One of the stranger strategies in baseball has been to save your backup catcher in case of injury. The Washington Nationals will go against that this year.
Nobody ever said managing a Major League Baseball team was easy, you only need to look at the struggles of Dave Martinez with the Washington Nationals last season. But some managers will unnecessarily handicap themselves just because “everyone else does it.”
Case and point is the reluctance to use catchers as pinch hitters late in games. Managers will save their catcher just in case the guy out there gets hurt so they don’t have to throw someone who isn’t natural behind the plate out there.
But in reality, it’s tough to recall the last time the Nationals, or any team for that matter actually needed their emergency catcher to catch. In the past, the likely choice was Bryce Harper, who was a catcher right up until the Nats drafted him But now the mantle appears to be Wilmer Difo‘s.
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Regardless, given the team’s current catching situation, it makes sense to let the catcher who doesn’t draw the start hit off the bench at the right time. The Nats manager seems to agree, as he told Todd Dybas of NBCS Washington that he had “thought all winter, you have two catchers and one guy’s playing and you don’t want the other guy to play, you might as well just play with 24 guys, really. So why not use them with the right opportunity?”
Now, this isn’t always the case, as we saw last season, there are cases when only one or neither catcher is too much of a threat with the bat. But the two new guys, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, both posted a wRC+ over 100 last season and an OPS above .760.
That’s nothing special, but they are slightly above average hitters. And when you consider that both Michael A. Taylor and Wilmer Difo are below average hitters, Gomes and Suzuki could both be good options off the bench.
The two new catchers have also historically been good off the bench in their careers too. Gomes has a .308/.362/.558 slash line off the bench, while Suzuki slashes .304/.398/.506 as a sub. Compare that to the league average for pinch hitters last season which was .213/.300/.340, and it proves that the backstop on the bench is a weapon.
The Nats were also a poor pinch-hitting team overall last season, with a measly .177/.278/.249 slash line. So any improvement on that front, no matter what the source, will be a huge boost to a team trying to improve on the “little things.”
One of the advantages of having two really good catchers over one outstanding catcher is the advantage of an extra weapon off the bench. It appears as if the Washington Nationals are set to use their backstops this way, which will turn out to be a wise move.