I won’t watch the replays of Carlos Santana’s leg injury. It’s obscene, and quite literally so. “Obscene” comes from the Latin: ob plus scenus, meaning that an action should take place “off-stage” and not be viewed for public consumption.
Speaking of the obscene, I’m going to write about Lou Marson, who the Indians planned to keep off-stage for the remainder of his tenure with the club. Marson was obviously added to serve as a bridge between Victor and Carlos, and once that bridge was traversed, Marson’s value would either be: (1) as tradebait for a team looking for a young catcher; or (2) as the Indians’ backup catcher of the future ala Kelly Shoppach.
But the injury the other night threw that plan out the window for the time being, and we’ll be treated to Lou Marson, Starting Catcher v. 2.0. I thought we’d look over some of Lou’s stats to see what sort of player he is, and whether one more stint with the big league team can help the club figure out whether he can be a viable starter (who could be traded) or just a young, cheap backup to give Santana a few days off here and there.
First, we have to remember that despite his seven years in the minors, Marson is actually younger than Santana by a couple of months—Santana was born in April and Marson in June, both in 1986. (I’ll pause here, to allow us all to feel old.) Marson made his pro-debut in 2004 with the Phillies rookie league affiliate, after being drafted in the 4th round out of high school. On the one hand, all his time in the minors may be a sign that he could never break through. But in reality, 24 is still quite young for a catcher in the Majors, considering the time it takes to learn the position.
Here are Marson’s career MiLB stats, along with his AAA numbers:
I know. That’s not Carlos Santana. That’s not even particularly close. Santana’s OPS in AAA was 1.044, and makes Marson’s .714 look like something a schoolgirl might post.
But we know that Marson isn’t going to replace Santana’s production; that’s just not in the cards. What I’d like to investigate is the sort of skill that Marson should bring, and how we’ll know if he’s doing it.
Obviously, neither Marson’s batting average nor his slugging is any good. He’s a sub-.260 hitter in AAA who slugs in the mold of an arthritic Juan Pierre.
His on-base percentage, though? That’s where I see some upside. The difference between Marson’s batting average and OBP is close to .100 points throughout his minor league career, and that tells me that the kid should be able to control the strikezone fairly well.
In fact, you’ll see that Marson has a 62:83 BB/K ratio—or for those who prefer simplifying things, a 0.75 BB/K rate.
What does that mean? Well, it’s actually pretty good. It means that for every four strikeouts, he walks three times. The only AL catchers with better BB/K rates this season (min. 150 PA) are John Jaso (1.56), Carlos Santana (1.28), Joe Mauer (1.16), Victor Martinez (0.90), and Jason Kendall (0.87). Granted, those guys are doing it against Major League pitching, but it still seems to suggest that Marson might be above average in regard to his ability to control the strikezone.
Without getting into MLEs again (though if you’re interested, go for it), I thought I’d put some of Marson’s AAA rate stats up against the other American League catchers this season. Here are a few charts (sorry for the data overload—feel free to skip down):
|Lou Marson (AAA)||12.3%|
|Lou Marson (AAA)||16.5%|
|Lou Marson (AAA)||0.75|
|Lou Marson (AAA)||0.256|
|Lou Marson (AAA)||0.351|
|Lou Marson (AAA)||0.363|
|Lou Marson (AAA)||0.714|
I’m sure my astute readers will notice a few things about these charts, and ask some pointed questions. I’ll try to anticipate them in due time. But first, the good news: Marson’s AAA numbers actually stack up pretty nicely with his competition. In his worst categories (Slugging, batting average, OPS), he’s an average AL catcher; in his best (plate discipline stats), he’s among the league leaders. That just tells you how rare it is for a major league catcher to hit well, and underscores the value of keeping Santana behind the plate in the future.
But, like I said, there are some major caveats here. Obviously, I just dumped Marson’s AAA numbers into a pool of major league players who have been performing against major league pitching. That’s a big difference, and one that I’m overlooking here to underscore Marson’s strengths.
Even more importantly though: look again at those tables up there. There are two Lou Marsons in each table. The one that I’ve bolded is his AAA self; the one that I didn’t is his major league self, from his stint with the Indians earlier this year. In every single table, AAA-Lou seriously outperformed Big-League-Lou. I am a decepticon.
So are these tables just a waste of our time? Sorta, yeah. But I take a few things from them. First, there is a vast difference between the pitching talent in AAA and the pitching talent in the American League. You can’t just assume that there isn’t a difference, and drop Marson’s minor league numbers right in like I did.
Second, though, is that Lou’s first stint was worse than he probably is. I’d put his likely Major League production somewhere in between his first go around this season and his AAA numbers. That means that he should be able to sustain a batting line of .250/.340/.350, with above average plate discipline peripherals. That’s not great, but it would actually be pretty decent production from the catcher’s spot—a .690 OPS would put him in the neighborhood of Matt Wieters, he of the Chuck Norris jokes. So as long as Marson’s defense stays strong (he was among the league leaders in caught stealing percentage before Santana’s promotion), he should be a valuable trade chip going into next season. Teams would rather have an average catcher making the league minimum than an average catcher making millions of dollars. It’s just that simple.
So I’m rooting for Lou. Not just because he’s an Indian, but because I want him to inflate his value to other teams. The things I want to see: as many walks as possible, and minimizing his strikeouts. If his OBP is better than league average (.330), he will be doing his job, as far as I’m concerned. Since his callup, Lou’s gone 2 for 7 (.286), but he hasn’t walked once. And if this speaks to a new approach at the plate, a few more homeruns off Josh Beckett wouldn’t hurt.