2014 Rockies Player Season Review – Michael McKenry

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MICHAEL MCKENRY MAY NEVER BE THE CATCHER OF THE PRESENT OR THE FUTURE

BUT HE SURE WAS A LOT BETTER THAN MANY WHO HAVE GUARDED HOME PLATE AT COORS

I am loathe to admit it – I forgot about Michael McKenry. When I went back over the entire off-season and all the articles I wrote on the 2014 season and the Rox players I just forgot Michael. To that, I ask his apologies and yours.

 

To be fair, forgetting about Rockies catchers is pretty easy. The Rox have had some All Star catchers in their existence, just never guys who were All Stars while they played in Colorado. We have seen the Joe Giradi, Jeff Reed, Kirt Manwaring, Yorvit Torrealba eras, and now the past few years Wilin Rosario, Jordan Pacheco and of course Michael McKenry, and soon coming to Coors Field, the Nick Hundley era.

 

Throughout their history the team has struggled to find guys who are at least average in the five major categories of a catcher:

 

  1. Game calling
  2. Plate blocking and pitch framing
  3. Arm/catching runners
  4. Hit for average
  5. Hit for power

 

That is the definition of a 5 tool player behind the plate, and while every now and then we get a guy who might be good at one or two of those areas, the team would love a guy who is acceptable at each – just acceptable. The team drafts at least a few catchers every year while also brining a few north every year from the Latin American complex, but this is just for need – you have to have at least 3 catchers at every minor league level, and that is harder than it sounds, at least to have decent guys there who aren’t hurting the development of your pitching staff. Maybe this is a grand time in Rockies history for catchers, since we just traded away two minor league catchers for some additional pitching, but for those of us who have endured punchless hitters, major league record setting passed balls, and much worse.

 

We have loved seeing the big bats, especially Wilin Rosario’s but how much has he retarded the development of pitchers? And on the road, can you live with the bats of guys like Danny Ardoin? So, the Rockies continue to draft, develop, and hope they will be able to have a starting catcher they can count on for years to come.

 

Which is where we the 2014 season of Michael McKenry becomes so difficult to evaluate. McKenry, called Fort McKenry while with the Pirates, started 2014 in the minors, until the team finally realized that for all his singles, Jordan Pacheco was at best a one tool player behind the plate. When McKerny got here May (originally to replace Rosario during his infection period) it was at the time the team was dealing challenging for 1st place. And sadly, McKenry wasn’t able to add much to that push throughout much of the first half. What I wasn’t aware of (and sadly should have been) was that his knee simply wasn’t that healthy at the point he arrived. The terrible knee injury he had in 2013 took longer to get strong than it did to get to playing level. It meant his hitting was held back significantly. No power and little push off. When he finally got healthy, he was actually a pretty big force offensively.

1st half 72 Plate App 1 HR 5 2B .299 BA .347 OBP .765 OPS .388 BABIP
2nd half 120 Plate App 7 HR 4 2B .327 BA .429 OBP 1.003 OPS .377 BABIP

 

So, we see a hitter in the second half who all of a sudden had pop in his bat and was hitting for a good average while also getting on base – a lot! In other words, he suddenly was meeting both of the offensive categories. And, it wasn’t just Coors Field stats by the way:

 

Home 97 Plate App 4 HR 3 2B .333 BA .438 OBP .956 OPS .397 BABIP
Away 95 Plate App 4 R 6 2B .299 BA .358 OBP .864 OPS .367 BABIP

 

So he hit well both on the road and at home, had good pop. What’s not to like? So why did the Rox go out and give their biggest off-season deal to Hundley?

 

Well, simply put, that is a very small amount of plate appearances, less than 200 for the season. In other words, it represents the equivalent of just 50 games and anyone can be hot for 50 games. Additionally, these numbers are far higher than his career stats. His best season before last year was 2012, when in 275 Plate Appearances he hit .233 BA/.320 OBP/.762 OPS with 12 homers and 14 doubles. So, if you are the Rockies, can you really bet he will produce near 2014 levels over 100 games? Clearly no.

 

But that is just on the offensive side. What about defense?

 

And here we run into the challenge of evaluating catching. For example, how good someone is at game calling is still rather difficult to determine. Yes, you can look at things like catcher’s ERA (the ERA for games where he is the catcher), but there is a lot of factors involved. The pitcher may have a bad day, may have been facing a team he struggles against, or the wind can be blowing in. So not perfect. Stats like passed balls and wild pitches are more concrete, as is base runners thrown out, although that stat, like the passed ball stat, can have a lot to do with pitchers.

 

Here is what we do know. In games where Tyler Matzek threw to McKenry, he allowed only a .252 BA, .317 OBP and .715 OPS with a 3.71 ERA, pretty darn good numbers and I might add, should have garnered Tyler some Rookie of the Year votes (Coors effect folks, can’t have it both ways). When throwing to Wilin (just 11 total innings to be fair) those numbers jump to .400/.481/1.037 and an ERA of 7.36. Yes, lots of variables but still, it sure looks like Tyler really benefited from McKenry behind the plate. If we look at the whole year the numbers for McKenry and Rosario aren’t that different in some areas, and hugely different in others:

 

Rosario .279 BA .344 OBP .793 OPS .308 BABIP 5.18 ERA
McKenry .273 BA .338 OBP .763 OPS .318 BABIP 4.19 ERA

 

Look yes, there is a lot of innings differential between the two (over 2X the number of innings caught by Rosario compared to McKenry), but still, that is a huge difference in ERA, despite the higher BABIP when McKenry is catching. What that might showing is that when there are base runners on, McKenry is able to guide the pitcher through the inning. We cannot know. But this does give credence to McKenry being a pretty good game caller, at least in 2014. At least one sabermaterics stat gave him a +2 runs saves. Not great, but not bad.

 

So, on to pitch framing. There is a growing amount of data on pitch framing with different stats available, and for this we have the implementation of Pitch F/X to help us. The basic work done looks at those pitches that were inside the zone and called a ball (poor pitch framing) vs. pitches outside the zone called a strike (great pitch framing). It is still imperfect but, getting there (of course for those of us who watched the final game of the 1997 NLCS when the Marlins were getting every pitch 2 feet off the plate called strikes (by the late Eric Gregg) we know that sometimes ups are just awful. But, the law of averages should equal those things out. So how did the Rockies receivers rate? Well, Wilin was the 7th WORST at pitch framing in 2014 and can be thankful that guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia exist (fyi, I was wondering why the Dodgers were so interested in sending A.J. Ellis, a catcher every pitcher there loves, to the bench – its all about pitch framing since he was the 5th worst in 2014). How was McKenry? 12th worst I am sad to say. And that is simply not good. Interestingly Hundley had a weird year, rating in the top 25% while with San Diego and the bottom 25% with Baltimore. Weird, and makes me doubt the stat just a bit. Then again, it is better than nothing.

 

Michael’s other defensive stats weren’t great either. He allowed 5 passed balls and 14 wild pitches while throwing out only 19% of the base runners stealing. Now in both cases the fact he was working with a lot of younger pitchers and Jorge De La Rosa and his weird motion and sharp breaking pitches doesn’t help. The sabermetric stats showed that his defense in these categories cost his team about 2 runs more than the average catcher. So, what he did positively in game calling he gave back with his sub-par defense (and pitch framing?).

 

So, in the end you can say McKenry had a 3 tool year, with great numbers offensively and a good job calling games for a very young and high-strung rotation. Not great, but definitely better than we have seen here in some time. That being said, there is no one I can think of who isn’t bemoaning the coming of Hundley and what he might be able to do in taking the pitching staff maintenance to the next level…even if he doesn’t hit .300.

 

2014 Grade:

Offensive – B+ – Hard to argue with what Michael did, especially after the knee got to feeling better. Not as much deep power as we might have wanted, but hitting 8 out in just less than 200 Abs isn’t anything to sneeze at. He gave them unexpected hits, especially down in the order, and generally made himself a solid choice for a back-up in 2015.

Defensive – C – I tend to believe most of the SABR stats on catchers, more than any other position. I think Mike was adequate behind the plate, and was really impressed at his work with Tyler Matzek, those less impressed with his work with Lyles. I was tempted to give him a C+, but too many PB and WP for too few innings and his under 20% on CS is simply not acceptable in this era.

 

Overall Grade – B – Defense is important, but Michael was one of the best offensive performers in Rockies history and he did have to work defensively in a tough situation. If Michael has another year like 2014 in 2015, he is going to challenge Hundley for the starting job, even if some of the defensive issues can go a bit squidgy. But hey, remember, this is the guy named Fort McKenry when he was in Pittsburg. His defense has to be pretty good to the eye of fans to warren that kind of nickname!

 

2015 Projection

 

This is really hard to do for Michael. Will he be the #3 catcher? The #2 catcher? In Colorado Springs? Traded? Will Hundley stay healthy (catching is a brutal job after all). If he does start off the season hitting as well as he did in 2014 and Hundley is stuck in the .220s with limited power, does the team make a switch? A lot of variables. I think he does end up getting to be the #2 catcher, catching regularly for guys like Matzek, and appears in around 60-70 games. I don’t see Wilin with the team by the All-Star break unless Hundley and McKenry are both hurt in Spring Training or April.

 

67 games 215 AB 11 HR 18 2B .285 BA .340 OBP .770 OPS .355 BABIP
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