Billy Beane is an innovative thinker. With “moneyball” he took spare parts and built a winner. The past couple of years, he has implemented a platoon system in Oakland. This change has taken full effect in Oakland, but the ramifications of Beane’s platooning are being felt around baseball.
By now, everyone in baseball knows that the A’s use platoons to set match-ups in their favor throughout the course of a game. This is most evident for the A’s at the catcher position. This season, John Jaso and Derek Norris have the same number of PA, at 172. Of course, the A’s have been using Jaso at DH a little more often with the emergence of Norris at the plate, which has helped both players gain playing time. The platoon, which now includes Stephen Vogt as a 3rd option, ranks 4th in baseball in RBI, 2nd in AVG, 3rd in HR and 2nd in OBP. These stats are their ranks just while catching. If you include DH time, they rank even higher.
Billy Beane tried something different, and it has worked thus far. The catching-tandem trial started in 2012 when Kurt Suzuki was traded away. The tandem was implemented full force with the acquisition of Jaso before the 2013 season.
With catchers now playing other positions for health reasons, (Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana) the Oakland model could become the future. Currently, only 11 teams have a catcher that has collected enough ABs to qualify for batting titles and other such awards. Some of this is due to injury with Devin Mesoraco and Matt Wieters both missing time, but a change of scenery around the diamond may be in their future. Teams want to protect their investments, and saving their knees from squatting, their bodies from blocking balls and the occasional collision at least on a part-time basis, seems like the most logical move.
At the time of this writing, Miguel Montero leads MLB with 58 games started behind the plate, in 68 team games. Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina each have 55 games started in 65 and 66 team games respectively. At the pace each of these catchers are starting, they will log right about 138 starts behind the plate. This is quite a drop off from the 150+ games that baseball is used to having one player catch.
While this may not all be Billy Beane’s doing, it is fair to say that he is both protecting his investments, as well as keeping their future costs affordable. With Norris and Jaso up for arbitration soon, it’s a shrewd business decision to both put each in spots they will succeed, and also make sure their numbers stay lower than they could be, keeping the price tag down, while also saving their bodies for later in the season.
While Billy Beane’s formula is harder to duplicate in the N.L. without the DH, it can still be done. Across the Bay, the Giants have been giving Posey some time off from behind the plate when he has struggled or has been banged up. This keeps both catchers on their roster fresh. It also helps that Hector Sanchez has done a good job of filling in for Posey when called upon.
While this may just be a down season for full-time catchers, this could also be a new adaptation of how baseball is played.
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