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Spring training battles: Backup catcher

Who will be the Maytag repair man of the Royals?

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The backup catcher position hardly seems worth talking about, since the position is the "Maytag repairman" of baseball. Starting catcher Salvador Perez just set the record for most innings caught over a two-years span in baseball history, when you include his post-seasons. Manager Ned Yost says he has no plans to rest Salvador Perez since signing his contract extension.

"We’re going to manipulate it like we have in the past. I thought we did a really good job last year."

Last year, Salvador Perez started 137 games at catcher, six more than anyone else in baseball. He started 28 of the first 29 games of the season as catcher, and even that one game where he didn't start, he entered the game and caught the last two innings. So don't expect the backup catcher to get a lot of work.

That being said, it was Drew Butera who caught the final out of the World Series after Salvador Perez was taken out for a pinch-runner, and it only takes a foul tip or a backswing to the head to take Salvy out of action, and the backup catcher position suddenly becomes important.

The Royals have cycled through six backup catchers in the four seasons since Salvador Perez became the starter - Brayan Pena, Humberto Quintero, George Kottaras, Brett Hayes, Erik Kratz, and last year they acquired Drew Butera. This past winter they picked up yet another backup catcher, trading for Cardinals backup Tony Cruz. Butera and Cruz will battle it out this spring for the right to sit the bench behind Salvador Perez, but neither provides much inspiration with the bat.

2015 season .196 .252 .252 120 0.0
2016 PECOTA projection .198 .249 .283 31 -0.1
2016 Steamer projection .208 .264 .303 39 0.0
2016 ZIPS projection .203 .262 .301 148 -0.1
2015 season .204 .235 .310 151 -0.4
2016 PECOTA projection .224 .267 .325 92 -0.3
2016 Steamer projetion .227 .272 .330 73 0.1
2016 ZIPS projection .222 .259 .319 144 -0.5

Last year's putrid offensive season for both catchers was not an aberration either. Butera is a career .185/.241/.266 hitter in 853 career Major League plate appearances. Tony Cruz is a career .220/.262/.310 in 633 plate appearances. By comparison, Zack Greinke is a career .220/.261/.328 hitter in 337 plate appearances.

Obviously neither catcher is with the team for their bat, but instead to provide a solid glove on the rare occasions Salvy is not behind the plate. Catcher defense can be hard to evaluate. Drew Butera is better at nabbing would-be base-stealers, throwing out 33% of base-runners, compared to just 28% by Tony Cruz. Drew Butera allows a passed ball once ever 84 innings, Tony Cruz once every 115 innings caught. Drew Butera allows a wild pitch once every 26 innings, Tony Cruz allows one once ever 27 innings. Drew Butera was well below average at pitch framing with the Royals last season, although he was above average in his short time with the Angels. Tony Cruz was nearly as bad last year, and was even worse in 2014.

Both players were tendered a contract last fall and are due to make around $1 million this year, but the Royals can still cut either catcher and be obligated to pay just a quarter of their salary. Tony Cruz, unlike Drew Butera, still has options remaining, making it much more likely he fails to make the team and is instead sent to Omaha for insurance. With Butera having a hot spring and Cruz hitless in 15 trips to the plate, it nearly seems a certainty Butera makes the club over Cruz.