When spring training opened in February, Hank Conger was the Angels’ third option at catcher.
He played well enough during the spring to get his manager’s attention and was named to the 25-man Opening Day roster.
A month and a half into the season, Conger has shown that he not only deserves a spot on the team, but that he should be the full-time catcher.
Conger has been splitting time behind the plate with Jeff Mathis. While Mathis has a reputation of being a great defensive catcher, he is a huge liability on offense.
Through 70 at-bats this season, Mathis has the following hitting statistics: .186 AVG, .205 OBP, .286 SLG, 1 HR and 5 RBI. His career batting average of .198 shows that his abysmal 2011 stats are par for the course.
Conger has been remarkably better. Despite having six fewer at-bats than Mathis, he has posted much better numbers: .297 AVG, .348 OBP, .484 SLG, 3 HR and 11 RBI.
Conger is clearly the best-hitting catcher on his team and arguably the best in the American League. Among AL catchers with at least 50 at-bats, Conger ranks No. 1 in batting average, No. 6 in RBI and No. 7 in home runs.
Manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher himself, has made it clear that hitting is not the main consideration when evaluating catchers. If that were the case, Mike Napoli might still be an Angel.
Scioscia has proven that he prefers a good defensive catcher.
While Mathis is thought to be the better defensive option, a closer examination shows that the Angels’ catchers are near identical.
Mathis’ caught stealing percentage is .227 compared to Conger’s percentage of .238. Looking at fielding percentage, the two are also similar—Mathis’ fielding percentage is .993 while Conger’s is .992.
Statistics are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Good catchers must develop good chemistry with their pitching staff.
In the short time he’s been in the big leagues, Conger has already received praise for his efforts behind the plate. The Los Angeles Times quoted Jered Weaver as saying, "He's a great catcher back there. He does his homework before the game. He's really prepared…If he stays with it, he's going to have a great, long career."
In addition to his offensive and defensive skills, Conger is a very marketable player. He has an infectious smile and can tap the Asian fanbase of Southern California, much like Hideo Nomo did. Conger is also a local boy who grew up and played high school ball in Orange County.
Like every other professional sport, baseball is a business. By playing Conger every other day, the Angels are missing out on a huge marketing opportunity.
Defensively, Conger and Mathis are a wash. Conger is by far the better hitter and has displayed his ability to hit for average and power. Conger is only 23 and has incredible potential behind the plate, in the batter’s box and as a future Angels icon.
The decision is obvious. Conger is the clear choice for the Halos in the future and he’s proven that he deserves the job today.
Mike Scioscia, it’s time to make this official—Hank Conger is your guy.