2015 Washington Nationals Player Review: Jose Lobaton


Jose Lobaton is the backup catcher for the Washington Nationals. His 2015 season was about what was expected from him when the season started. He has proven himself to be as good an option to go to as Wilson Ramos, and in one offensive category, he had a better year than Ramos despite not getting much playing time.

One of Matt Williams’ flaws as a manager was not giving starters enough time off and getting bench players enough playing time. Lobaton’s playing time certainly suffered because of this. He only appeared in 44 games this year, usually getting a start every fifth day when Gio Gonzalez was pitching.

Lobaton’s main role as the season went on was serving as the personal catcher to Gonzalez. Gio and Lobaton seemed to be on the same page in pitch calling, and Lobaton seemed to be able to coax better performances from Gonzalez than Ramos could. Lobaton is very good at blocking pitches in the dirt and curve balls that are off target, which are necessary skills for a catcher working with Gonzalez.

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For a time last season, Lobaton worked with Stephen Strasburg exclusively for a stretch in mid-season when Strasburg was pitching very well. Lobaton’s value to the team is not in just being Gonzalez’s catcher. He appears to work just as well with all of the pitchers as does Ramos.

Lobaton is known for framing pitches in a skillful manner to get a strike call on a pitch that may be out of the strike zone when he catches it. That skill is always prized in catchers.

Offensively, Lobaton’s batting average this year was .199. Lobaton’s hitting suffered from his lack of playing time and at-bats that meant he was batting cold every fifth day. It is hard to get into any kind of offensive rhythm when you are a bench player and Lobaton does not appear to have the knack for being able to get hits when not playing regularly. In other words, he is not a good candidate to pinch hit.

Interestingly, Lobaton’s on base percentage was higher than Ramos’. Lobaton’s OBP was .279 while Ramos’ OBP was .258. Lobaton is a bit faster in running the bases than is Ramos and draws a higher percentage of walks. He drew 15 walks in his 44 games this year. Ramos only drew 21 walks in 128 games.

Defensively, Lobaton is a league average catcher. His fielding percentage was .994. The league average is .993. His caught stealing percentage was 26%, while the league average was 28%.

Lobaton is under team control for the 2016 season, although he is eligible for arbitration. He does not become a free agent until 2018. Lobaton’s contract for 2015 paid him $1.2 million. Given his low amount of playing time and less than stellar offensive numbers, he is probably going to cost the Nationals about the same amount of money for 2016 if the team choose to continue to use him as the back up catcher.

Since Gonzalez will probably be pitching for the Nationals in 2016, I suspect that the team will bring Lobaton back as the backup catcher so that he can continue to work with Gonzalez. Deciding to re-sign Lobaton will also be one less moving part for the Nats to worry about in an offseason when there are many decisions to be made that are more important to the franchise than worrying too much about the back up catcher.

It is hard to assign a grade to Lobaton for the season because we didn’t get much of an opportunity to see him play. His defense is average compared to other Major League catchers. He seems to require more regular playing time to achieve a better batting average, but as the backup catcher, he won’t get to play every day. On the other hand, he isn’t a defensive liability and works well with the pitchers, which you want in a back up catcher. No matter what Lobaton’s performance when he bats, he is valuable in that pitching performance is not significantly worse when he is catching, which is important.

Grade:  B-

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