In Kelly Shoppach, there’s no doubt that the Mariners have upgraded beards, as John Jaso’s beard, while whimsical, doesn’t hold a candle to Shoppach’s.
Since the trade of John Jaso there has been a lot of hand wringing—and if you’ve read this site in the last two weeks you know that my hands have been adequately wrung—over the Mariners catcher position. When the team traded Jaso I said that I felt they needed at least one (duh) catcher to replace him, but probably two, because Jesus Montero’s defensive ability was no better than Jaso’s.
The Mariners agreed, apparently, and have agreed to bring Kelly Shoppach in on a major league deal with $1.5 million, with incentives that could bring the total value to $2 million. In November I included Shoppach in my offseason plan that was an alternative to the one made by Dave Cameron, even predicting the $2 million price tag. That’s hardly rocket science, as the team needed a defensive upgrade and at the time I thought a platoon partner for John Jaso.
I wrote this of the idea of signing Shoppach along with potential interest in Mike Napoli:
And for $2 million, if the Mariners run a strict platoon between Jaso and Shoppach, the career splits at the position are 125 wRC+ against righties (Jaso) and 134 wRC+ against lefties (Shoppach). That functionally equals Napoli’s 141/124 splits, but for significantly less money.
We didn’t realize at the time, of course, that Jaso would be traded, or that Napoli’s contract would be reduced to a one year deal with almost one eighth the guaranteed money due to issues with him passing a physical.
By basically all contemporary statistical measures of a catcher’s ability Shoppach is averagish. That includes his pitch framing as per this Baseball Prospectus article, and his relevant metrics over at Fangraphs. He’s not demonstrably better at playing catcher than Ronny Paulino is, though recent years show that injuries may be catching up to Paulino.
Where Shoppach truly separates himself from Paulino, at least in the past three years, is not when he gets behind the plate, but when he steps into the batter’s box. Paulino has posted three straight seasons with an isolated power under .090, and three straight seasons, amassing less than 700 plate, with a wRC+ 82 and under.
Shoppach’s lowest ISO in the past three yeas was .146, and he’s got 86 and 96 wRC+ seasons bookending one down season in 2010 (73 wRC+). In 685 plate appearances he’s been worth 2.7 WAR in the past three seasons, and he’s hit 24 homeruns.
Shoppach also strikes out a lot. A-fucking-lot. For his career he’s struck out more than one-third of his plate appearances, and he hasn’t been bringing that number down of late.
Jeff Sullivan had this to say about Shoppach at the plate:
Since 2005, 662 different players have batted at least 500 times. Shoppach’s strikeout rate is the highest out of all of them, at 33.4%. Shoppach’s contact rate is the lowest out of all of them, at 63.8%. Shoppach has, historically, made less-frequent contact than Miguel Olivo. He’s made about the same rate of contact as Carlos Peguero. Shoppach isn’t an over-aggressive hacker, so he’s easier to watch, but there are similarities in results. Shoppach is able to draw the occasional walk, and he has a knack for getting hit by pitches, but he strikes out like a motherfucker. He’s got Mark Reynolds beat. He’s got everyone beat.
Shoppach is a much different hitter against lefties than he is against righties. His 134 wRC+ speaks volumes, but it’s not driven by reduced strikeouts, at least not reduced to acceptable levels, rather it’s driven by a .244 ISO that aids a .267/.357/.510 slash line against southpaws.
For what it’s worth, Shoppach’s overall stats come with only 35 percent of his plate appearances coming against lefties, so while he’s been platooned, it’s possible that he could have been platooned more efficiently.