SABR-Toothed Triber: What Can Lou Do for You?

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:

BA OBP SLG OPS HR RBI BB SO
MiLB TOTALS 0.269 0.366 0.385 0.750 31 228 271 385
AAA 0.256 0.351 0.363 0.714 6 47 62 83

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):

Walk Rate:

BB%
Carlos Santana 19.3%
John Jaso 14.9%
Jorge Posada 13.0%
Lou Marson (AAA) 12.3%
Rob Johnson 12.0%
Joe Mauer 10.6%
Matt Wieters 10.3%
Alex Avila 10.2%
Victor Martinez 8.4%
Lou Marson 8.4%
Matt Treanor 8.1%
Jason Kendall 8.0%
Francisco Cervelli 7.9%
Mike Napoli 6.7%
Gerald Laird 6.2%
Kurt Suzuki 5.7%
Jake Fox 4.4%
John Buck 3.3%
A.J. Pierzynski 3.2%

Strikeout Rate:

K%
A.J. Pierzynski 8.1%
Kurt Suzuki 9.1%
Victor Martinez 10.3%
Joe Mauer 10.4%
Jason Kendall 10.4%
John Jaso 11.5%
Francisco Cervelli 16.1%
Lou Marson (AAA) 16.5%
Matt Treanor 18.7%
Carlos Santana 19.3%
Gerald Laird 20.4%
Matt Wieters 20.7%
Jorge Posada 23.8%
Lou Marson 24.3%
Alex Avila 25.6%
Rob Johnson 25.8%
Jake Fox 27.3%
John Buck 27.4%
Mike Napoli 29.1%

Walk-to-Strikeout Ratio:

BB/K
John Jaso 1.56
Carlos Santana 1.28
Joe Mauer 1.16
Victor Martinez 0.90
Jason Kendall 0.87
Lou Marson (AAA) 0.75
Kurt Suzuki 0.68
Jorge Posada 0.64
Francisco Cervelli 0.58
Matt Wieters 0.56
Rob Johnson 0.54
Matt Treanor 0.50
Alex Avila 0.44
A.J. Pierzynski 0.42
Lou Marson 0.39
Gerald Laird 0.33
Mike Napoli 0.26
Jake Fox 0.17
John Buck 0.13

Batting Average:

 

AVG
Joe Mauer 0.317
Victor Martinez 0.285
John Buck 0.277
John Jaso 0.271
Jason Kendall 0.263
Jorge Posada 0.262
Carlos Santana 0.260
Kurt Suzuki 0.260
Mike Napoli 0.256
Lou Marson (AAA) 0.256
Francisco Cervelli 0.254
Matt Wieters 0.251
A.J. Pierzynski 0.234
Jake Fox 0.227
Matt Treanor 0.225
Alex Avila 0.210
Lou Marson 0.196
Rob Johnson 0.191
Gerald Laird 0.189

 

On-base Percentage:

OBP
Carlos Santana 0.401
Joe Mauer 0.389
John Jaso 0.383
Jorge Posada 0.366
Lou Marson (AAA) 0.351
Victor Martinez 0.343
Matt Wieters 0.329
Jason Kendall 0.328
Francisco Cervelli 0.328
Mike Napoli 0.325
Kurt Suzuki 0.318
John Buck 0.309
Matt Treanor 0.304
Alex Avila 0.294
Rob Johnson 0.293
A.J. Pierzynski 0.272
Jake Fox 0.269
Lou Marson 0.268
Gerald Laird 0.246

Slugging Percentage:

 

SLG
John Buck 0.498
Mike Napoli 0.484
Jorge Posada 0.472
Joe Mauer 0.469
Carlos Santana 0.467
Victor Martinez 0.466
Kurt Suzuki 0.412
John Jaso 0.385
Jake Fox 0.380
Matt Wieters 0.376
Lou Marson (AAA) 0.363
Matt Treanor 0.352
A.J. Pierzynski 0.347
Francisco Cervelli 0.317
Alex Avila 0.313
Jason Kendall 0.307
Lou Marson 0.284
Rob Johnson 0.281
Gerald Laird 0.262

 

 

OPS:

 

OPS
Carlos Santana 0.868
Joe Mauer 0.858
Jorge Posada 0.838
Victor Martinez 0.809
Mike Napoli 0.809
John Buck 0.807
John Jaso 0.768
Kurt Suzuki 0.731
Lou Marson (AAA) 0.714
Matt Wieters 0.706
Matt Treanor 0.656
Jake Fox 0.649
Francisco Cervelli 0.645
Jason Kendall 0.635
A.J. Pierzynski 0.619
Alex Avila 0.607
Rob Johnson 0.574
Lou Marson 0.552
Gerald Laird 0.508

 

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.

  • GamerGame

    Marson the maniac!!!! That’s what my friends and I call him.

  • mgbode

    I like how AAA Lou Marson is a poor-man’s John Jaso. That’s not a bad thing for a backup catcher to be.

    Now, if MLB Lou Marson can catch-up, then we’ll be set.

  • Karsten

    C’mon Sweet Lou, show us your good stuff for the rest of this season!

    You did fail to mention, it appears, that he has the best percentage of throwing out base stealers in the majors. Not something to spit at.

  • MattyFos

    Jon, to answer your question… Not much

  • Hans

    Jon, when is Shelley Duncan’s turn? Or are we just pre-acknowledging his greatness?