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The Argument for Robby Hammock

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The Argument for Robby Hammock
A lot has been made of Robby Hammock making the 25 man roster.  A lot has also been made about Bob Melvin's decision to hit Chris Snyder fifth.  I have stated this belief before and I am here to qualify it again: Robby Hammock should be the starting catcher for the Diamondbacks.

In order to argue that Robby Hammock should start, I will begin by deconstructing the arguments made in favor of his competition; Chris Snyder.

* "Snyder hit well the second half of last year and swung a hot bat throughout the Spring.  He is coming in to his prime."
The season is not played in only the second half and definitely not played during the Spring so I fail to see how those arguments carry any weight.  If the assumption is that he will continue to swing a hot bat (and that he is not just a second-half performer) then we should look at his yearly splits. 
In 2007 (the year "he got hot"), Snyder batted .212 the first 57 games (pre-All-Star break) and hit .292 the second half.  This is a significant jump in batting average.  He also shows an improvement in doubles (16 vs 4), RBI (31 vs 16), walks (21 vs 19), and strikeouts (31 vs 36).  All show a radical improvement over each half.

2007 (to review)

1st half - 2nd Half
35 H - 47 H
7 HR - 6 HR
16 RBI - 31 RBI
19 BB - 21 BB
36 SO - 31 SO
.212 BA - .292 BA

In 2006, his stats break down as follows:
1st Half - 2nd Half
23  H - 28 H
3 HRs - 3 HRs
19 RBI - 13 RBI
12 BB - 10 BB
16 SO - 10 SO
.264 BA - .289 BA

In 2005, his stats break down as follows:
1st Half - 2nd Half
48 H - 18 H
3 HR - 3 HR
18 RBI - 10 RBI
22 BB - 18 BB
52 SO - 35 SO
.230 BA - .154 BA

Snyder does show a dramatic improvement in the second half of last year but he also showed improvement the second half of 2006 and that success didn't carry over.  His "streakiness" from year to year may or may not carry over.  It is not fair to assume it will any more than to assume it will not.

* "The pitchers love him"
This argument is just flat out silly.  Brandon Webb has never said one bad thing about anyone in his life.  Doug Davis, Danny Haren, Micah Owings are all new to the organization and have not experienced any other catcher since arriving.  Randy Johnson prefers Robby Hammock as evident by both 2004 and Spring.  Livan Hernandez didn't love Chris Snyder at all last year and opted to use Montero.  This, to me, does not really express a "love" of Chris Snyder.

*"His defense is excellent"
Actually, it is atrocious.  9 passed balls and 28 wild pitches is a ridiculous number of balls to be allowing by a catcher.  The most passed balls Mike Piazza (generally regarded as one of the worst fielding catchers) ever allowed by him was 14 and he averaged just 5.94 passed balls per season. 
When it comes to throwing runners out, Snyder threw out 26% of the runners.  Of course, having Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis on your team doesn't help, but still...he didn't have that many people challenge him so obviously it wasn't too much of a problem.

Considering the above conditions, one would probably be inclined to accept that Chris Snyder is an average catcher.  He is not Russell Martin (really good) and he is not Josh Bard (really bad).  He is an average player with average ability that is hitting in the number 5 hole  this year, giving him the opportunity to improve on his 9 double plays he grounded into.

Robby Hammock, in contrast, has been shuttled back and forth between Tucson too many times to count.  He was the co-starting catcher back in 2003 and 2004, catching 36 and 46 games respectively.  His stats have been generally consistent over the past few years.  A lifetime batting average of .261 that already puts him higher than Snyder (career .239) and an OPS of .743 (Snyder's .714).    Obviously Hammock's individual numbers like HRs and RBIs are difficult to compare considering his limited plate appearances. 

In 94 total games at catcher, Hammock has allowed 10 passed balls, 24 wild pitches, allowed 46 stolen bases, and caught 22 runners.  It is practically impossible to compare that to Snyder's career numbers (having caught 309 games) but Snyder's closest season (when he caught 106 games) was 2007.  He allowed 9 passed balls, 28 wild pitches, allowed 52 stolen bases, and caught 29 runners.  All of those numbers are comparable and just about equal.  Hammock also has a range factor per 9-innings of 8.77 which is significantly higher than Snyder's 7.64.

Since Hammock has played so many years in the minors, however, we can easily look at his numbers from AAA Tucson to see what kind of hitter he is.  In 214 games in Tucson, Hammock has hit 26 HRs and knocked in 124 RBI at a .299 clip.  His .840 OPS is wildly impressive and he even stole 8 bases.  Catching, Hammock displayed a Range Factor of 21.61 with a .996 fielding percentage. 

Of course, Hammock is 4 years older and can play the outfield and the corner infield positions making him a valuable asset to the team.  This versatility has been a disadvantage to him, however, because it has made him invaluable as a bench player.  He is a guy you can pinch-hit with for the pitcher and then have him stay in the game with a double switch with just about any player on the field.  Of course, this versatility should not punish Hammock.  Bob Melvin could easily hit Hammock in the 7 hole (above a speedier Justin Upton), pinch hit with Snyder (if desired), and then leave Snyder in at catcher (in the 9 hole), moving Hammock to the last out's position (assuming Young or Byrnes in the 1 or 3 spot), and place the pitcher in the vacated fielder's order.
Example

Before
1. Young  - CF
2. Hudson - 2B
3. Byrnes  - LF
4. Jackson  - 1B
5. Reynolds  - 3B
6. Drew  - SS
7. Hammock  - C
8. Upton  - RF
9. Webb  - P

After
1. Lyon - P
2. Hudson - 2B
3. Byrnes - CF
4. Jackson - 1B
5. Reynolds - 3B
6. Drew - SS
7. Hammock - LF
8. Upton - RF
9. Snyder - C

 
Clearly, Melvin is not disabled by starting Hammock.  Tucson has been using Hammock in this way for years.  His versatility should be rewarded like Craig Biggio instead of punished like Andy Fox.  Given the at bats, Hammock has proven that he can hit in both AAA and the majors.  The numbers that Snyder puts up are not good enough to warrant giving him 4 out of every 5 starts.  Also, considering the effectiveness of pitchers like Davis and Owings, perhaps a change of catcher would do them both well.  Hammock is good enough to get a perfect game out of Randy Johnson (something that neither Jorge Posada, Dan Wilson, or Damian Miller had been able to do).  He has a better understanding of hitters and clearly knows the strengths and weaknesses of a lineup better than Snyder.  He may even be able to block Webb's splitter better than Snyder.

The sad thing is that it is going to take an injury to Chris Snyder for Hammock to see a full time role.  It is unfortunate that Melvin identifies so much with Snyder (both being sub-par catchers) and that he continues to give Snyder chance after chance when most baseball people would have shipped him off years ago.  I know that Hammock will perform well this year and hopefully, when the dust settles at the All-Star break, he will have gained at least one more game in the rotation.
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