Thursday, May 22, 2014

Miguel Olivo: Sort of a catcher, sort of a cannibal

Miguel Olivo has hit
145 major league homers
and allowed 100 passed
balls.
Miguel Olivo is not having a particularly good year. He's a 35-year-old catcher who has milked more than 10 years of major league service time out of one real tool (he hits a few homers), but this year he got beat out by Drew Butera for the Dodgers backup job.

So he's spent almost two months at Triple A Albuquerque, putting up the kind of inflated numbers Albuquerque is known to produce while waiting for enough catchers to get hurt at the big club for him to get the call. On Tuesday he got into a fight in the dugout with teammate Alex Guerrero, and when the combatants were separated Olivo had a piece of Guerrero's ear in his mouth.

Fights between teammates are hardly unknown, of course, but gnawing off a hunk of flesh in the process is generally frowned upon. Dodgers GM Nick Colletti initially described the event as "not constructive," but by Wednesday evening he had taken it seriously enough to suspend Olivo.

All of which is attention-grabbing, but it's merely the prelude to a less salacious topic: What matters to teams when they evaluate catchers.

Alex Guerrero is a Cuban
infielder in his first year
in American ball.
Olivo's career is illustrative of something. He has a career slash line of .240/.275/.417; he's had eight seasons with double-digit home runs (high of 23); he's played for seven teams, two of them twice; he routinely puts up ugly walk-to-strikeout rates. And he's a terrible receiver. He's had five seasons in which he met Baseball Reference's criteria as a regular catcher, and he has led catchers in passed balls allowed four times.

I've written a few times about passed ball and wild pitch rates in connection with the Twins catchers over the past year. Olivo has allowed exactly 100 passed balls and 394 wild pitches in his big league career; that's about .42 WP per nine innings and about .52 WP+PB per nine innings.

That's bad, but not quite as awful as I expected it to be after crunching the numbers. It's quite possible that Josmil Pinto, given regular playing time, could rack up similar passed ball/wild pitch totals.

Olivo, however, got that playing time despite (a) being an awful catcher and (b) not really being a productive hitter. Yes, he has hit 145 homers; he also puts up walk-to-strikeout rates like 20 BB, 140 Ks (2011). He got 25 at-bats with the Dodgers earlier this year, and fanned in 12 of them.

It's not a skill set that appeals much to me, but Olivo's gotten a full career out of it, even if he never stayed in one place for long. The moral of his story: A catcher with one strong tool can last a long time.

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