Sunday, July 18, 2010

The little victories of a backup catcher

Drew Butera — this is not a deep secret — is not a major league hitter. Saturday's 0-for-3 dropped his batting average to .148, which is 52 points below the Mendoza line, and his other numbers aren't any better.

It is really difficult to stay in the major leagues hitting .148, even if it's as a backup catcher with less than 60 trips to the plate as of mid July.

And yet I was truly impressed with Butera on Saturday evening.

Nobody has every been able to figure out a reliable statistical measure for catcher's work behind the plate. How do you put a number on the value of his pitch calling, when it's not solely his decision to throw a fastball inside on this pitch and the change down and away on the next —and when he's not the one who has to execute the pitch? How can you tell if the way he caught the pitch — smoothly or with a sudden jerk — subtly influenced the umpire's call?

These things stuck me Saturday:

  • Carl Pavano wasn't wandering away from the mound, wasn't shaking Butera off, wasn't holding endless conferences about what to throw next. Butera gave him the sign, Pavano threw the pitch. Right pitch or wrong pitch, the two were working in tandem. (Which I think is what was behind the pictured embrace.)
  • Butera threw out Juan Pierre stealing (one of two). Throwing out any base stealer with Pavano pitching is an accomplishment.
  • The Paul Konerko strikeout in the ninth inning was a thing of beauty.

That last deserves some description. Earlier in the game, Konerko hit an 0-2 fastball for a home run. Later, Pavano struck him out in an at-bat in which he stayed completely away from the fastball. Now, it's the ninth, the tying run's at third, and Konerko's up.

Pitch one: Change up, low; Konerko swings and misses. He's thinking: There's no way I'm seeing a fastball in this at-bat. But I want one.

Pitch two: A fastball, up, probably out of the strike zone. Konerko swings late, fouls it off. Bleepity-bleep, he threw a fastball past me. Can't let that happen again.

Pitch three: Change up, down and away, swing and a miss, strike three.

Butera called the pitches. Pavano threw them. Pavano gets the statistical credit. Butera gets a hug.

And a major league paycheck. Both are better than a ticket back to the minors.


Elsewhere on Saturday, Charlie Walters of the Pioneer Press was channelling his inner Sid Hartman with this suggestion that the Twins re-sign Mike Redmond, who was cut loose by the Cleveland Indians and is now a free agent. Quite obviously, Redmond would displace Butera.

Sid used to do this kind of thing a lot — urge the Twins in print to bring back some washed-up relic of a source. I suppose that kind of piece helps the writer make his copy quota and cultivate the player in question (I figure Redmond is done as a player, but he's going to coach and/or manage somewhere someday), but it's misleading for the reader. Bringing back Redmond can't really be a serious notion.

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