When word hit on Monday night that the Texas Rangers had acquired Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs for Double-A pitcher Jacob Brigham, Twitter was instantly hit with criticism of the move. Most of the comments centered around Soto's .199 batting average with Rangers' fans unable to comprehend how acquiring a catcher who is hitting below the Mendoza line is supposed to help this club win ballgames. Fans have been so focused on a starting pitcher that they almost seemed to take the move personal.
I have also noticed that for some reason, fans always quickly come to the aide of Yorvit Torrealba. My comment when the move was announced was, "People always rise to the defense of Torrealba, but going and getting Soto tells you how much the Rangers value the job Torrealba has done." Torrealba had yet to be designated for assignment, but it was just a matter of time. Fans may have liked Torrealba and Yu Darvish may enjoy working with him, but he has simply not gotten the job done and has gotten worse by the day.
The first thing that is going to happen is people are going to compare the job Torrealba has done to that of Mike Napoli and that is completely fair and justified. Napoli has struggled himself this season and it may affect not only his paycheck as a free-agent, but also his chances of returning to the Rangers next season. Most will compare the .236 batting average of Torrealba to the .228 of Napoli. Obviously, production from the catchers has been horrible, but if there is one position on a baseball field that raw numbers and advanced stats are still lagging behind, it is with catchers.
When one looks at defensive numbers for a catcher, the first thing that is done is people look at the caught stealing percentage and this season, you will notice that both Torrealba and Napoli have dropped off from last season. Torrealba threw out 33% of potential base stealers last season and that has dropped to 23% percent in 2012, while Napoli was at 36% last season and has fallen all the way down to 21% this season. Soto is only at 27% this season, so it is not like we are looking at a big upgrade in that department.
We can look at every available defensive stat including passed balls, errors, catcher's ERA or just about anything else and not see a drastic difference this season. However, when we look at Rdrs/yr which is the number of defensive runs that a player saves per year we will start to see a difference. Napoli currently has a Rdrs/yr when behind the plate of -2, Soto has a Rdrs/yr of -5, but Torrealba has a Rdrs/yr of -12. That means that Torrealba's defense essentially gives up 10 more runs a year than Napoli.
Now advanced stats can be very boring and hard to completely interpret, but the majority of this issue is seen by watching these guys behind the plate. There are guys who are good receivers and those who are not. Right now Torreabla is not a good receiver. He was much better in 2011, but things have gone south this season. He is not shifting his body in front of balls in the dirt, he is stabbing at pitches, his mitt is even turned the wrong way a decent amount of the time and all of these issues contribute to his responsibility as a backstop. Those are also all issues that impact his ability to work with pitchers and help their confidence and ability in their trade.
It is very obvious to see that most of the Rangers' pitchers are more comfortable when Napoli is behind the plate. Napoli is not known for being a great defensive catcher, but he has definitely grown in that area and his pitchers' composure on the mound shows that.
A catcher is not a position you can go straight to stats and look at batting average, home runs, OBP, OPS and so on. It is a position that has many angles, than only the people who deal with them every day can see. If the Rangers went and got Soto who has struggled mightily at the plate over recent years and designated Torrealba for assignment, that tells you something about what the Rangers were seeing. This was a move that needed to be made and while it is far from the only issue the Rangers are dealing with, it is one that could provide a bigger return in the long-run than most people would expect.
On the business end of things, this is a move that could turn out very well for the Rangers. Both Torrealba and Napoli were going to be free agents at the end of the season and they stood the chance of having to replace both of them. Soto has one more year of team control and due to his offensive struggles, he should come at a fairly reasonable rate. At the same time, he could turn things around in Texas.
In 2008, Soto was the National League Rookie of the Year when he hit .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs. His average fell off in 2009, but then he rebounded in 2010 with a season that saw him compile an .890 OPS. His power numbers were still up in 2011, but his average had dropped to .228 and then this season he sits at .199.
He has without a doubt been on the decline and he is not in as good of physical shape that he once was, but he is still young and there is still plenty of time for him to turn things around. He will now have the rest of 2012 and 2013 to attempt that with the Rangers and the Rangers did not have to give up much to make it happen.
The Rangers gave up Jacob Brigham and a player to be named later for Soto and cash, but Brigham did not have a clear road to Arlington, especially anytime soon. He was 5-5 with Frisco with a 4.28 ERA. He is 24 years old and would have not had a likely opportunity to be in Texas for two or more years.
This is a deal that really has only positives for the Rangers. Soto needed a change of scenery and should be an upgrade over Torrealba. He also has much more power at the plate and it should not take much for him to provide an offensive upgrade over Torrealba. The production from the Rangers' catchers still begins with Napoli, but if Napoli can turn things and Soto can enjoy new surroundings, this is a deal that could turn out very well.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.