Jose Lobaton: Washington Nationals 2014 Year in Review

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Sep 10, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton (59) throws to starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (not pictured) during the sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. The Braves won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the offseason moves Mike Rizzo made before the 2014 campaign was trading Nathan Karns to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jose Lobaton and two other minor league players.

Lobaton came up trumps for the Nats in 2014. He was to be the backup catcher to Wilson Ramos, however his role changed on the first day of the season when Ramos broke a hamate bone in his hand and was out until May 7.

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Lobaton was now the starting catcher, and settled into the role admirably. From May 2 through May 6, he hit .250. He did not display the home run power that Ramos has, but did hit for average.

More importantly, he handled the Nats pitchers expertly. His framing skills turned out to be better than Ramos’s. The pitchers worked well with him even though both Lobaton and the pitchers were still getting to know one another.

When Ramos was out two weeks in June due to a mild hamstring strain, Lobaton was the starting catcher again and again did not miss a beat.

Lobaton caught Stephen Strasburg particularly well as the season went on, leading some to lobby for Lobaton to become Strasburg’s personal catcher after Strasburg caught fire in August with Lobaton behind the plate. Strasburg’s record for 2014 was 14-11. Lobaton was behind the plate for half of Strasburg’s wins and for four no decisions, three of which ended up being Nats wins.

Lobaton is a switch hitter that bats about the same average from both sides of the plate. In 2014 he hit .235 batting left-handed, and .230 batting right-handed. His overall batting average for the season was .234.

In the fielding portion of his play this year, Lobaton only committed two errors for a .996 fielding percentage. He only allowed one passed ball. He threw out one-third of players attempting to steal on him. Ramos does a better job throwing out base runners (38 percent), but allowed four passed balls and had a slightly worse fielding percentage (.993). As far as fielding goes, Lobaton is not that much a step down from Ramos, which is a great position for the team to be in with a backup player.

Unfortunately for Lobaton and the team, for some reason manager Matt Williams did not use Lobaton at all during the post season series against the Giants. Wilson Ramos started and played all four games, and only hit .118 during the post season. Ramos’ batting average in September was a measly .209 and he was mired in a terrible slump. When Ramos did not produce at the plate during the postseason, I was expecting to see Lobaton get a start in game three or four.

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I certainly expected to see Lobaton during the game two eighteen inning marathon to spell Ramos, but that didn’t happen either. Failure to utilize Lobaton during the postseason while Ramos was not producing at the plate and caught an 18 inning game was one of the mistakes made by Matt Williams in the postseason that is still inexplicable.

The Nationals have arbitration rights for Lobaton for the 2015 season. This is Lobaton’s first year as being arbitration eligible, and he is not a free agent until 2018. This may have been one of the reasons Lobaton was attractive to the Nationals as a trade target.

I expect the Nationals to reach a deal with Lobaton to keep him a National for 2015. He is a valuable member of the team, and having a good back up for Ramos will be essential given Ramos’ injury history and bad hamstrings.

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