Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Butera's Reign of Terror Over?

The Twins had a lot of players miss significant time last season, but no one's absence was felt more than Joe Mauer, who sat out 80 games with a variety of ailments.

This isn't just because he is the team's best player. It's also because no position carried less depth in the Twins organization than catcher. Mauer was able to start only 47 games behind the plate, and when he was unavailable those nods largely went to Drew Butera, whose miserable .167/.210/.239 hitting line tagged him with the second-worst OPS in the majors among players with 200 or more plate appearances.

Shockingly, Butera might have actually been the best option. When the alternatives are Rene Rivera and Steve Holm – similarly inept hitters who provide less value with the mitt – it's hard to fault Ron Gardenhire for continually writing in Butera's name with the starter sidelined.

Gardenhire's affinity for Butera may have played a role in the front office failing to provide adequate depth at catcher, but there's no question that it was a massive tactical misstep displaying a glaring lack of foresight, especially considering that Mauer's health had already shown signs of deteriorating late in the 2010 season.

Mauer's health remains a question mark as we head into the 2012 campaign, and even if he shakes his injury concerns there's still a good chance he'll spend significant time away from catcher. Butera remains on the roster, but fortunately there are a couple guys who can legitimately push him for the top backup job this year.

One of those players is J.R. Towles, who was signed as a minor-league free agent back in December. Towles, who came up in the Astros system, holds a Butera-esque .187/.267/.315 hitting line in 484 major-league plate appearances. However, while one would expect Butera's horrendous offensive production in the bigs based on his .613 career OPS in the minors, Towles absolutely raked at every level of Houston's system, accumulating a .295/.394/.465 line in 409 minor-league games, including an .831 OPS at Triple-A. Prior to the 2008 season, Baseball America ranked him as the 53rd-best prospect in all of baseball.

Towles has failed in numerous short stints in the majors and it's possible he's one of those guys that will never catch on against MLB pitching, but he's still only 27 (younger than Butera) and there's a chance he could be a late bloomer. He's obviously got some ability.

The other backstop that will be worth keeping an eye on is Chris Herrmann, whom the Twins drafted in 2009. He has split time between catcher and outfield while coming up through Minnesota's system, but if he can stick behind the plate his bat is very intriguing.

After struggling at Ft. Myers in 2010, Herrmann got off to a torrid start there last year and earned a quick promotion to New Britain. There, he continued to excel, batting .258/.380/.392 with seven homers and a 68-to-64 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 406 plate appearances. He also obliterated the Arizona Fall League after the season, batting .380/.456/.620 with six doubles, two homers and a 6/7 K/BB ratio in 15 games.

Herrmann's outstanding plate discipline, combined with moderate pop and a dash of speed (he totaled six triples and 10 steals last year) gives him a very solid offensive skill set, especially for a backup catcher. If his defense holds up, his only downside is that unlike Butera and Towles, he swings lefty so he doesn't match up as a platoon caddy for Mauer.

It's tough to say with much confidence that Mauer will be able to return to catching 130 games this year, but thanks to the presence of guys like Towles and Hermann, a scenario in which the Twins' starting catcher can't do much catching figures to be far less catastrophic than it was in 2011.

---

If you weren't aware, my friend Lindsay Guentzel, who has worked with KFAN and Fox Sports North, is making a bid to spend the summer covering baseball in the MLB Fan Cave this year. With her bubbly personality and legitimate knowledge of the game, she's a great candidate to represent Twins fans in this NYC-based "MLB dream job."

Lindsay has been promoting non-stop as she vies for this highly competitive position. You can view her latest YouTube video, in which she talks about what she'd do with the various MLB players who are scheduled to make appearances at the Fan Cave this year, here.

Please join me in helping support her quest. If you're on Twitter, tweet the hashtag #LindsInNYC at the @MLBFanCave account. If you're on Facebook, show some love for Lindsay on the MLB Fan Cave page. Let's a get a (very awesome) Twins fan in the Cave in 2012!

42 comments:

thrylos98 said...

I like Herrmann a lot and I think that as is, he is better that Butera, but last month Bill Smith (yes Bill Smith) when was in New Britain for their annual fan thing, said that Herrmann will start the season there. So not much of a chance...

Nick N. said...

So not much of a chance...

Not to start the season, maybe, but he'll certainly have a chance to make his way to the majors over the course of the summer.

cy1time said...

Any chance we could send Butera to AA so Herrmann could learn game calling skills from Gardy's "best" game caller?

Jack Steal said...

Nick,

I completely agree with your analysis about prospect Chris Herrmann..I told Seth Stohs the two prospects that I'm most encouraged about are Herrmann and Brian Dozier. You forgot to mention that Herrmann is a on base machine and can throw out runners at a high rate as well. It will be interesting to see if he continues to progress as he moves through the system. Twins also have Danny Rams below him who looks pretty good. Hopefully Buitera's days are numbered and he gets traded.

Anonymous said...

After watching get latest videos I can't help but think that there has to be dozens of better applicants for the MLB Fan Cave.

It's hard for me to believe that one of the "supposed" biggest baseball fans out there doesn't even own a tv. How are you supposed to watch games outside of your network?

Anonymous said...

*her, not get

Amelia said...

Anonymous -

Have you heard of MLB.tv? All the games on your computer or mobile device. It's a great option for those noting living their team's market. I love it (Twins fan living in Wisconsin).

Anonymous said...

Did the post not mention Doumit intentionally? I thought he was the insurance against seeing Butera at the plate. Maybe I am missing something

Nick N. said...

Did the post not mention Doumit intentionally? I thought he was the insurance against seeing Butera at the plate. Maybe I am missing something

Doumit will get plenty of tread at various positions, but because of his versatility the Twins are almost certain to carry a third catcher, and if Mauer can't catch much that player is likely to see a good chunk of time. The question posed here is whether another player can supplant Butera from that role.

Nick N. said...

You're right though, I should've mentioned Doumit in this conversation. I just considered him a little less germane to the subject because, A) he's not strictly a catcher and, B) he's had tons of durability problems.

TT said...

Herrmann got moved to catcher because his bat doesn't really play in the outfield. He has caught 108 games in his professional career. He is a very long way from being a major league catcher.

Catching is a defensive position and none of the other candidates are as good behind the plate as Butera. I think the really interesting thing to watch is whether Butera or Doumit is used as the number two catcher.

Anonymous said...

Amelia, why would you want to watch out of market baseball games on your computer when you could enjoy them on your tv? Have you ever heard of the MLB Extra Innings package?

DD said...

"Catching is a defensive position and none of the other candidates are as good behind the plate as Butera."

Neither is Mauer. Should Butera start in front of him too?

Defense is only part of the equation. When you're one of the worst hitters in the history of major league baseball, being good defensively simply isn't enough. Butera should not be on a major league roster, period.

TT said...

"one of the worst hitters in the history of major league baseball"

He's not even close. But even if he was, he still has value as a catcher. He may get only 3 plate appearances in a game, while he catches 120+ pitches.

DD said...

TT, Here's a list (courtesy of Aaron Gleeman) of players since 1920 with 220 PA in a season and an OPS lower than .430:

Brandon Wood 2010 243 .382
Tony Pena 2008 235 .398
Ray Oyler 1968 247 .399
John Vukovich 1971 233 .400
DREW BUTERA 2011 225 .430

5 players in 90+ years. He's one of the worst hitters of all time.

"He may get only 3 plate appearances in a game, while he catches 120+ pitches."

Nice distortion. How many impact plays does he have on defense? A couple stolen base attempts (nobody runs anymore)? A couple balls in the dirt? How many balls in the dirt with runners on? How many with a runner on 3rd?

And how much "better" is Butera in these areas than the average catcher? Most major league catchers block damn near everything. Even a good-armed catcher throws out only, what, 40% of runners?

Incremental defensive benefits do not outweigh the enormous offensive liability Butera is. Sorry, there is just no rational justification for it.

t.boone pickens said...

matt lecroy raked at every minor league level too.

TT said...

What is magic about 220 PA? Or 1920? Or OPS for that matter. Nothing. This is the kind of dishonest junk "science" you expect from Gleeman. Its a set of data constructed to prove a point.

If Butera had one of the top five OPS among players with 220 PA since 1920 would that make him "one of the (best) hitters in history. No.

"How many impact plays does he have on defense?"

I think every pitch has an impact. And he calls every pitch and decides where it will be located. The reason catchers defense is valued is that, except for the pitcher, they are involved in far more plays than any other player,
with a lot more impact.

"Incremental defensive benefits do not outweigh the enormous offensive liability Butera is"

In your opinion, but apparently not in the opinion of professional baseball people. You are not only underestimating defense, you are way overestimating the impact of his poor offense. Having a third catcher will allow Gardy to pinch hit for Butera when it matters the most, optimizing the value of his defense versus his offense.

TT said...

Just to keep this clear:

How many times in a game does the other team have to get a hit because the catcher called the exact pitch a hitter is looking for to make up the difference between being a .200 OBP and .300 OBP?

The numbers say its less than once per game. He will get on base one more time in every ten plate appearances in three games. One bad pitch choice per game will produce three more hits for the other team in that same period. And that is just one way poor catching can cost you.

" Most major league catchers block damn near everything."

Not surprising really is it? Catching is a defensive position. Teams don't stick guys out there if they can't catch the ball. The offense just isn't worth the cost.

Anonymous said...

Terrible article by nick the dick that critisizes Butera for what he does best! He is a great defensive catcher who did his job well. We all knew he could not hit MLB pitching. He will be backing up Joe again this season because he is a grat defensive catcher and Gardy knows it. Doumit is a third string catcher who will take Kubel's DH job most of the season. Mauer came to camp a mess and he admitted it. Move on and quit using butera as your whipping boy! His dad could catch a good game and so can he!! Signed Craig D.

USAFChief said...

I think every pitch has an impact. And he calls every pitch and decides where it will be located. The reason catchers defense is valued is that, except for the pitcher, they are involved in far more plays than any other player,
with a lot more impact.


1. Catchers do not call pitches. Pitchers call pitches. Catchers suggest, pitchers decide. Or have you never seen a pitcher shake off a catcher?

2. If Butera's defense--and/or pitch calling--were so special, one would think opposing teams would score fewer runs with him behind the plate compared to other Twins catchers. That has not been the case in either of the past two seasons.

Catcher ERA, 2011:
Butera: 4.92
Mauer: 4.43
Rivera: 3.91

2010:
Butera: 4.13
Mauer: 3.81


NOTE: Morales in 2010, and Holm in 2011, had higher CERA's than Butera, but neither had enough innings behind the plate to make any fair comparisons. Likewise, Ramos in 2010 had a lower CERA than Butera, but again had too few innings.

Now I know there are problems with catcher's ERA, and one shouldn't draw hard and fast conclusions using only that one piece of data. Still and all, if Butera's defense and "pitch calling" is so special, shouldn't it start showing up as fewer runs scored, somewhere along the line? Or if not, wouldn't it be at least fair to ask if all this talk about how special Butera's defense is, is in fact nothing but a bunch of mularkey?

In the end, none of this matters, because DD has it exactly correct. No amount of defense can, or ever will, make up for such an anemic bat. It's been ever thus in the big leagues, I suspect it always will.

Nick N. said...

Incremental defensive benefits do not outweigh the enormous offensive liability Butera is. Sorry, there is just no rational justification for it.

I agree with this. Contrary to TT's sentiment that Butera has a profoundly positive defensive impact on every pitch of the game, the data shows that Twins' pitchers performed no better with him on the field than any of the alternatives last year.

He's a very solid defensive catcher with a good arm. But regardless of his fielding ability, he doesn't hit enough to be playing in the majors. American League teams can't afford to bat a pitcher, and NL teams can't afford to bat two.

matt lecroy raked at every minor league level too.

And if LeCroy was a remotely decent catcher, he'd have been a real asset. He was a fine hitter in his late 20s.

Terrible article by nick the dick

Cute.

Jay Hamilton said...

Catchers should be able to hit. Period. Only position player where a weak bat can be excused is SS, but the defense had then better be WAY worth it (are you listening, Jackie Hernandez?) Butera will end up a manager/coach within the next couple years. This season, he can catch in the minors. Jerry Zimmerman he is not, which is pretty freakin' sad. Gardy, by the by, is fat.

Matt Groff said...

I think what we have to remember is that 2 years ago we can all agree that the systems best prospects were a few years away yet. Now, two years later these guys will begin to trickle in. Herrmann is one of those guys that can trickle in.

I have to believe that Gardy is going to try to use Mauer and Doumit behind the dish, but he will soon find that Doumit just can't handle it defensively.

Hopefully he's smart enough to push for Herrmann or even Towles to come up instead of giving Butera the Florist any sort of extended look again.

I don't like when the twins carry three Catchers, I just don't think Doumit is very valuable anywhere else especially with Mauer able to spell Morneau at first instead of DH.

Towards the end of his MVP season Mauer actually said he doesn't like to DH because sitting on the bench while the team is in the field, it's hard for him to stay loose. So I think we are going to see him at 1B a lot more than we think.

TT said...

" Catchers do not call pitches. Pitchers call pitches. Catchers suggest, pitchers decide. Or have you never seen a pitcher shake off a catcher?"

Yes, and I have heard managers publicly criticized pitchers who did it too often.

This is a ridiculous comment. Its obvious pitchers rely on their catcher to call the game. Its also obvious the catcher can't make the pitcher throw a pitch he doesn't want to.

"If Butera's defense--and/or pitch calling--were so special, one would think opposing teams would score fewer runs with him behind the plate compared to other Twins catchers."

This is equally ridiculous. Its obvious the Twins catchers do not catch all pitchers equally. And the "other Twins catcher" has been Joe Mauer, a gold glove winner.

"It's been ever thus in the big leagues"

To the contrary. It has never been "thus". Overall, catchers have always produced the least offense of any position.

"he doesn't hit enough to be playing in the majors. "

And yet, there he is. Apparently because some people who know a lot more about baseball disagree with you. And all you need to do is look at Jeff Mathis numbers for the Angels to realize its not just the Twins who feel that way.

Its fine to have an opinion, just be clear when it is based on nothing.

TT said...

One other thing. I think it would help if people understood WHY the catcher calls the game. A catcher sees the same hitters a lot more often than any pitcher. Starters may face a team only a couple times a season. Relievers come into a game and may not have seen a hitter at all.

In short, the catcher has way more information to work with, assuming he knows how to use it. On the other hand, they need to know what the pitcher can do and match their choices to the pitchers strengths. That's why its usually a very bad sign when a pitcher is shaking off the catcher a lot. It means the catcher is choosing pitches the pitcher lacks confidence in.

DD said...

"Its fine to have an opinion, just be clear when it is based on nothing."

What is your opinion based on? Ron Gardenhire's opinon? These opinions are based on numbers and statistics. Not the end-all, but it's something. YOU are basing your opinion on absolutely nothing. The statistics bear out how terrible a hitter and how good-but-not-great he is as a "game caller".

"One other thing. I think it would help if people understood WHY the catcher calls the game"

This proves you just don't know how baseball works. If you had played baseball at any level, you would know that the manager calls a lot of pitches, otherwise it's ultimately up to the pitcher. The catcher is the conduit between the dugout and the mound. The "information to work with"? You think the catcher has a notebook or something with how to pitch every guy in the lineup? The dugout has that information.

Your description of what a catcher does is hilarious, it's like the impression a blind person who's never played or seen the game but only heard Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan-announced games would get.

Jim H said...

"Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan-announced games would get."

DD, you might want to pick different examples. Joe Morgan was a Hall of Fame 2b and McCarver was considered one of the best defensive catchers of his era. You might not agree with their opinions, but they know a bit about baseball.

I think everyone is overstating the effect of Butera's bad offense. As the 3rd catcher he is unlikely to get 10 AB's a week. Even if you replaced him with someone who hit a hundred points higher, say 275 to 175, that is only 1 hit a week. That extra one hit a week has value, but come on.

Realistically the difference between Butera and whoever takes his place won't be that much, probably not defensively either, since that is why whoever the 3rd catcher is will be on the roster.

TT said...

"if you had played baseball at any level, you would know that the manager calls a lot of pitches"

Yeh, in high school.

"These opinions are based on numbers and statistics."

My God! Numbers!? 2+2=4. See? I'm right. The statistic proves it.

The only actual statistics provided here, by me, contradicted your earlier claim. So you changed your point, claiming there were numbers that supported your new claim. You have yet to provide them and, as I pointed out, they wouldn't prove your point even if you did.

TT said...

Here is a link to a story about last year's dust-up between Mauer and Mijares over Mauer calling fastballs.

http://www.replaytheseries.com/pages/landing_catholic?blockID=535106&tagID=14110

DD said...

"Yeh, in high school."

I'm seriously beginning to doubt you have ever seen a major league baseball game.

DD said...

"The only actual statistics provided here, by me, contradicted your earlier claim."

What the hell are you talking about? I showed you how Butera is historically bad as a hitter. Others showed catcher ERA numbers to debunk your opinion that he's special defensively. You have done nothing to backup your opinion except use more of your outlandish opinions.

Anonymous said...

TT, did you even read the article you cite?

Gardy: "One rule of this game is you don't have to throw [what the catcher calls] because you have the ball."

That's your boy Gardy saying the pitcher calls the pitches, exactly contrary to what you said. How are you going to distort this one?

TT said...

"Gardy: "One rule of this game is you don't have to throw [what the catcher calls] because you have the ball."

How is that contrary to what I said?:

" Its obvious pitchers rely on their catcher to call the game. Its also obvious the catcher can't make the pitcher throw a pitch he doesn't want to."

More to the point, how does this quote from Gardy support your claim that the pitcher calls the game:

"You trust your catcher. That's a good thing when you trust your catcher. Some of the issues we've had in the past were guys shaking too much, trying to outthink the game rather than trust the catcher"


"What the hell are you talking about?"

Sorry, that was irrelevant. I was talking about an entirely different discussion about Capps.

Anonymous said...

I've told you guys before- no real point in arguing with TT. He seems to be contrarian in nature and just likes to disagree to disagree. Butera is absolutely awful on the offensive end and the statistics support that. Sure, stats aren't the end-all, be-all, but they very strongly indicate that he was easily one of the worst hitters in all of baseball last year.

I haven't seen anything to contradict that, aside from TT's blanket statements deriding the use of statistics.

It's also still a mystery as to why catcher ERA is misleading in any way. If he is in fact defensively superior, and he plays a large role in the defense (which is entirely true), then you would think that pitchers would perform better when Butera is behind the plate. He would block enough pitches, keep runners on enough, and call a better game so that the ERA when he's out there is lower than when other catchers are out there.

It isn't. Despite having largely the same defense out there and the same pitchers, Butera hasn't been shown to have a positive defensive impact when compared to the other Twins' catchers.

Anonymous said...

"I think everyone is overstating the effect of Butera's bad offense. As the 3rd catcher he is unlikely to get 10 AB's a week."

Is he the third catcher? If he is, then he's pretty irrelevant and I wouldn't think he'd be out there often at all. But then that's a largely wasted roster spot. I suspect we'll see him catch a lot more. As Nick said, Doumit is versatile and will get time at other positions, namely RF, 1B, and DH, in addition to catcher. And his durability problems will limit how frequently he catches.

I frankly doubt that Mauer will catch more than 100 games, which would leave 60 open. I would bet the bulk of the rest of the starts go to Butera, if he isn't replaced by one of the players named by Nick.

I guess if some of you want to say that it doesn't really impact a team to have one batting spot be pretty much a black hole, go right ahead. But I would have thought that last year demonstrated that that isn't the way to win ballgames. I'm really hoping that the Twins don't have to rely on Butera much, given that he's so awful with the bat and defensively, he's nothing more than good.

TT said...

"It's also still a mystery as to why catcher ERA is misleading in any way."

Only if you don't think about it. You think maybe which pitchers a catcher catches might have some impact on that? That can be a huge variable even if you only compare catchers on the same team.

How much impact does the catcher have to have in order to make up for his 3 at bats? None that is measurable. Unless you would expect one hit every three games to show up in a measurable way in the ERA. It won't, but if you are looking to prove there is "no evidence", its good to choose statistics that you wouldn't really expect to show any evidence.

Would you expect to measure a hitter's contribution by comparing the runs at team scored when they were in the lineup? How about how many games the team won? No. Does that mean the player didn't contribute? No.

"Butera hasn't been shown to have a positive defensive impact when compared to the other Twins' catchers."

You mean compared to Mauer, winner of a gold glove? How does that prove anything, even if ERA was a useful tool?

USAFChief said...

Teams don't stick guys out there if they can't catch the ball. The offense just isn't worth the cost.

Mike Piazza and his 7700+ PA says hi.

An old baseball adage says something along the lines of "shake a tree and an hundred gloves fall out, but only one bat."

Nobody keeps a job in the major leagues just because of their glove. You have to hit, at least a little. If you can't, your bosses are looking for your replacement, and looking hard. On the other hand, history is replete with examples of players who stuck around the big leagues for years based solely on their ability to hit.

Like I said...it has always been that way, and always will.

Drew Butera doesn't belong on a team trying to win, and I suspect he won't be for very much longer.

TT said...

" But I would have thought that last year demonstrated that that isn't the way to win ballgames."

Right, because the Twins only had one hole in their lineup last year. Were you paying attention? Or do you really believe you can judge the value of Butera's offensive contribution last year based on the Twins overall offense?

As I have pointed out before. The difference between Butera's OBP of slightly over .200 and the Twins average of about .300 is one base runner ever 10 plate appearances. The idea that difference is going to show up clearly in the team's runs scored is as ridiculous as expecting differences in catchers to show up in ERA.

USAFChief said...

As I have pointed out before. The difference between Butera's OBP of slightly over .200 and the Twins average of about .300 is one base runner ever 10 plate appearances. The idea that difference is going to show up clearly in the team's runs scored is as ridiculous as expecting differences in catchers to show up in ERA.

Wait...what?? Differences in OBP don't result in differences in runs scored?

Nick N. said...

This is equally ridiculous. Its obvious the Twins catchers do not catch all pitchers equally. And the "other Twins catcher" has been Joe Mauer, a gold glove winner.

Mauer last won a Gold Glove in 2010. Even that one probably wasn't deserved, and it's largely irrelevant at this point anyway since his defense has deteriorated along with his health over the past two years. If he was considered such a defensive asset we wouldn't see Pavano and others asking for the backup every time out (Pavano performed better when pitching to Mauer than Butera last year, by the way).

And yet, there he is. Apparently because some people who know a lot more about baseball disagree with you.

I like how you keep pointing to the fact that the Twins carried Butera on the roster last year as proof of his value. Because, as we all know, the Twins have never made a mistake or displayed poor judgment. And they've certainly never given opportunities to a bad player due to unwarranted affection.

Yeah, Butera was on the roster last year, because some super-smart baseball people deemed him worthy. He went on to put up the second-worst offensive performances in the league in 250 plate appearances. And unlike Reid Brignac (former top prospect and the only player who ranked lower) or even Jeff Mathis (whose career OPS is 80 points higher than Butera's) there's no reason to expect anything more. He's an awful, awful hitter who has always been utterly over-matched in the pros and always will be.

It's easy to say that the third catcher doesn't have a huge offensive impact. But as it's not clear how many games Mauer or Doumit will be able to catch this year, there's a good chance that whoever is in Butera's role will accumulate another 250 plate appearances -- maybe more.

For a team that scored the fewest runs in baseball last year, leaving the worst hitter in the league in a position to rack up significant at-bats in a second consecutive year would be blatantly foolish, especially considering that his supposedly profound impact on the pitching game did not prevent the Twins from having the worst staff in the league last year (and worse under his watch than any of the alternatives).

As for those front office baseball people who are way smarter than me? They realize that. That's why guys like Towles, Doumit and Herrmann are around.

Anonymous said...

"Wait...what?? Differences in OBP don't result in differences in runs scored?"

I think the point is you won't be able to see that small difference by comparing how may runs a team scores because there are too many other factors involved. If you lack that basic understanding of statistics, you ought to shut up, listen and learn.

USAFChief said...

If you lack that basic understanding of statistics, you ought to shut up, listen and learn.

If you don't think that every hitter in a lineup contributes, or doesn't contribute, to a team's run total, then I can't help you.

The idea that having Drew Butera in the lineup doesn't hurt the Twins offensively--because after all, it's only one baserunner every 10 PAs--is ridiculous.