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Colorado's Catching Conundrum: Who best to back Lucroy?

Andrew Dill Avatar
August 2, 2017

The Colorado Rockies addressed their catching position on July 30, one day before the trade deadline frenzy. The team acquired two-time All Star Jonathan Lucroy from the Texas Rangers in exchange for a Player to be Named Later.

Lucroy, 31, was supposed to make his Rockies debut Tuesday night but was scratched from the lineup late due to a stomach ailment. He never made an appearance in the dugout.

The Rockies sent down starting catcher Tony Wolters after adding Lucroy to the roster, giving the left-handed hitter more of an opportunity to find his swing with everyday at-bats in Triple-A Albuquerque. The only problem, however, is the fact that Colorado has catchers Tom Murphy and Dustin Garneau already in AAA.

Wolters will obviously have the upper-hand at starts and can play second base as well, but the Rockies have a decision to make and that starts with Ryan Hanigan.

The 36-year-old is hitting .262/.323/.357 with two doubles, two home runs, and 12 RBI in 25 games this season. It’s always nice to have a veteran on the staff to mentor the young pitchers, which the Rockies have an abundance of, but now have two veteran catchers on the roster with the acquisition of Lucroy. Now, don’t get me wrong, .262 is serviceable for a backup, especially at the age of 36, but Colorado is going to need a little more from a position that has struggled all season.

At some point, production will matter for the Rockies who currently possess the number one Wild Card in the National League. The team is hoping a change of scenery bodes well for Lucroy who hit just .242/.297/.398 with 15 doubles, four home runs, and 27 RBI in 77 games with the Rangers. This coming a year after where Lucroy hit .292/.355/.500 with 24 doubles, 24 home runs, and 81 RBI in 142 games split between Milwaukee and Texas.

The catching position, nonetheless, has been the weak link of Colorado’s offense and defense this season by a wide margin. Although the WAR for the right field position, mainly occupied by Carlos Gonzalez, is a whopping -2.8.  Colorado ranks dead last in the league in terms of catcher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with -2.3.

Colorado’s catchers rank around the middle of the pack in terms of on-base percentage and batting average but have struggled with the ability to hit for power and drive in runs. As a group, they have hit just three home runs this season (dead last in MLB) while driving in just 33 which is good for third worst. Not to mention an OPS of .619 which is the second worst in the league.

Hence the reason Colorado made the move to add Lucroy.

Colorado was certainly hoping Tom Murphy would split time with Wolters to add a different dimension to Colorado’s offense. Murphy broke his right forearm in Spring Training after an attempt to throw a runner out at second base. Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo‘s bat caught him on the downswing, sidelining him until the middle of June.

Murphy didn’t look the same since he returned and it took just eight games for a demotion. Murphy collected just one hit in 20 at-bats (.050). His lone hit was a double while striking out seven times and walking twice. He has looked better in Triple-A, however, hitting at a line of .294/.337/.506 with seven doubles, three home runs, and 13 RBI to go along with five walks. Yet one thing continues to plague the backstop — strikeouts. Murphy is striking out 42% of the time (36 strikeouts in 85 at-bats).

The other catcher featured at Triple-A Albuquerque, Dustin Garneau, was a decent surprise to start the 2017 season. With Murphy on the disabled list, Garneau split time with Wolters and surprised with XBH power, collecting nine extra-base hits in 19 games. Beyond the unexpected pop, the average and on-base percentage simply weren’t there as Garneau hit just .206/.260/.353 in 18 games played.

An argument one can make is Hanigan has indeed handled the staff well. In 25 games with Hanigan behind the dish, the staff ERA is 3.76. One thing he hasn’t handled fairly well is baserunners as he is just 3-for-12 (25%) on throwing runners out. Garneau, on the other hand, handed the staff pretty well in his limited time. In  22 games (18 starts), he posted a 3.64 ERA which clearly shows there isn’t a drop-off. He, too, struggled with baserunners while going 2-for-8 on throwing runners out (25%).

Garneau, like Murphy, has looked much better at the plate in AAA. In 36 games, Garneau is hitting .281/.347/.617 with nine doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, and 26 RBI. Garneau, outside of Ryan McMahon who is absolutely tearing up the Pacific Coast League, has the teams second best OPS with .964.

Although it’s highly unlikely the Rockies will make a move anytime soon regarding the catching position, especially since the team just added Lucroy, the Rockies have two options at Triple-A more suited to produce from the backup role.

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