Today, we begin a series of columns in which I will examine the Royals versus their Central Division comrades on a position by position basis in an attempt to determine just how close (or how far) this team is from truly contending in the division.
We will start with the catchers and examine the offensive production each team enjoyed (or endured) in 2009:
Obviously, Minnesota enjoys a huge advantage over the rest of the division as long as they have Joe Mauer catching for them (as an aside, given the premium position he plays, is Joe Mauer the best player in baseball right now?).
After the Twins, however, the Royals' catchers stack up fairly well against the rest of the division, especially with the departures of Victor Martinez from Cleveland and Ivan Rodriguez from the Tigers. Let's take a look at a few more offensive numbers:
Again, after Mauer and the Twins, the Royals catching trioka created more runs than anyone else in the division.
Yes, Olivo-Buck-Pena struck out at a tremendous rate and walked little, but they made up for it (at least partially) by showing more power than anyone that was not born and playing in Minnesota.
Catching is not all offense. In fact, it is probably the least offensively important position on the diamond.
While the above offensive numbers are for every player that put on the tools of ignorance for a given team in 2009 (and none of the games, by the way, wherein they played a different position), the defensive statistics below are for just the players who finished the season with a team and are likely to be contributors for that same team next year.
|Caught Stealing %||Wild Pitches+Passed Balls/Game|
A quick look at the numbers reveal that both Miguel Olivo and Brayan Pena (albeit in limited duty) have some serious issues when it comes to blocking pitches.
Next to the White Sox, the trio of Royals catchers were the poorest at throwing out potential basestealers, although not by a dramatic amount. Still, coupled with the very high wild pitches-passed balls per game marks, Kansas City enjoyed less than stellar defense behind the plate in 2009.
If the Royals had a slew of dynamic offensive forces in their lineup, then they could afford to dump Olivo and Buck and go out and sign an offensively-challenged catcher with a great defensive reputation.
However, we know that Kansas City does not enjoy such a luxury. Additionally, the options in the offseason are limited both by the free agent crop and by the financial situation of the organization.
It would be nice to have seen Brayan Pena catch 80 games this year and be able to make an educated guess as to whether he can improve enough behind the plate to be an everyday catcher, but that window of opportunity came and went.
In the end, the Royals can at least hang their hats on the fact that outside of Minnesota, no other team is particularly strong at catcher either.
In that respect, one can make the case that other areas might need more attention this offseason as Kansas City tries to get back into the American League Central conversation.