plate to keep a potential run from scoring. Oh yeah, the team also wants you to hit at least .250, and a higher average and some pop in your bat can help push you to elite status.

By the end of the season, when the starting catcher has caught the majority of the games, he is ground down. Often the starting catcher’s batting average begins to fade the later in the year it gets. There is speculation that the reason that Kurt Suzuki’s batting average had gotten so low when he played for the A’s is that he was overused.

The news the Carlos Ruiz, catcher for the Phillies, has been banned for 25 games for using amphetamines underscores the problem. Ruiz is getting older (he was 33 years old during the 2012 season) and played almost every day for the Phillies at the beginning of the season when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were not available and the team needed his bat in the lineup. First half of the season his batting average was .350, second half of the season his batting average was .270. He spent a long stint on the DL in August and part of September. I am not excusing Ruiz using amphetamines, but I can understand that over the course of 162 games guys get tired. The older you get, the harder it is to recover from that extra-inning game the night before and go out and play the day game thirteen hours later.

The Nats may have the luxury for the 2013 season of not burning out one of their catchers. There is no reason that Suzuki and Ramos can’t catch about an even number of games between them. The best plan may be to have Suzuki catch more games early in the season as Ramos gets his knee back in to form and the Nats don’t put too much strain on him until he sees how the knee is holding up. Then Ramos could catch more games later in the season and let Suzuki dial it back. Suzuki should probably catch the majority of Gio Gonzalez’s games, then Ramos can take the next game. The goal should be to try to alternate the two catchers as much as possible so that neither of them gets overused and both players are fresh for the potential postseason run.

The Nats need to stop the foolishness of calling either Suzuki or Ramos a “backup” catcher. The Nationals are blessed with having two quality starting catchers on their team. They are Co-Catchers. Let’s start a new trend and banish the term “backup catcher” from the Nats lexicon for the 2013 season.

Tags: Kurt Suzuki Nationals Washington Nationals Wilson Ramos

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