Monday, December 9, 2019

Two for the Hall and one for the plate

This year's version of the Veterans' Committee -- which included Rod Carew and Terry Ryan, so two guy with Twins connections -- on Sunday selected Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame.

Long overdue for each, frankly, although Miller's dead and can't enjoy the honor.

Simmons is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history -- seven seasons with a batting average over .300 -- and it was always a bit of a mystery why he was one-and-done when he came up for consideration by the writers. My answer to that puzzle has several facets:

  • He was a direct contemporary of, and in the same league as, Johnny Bench, and Bench was better. Simba wasn't getting to start any All-Star Games.
  • He was pretty much finished as a catcher by the time he got to play in the postseason.
  • He wasn't a great defensive catcher.
  • He left St. Louis on bad terms with Whitey Herzog, who was seldom shy about sharing his opinions with the baseball press.
  • He hung around for a few years as a pinch-hitter/scrub at the end of his career, so the final memories of him weren't particularly strong.
Simmons was essentially finished as a regular catcher in his early 30s, which is typical of big-hitting backstops. Managers don't like taking one of their very best bats out of the lineup, but catcher is a punishing position.

Which sorta leads us into the news entering the weekend that the Twins and Alex Avila had agreed on a contract.

It's pretty clear what the Twins have in mind here. They split the catching duties last season between Mitch Garver and Jason Castro, with a sprinkling of Willians Astudillo. It wasn't a true platoon, and Garver got more playing time, but there were stretches in which nobody caught two games in a row. Castro is a free agent, and Avila, like Castro, hits left-handed.

My perception of the two is that Castro is the better defensive catcher and Avila the better hitter. That sense is not necessarily supported by the metrics. Avila's deal is apparently less than Castro was paid last year, and if you regard the two as essentially the same set of skills -- a reasonable assessment -- this sets up a 2020 reprise of the 2019 time-share behind the plate.

My one significant concern with Avila mimics my one significant concern about Garver: Concussions. They both have a history of head injuries. As I said about Simmons, it's a punishing job.

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