The Cincinnati Reds' Catcher Dilemma

Illya HarrellAnalyst IIJuly 3, 2009

SARASOTA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Ramon Hernandez #55  of the Cincinnati Reds poses for a photo during Spring Training Photo day on February 18, 2009 at the Cincinnati Reds training facility in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Reds are both blessed and cursed at the same time. Blessed in the fact that they have two really good catchers. Cursed in that they are starting the wrong one.

Fans should never expect much out of their catcher. His most important job is to know his pitchers and call a good game. If your name isn't Joe Mauer then it's safe to say that you won't be expected to hit much.  

Ramon Hernandez was acquired in an offseason deal that sent Ryan Freel to the Orioles with a couple of prospects.

With Hernandez, the Reds knew that they were getting a solid 11-year veteran catcher.  

He calls a good game. He has gunned down 36 percent of potential base stealers—good for fifth place among NL catchers who have played more than 40 games behind the dish.

The guy loves to throw to first. The Reds have this play where when the opponent is trying to bunt the runner to second and misses the pitch, Brandon Phillips sneaks behind the runner and Ramon zips the ball and catches him before he can get back. 

It is a true beauty of a play to watch, and Hernandez and Phillips have perfected it.

To add a little whipped cream to the catcher cake, Hernandez has had more than a few productive offensive years. 

This season his numbers are down. After batting over .270 from ages 27 to 30, he has hit in the .250s for the last two full seasons and thus far this season. At age 33, with over 1200 games played at catcher, Father Time seems to have slowed his bat.

Now enter 28-year-old rookie, Ryan Hanigan.

In a tale similar to the Wally Pipp/Lou Gehrig story, Hanigan saw significant playing time at catcher while Hernandez was forced to play first base due to Joey Votto's extended absence.

Hanigan was more than impressive. In fact, he was borderline spectacular behind the plate and in the batter's box.

Bleacher Report journalist Dean Hybl wrote an excellent player profile of Hanigan entitled Ryan Hanigan: From Rollins College to the Cincinnati Reds.

So far this season Hanigan has nailed 44 percent of potential base stealers (11 of 25).  That is good for second place among catchers with 40 or more games played.

Second only to the 2008 NL Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina, and just two percentage points behind him—Yadier has caught 11 of 24.

In the batter's box, Hanigan adds not only whipped cream to the catcher cake, but also a scoop of ice cream, sprinkles, some crushed walnuts, and three cherries on top.

Offensively this year, he is batting .336 with an OBP of .423 in 45 games.

In the last month, where Hanigan has seen the bulk of his playing time, he is batting .157 points higher than Hernandez.

Now that Votto is back at first base, Hernandez will be lucky to see two more starts there—barring another trip to the DL for Votto.

So the question for the Reds is who gets the majority of starts behind the dish? 

It's really a shame for Hernandez that Votto went down and Ramon was forced to play first while Hanigan caught the majority of the games last month.  If that had never happened this would not even be up for debate.

A team rarely sits a veteran who is performing admirably in favor of a rookie, but in this case the Reds should give the situation some serious thought.

Unfortunately for Hernandez, the numbers speak for themselves. Hanigan has outperformed him behind the plate as well as at the plate, and not just by a slight margin—Hanigan is killing Hernandez.

It's time to play the rookie.