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How did the Royals catchers compare to their peers in the AL Central?
The most amazing thing about the Royals lack of playoff appearances in the past two plus decades is the fact that the Royals haven't even had to compete with teams like the Yankees. It's easy to look at teams in large markets like New York, Boston or Los Angeles and feel like there is no hope of contention. However baseball has thrown the Royals a bone: they only have to beat teams in their own division.
In order to make the playoffs, the Royals only have to be better than the Twins, Tigers, White Sox and Indians. None of which are perennial juggernauts.Every team has had at least one 90 loss season since 2000. The Tigers have done it 5 times and they're in the postseason right now. Of course the Royals have done it a staggering 10 times, but that's not a surprise.
The point is that the Royals are in a winnable division and the only meaningful comparison when discussing a potential post-season berth is that of the American League Central. So I'm going to look at each position through an offensive context to see where the Royals compared favorably and where they came up short in an effort to identify where changes might need to be made this offseason.
We start at position
1 2 in the old scorebook - the Catcher. I'll primarily be using wOBA for comparison which you can read more about here but simply it's an offensive measure which tries to take all parts of the offense into account for their true value. Higher is better.
The story of catcher this year was the story of Salvador Perez's injury. He's an amazing defensive and offensive talent who has given rise to many a meme including Perezence. The kid has it and we love him for it. Unfortunately so far he also has a penchant for injury and a growing body. Can he stay healthy and can he not baloon to a Molina-multiple? Unknown, but for the time being he's our guy.
Here's how the plate appearances broke down by catcher this season.
Half the season belonged to Salvador and he performed admirably. The Royals certainly suffered offensively having to put Quintero and Pena behind the dish every day. There is absolutely no question that Perez is the best option for the Royals given what they have. Now, how does he and the rest of his cohorts compare to the rest of the division this year?
So, the AL Central has some pretty good catchers I guess. If we took Salvador Perez's wOBA and used it only, he'd still be 3rd in the division. How did I miss AJ Pierzynski having such an awesome season? Well, probably since when I hear the words AJ Pierzynski I change the channel. But, damn.
The Royals may have had one of the three best catchers in the division, but the overall position lead the Royals to an 11th place slot in the American League while the rest of the division took home the top four spots. The difference isn't enough to make up the 16 games the Royals needed to take the division, but it's a small start.
I knew that the Perez injury hurt, but I had no idea how far down it sent the Royals in the catcher department compared to their peers. The Royals don't need to do anything with the starting catcher position in the off-season other than pray he stays healthy. However, the backup might be a point of improvement. Let's look at the primary backups for each of the teams in the division.
The backup catcher is not an insignificant member of the team. Due to the strain of being a catcher they typically get the most off-days and so an adequate backup can and will get plenty of playing time. That doesn't include the fact that catchers are an often injured bunch who might need to be replaced quickly.
The Royals fielded the least competent offensive backup catcher in the division and he played in 68 games. That's a bit skewed due to the fact that he split time with Humberto Quintero prior to the return of Perez, but still he was well below his peers.
The Royals can't just go out and spend tons of money on a backup catcher, but they have a real opportunity to upgrade the offense if they replace Brayan Pena with a more adept batter. Those 150-200 plate appearances matter, particularly with a catcher who has missed significant time in two straight seasons.
Two interesting players who will be free agents this season are Gerald Laird and David Ross. I highly doubt that Dayton Moore goes after either, but both would likely represent an offensive upgrade barring a large decline in their output which is possible since Laird is 33 and Ross is 36.
The Royals could also look internally and see if Manny Pina, Max Ramirez or Adam Moore could provide some spark off the bench. Salvador is recognized as a leader so they aren't in dire need of a veteran presence sitting behind him.
The Royals have a great individual catcher but struggled as a unit in 2012 and it cost them runs. If Salvador Perez can remain healthy he's the key to the position in 2013, however it might be time to upgrade the backup. I've always liked Brayan Pena and thought he was adequate in his role, but compared to his peers he isn't. The Royals shouldn't break the bank to find a replacement, but it would be a great place to try and find a few extra runs that this team needs.