The best offensive catcher in baseball this season with at least 200 plate appearances has been Geovany Soto, and it’s not particularly close. Soto has a .284/.399/.521 line with the Cubs this season – impressive for any player, but much more so at the catcher position. That line is good for a .395 wOBA, 15 points above Brian McCann,13 points better than the injury shortened season of Carlos Santana, and 20 points above Joe Mauer.
Soto has particularly excelled at taking walks and hitting for power. His 16.4% BB rate trails only Jim Thome and Jack Cust among players with 200 plate appearances, and his .236 ISO is in the top 30. His BABIP this year is a solid .320, 11 points above his career mark and 22 above the league average. The only area in which he hasn’t been great is in making contact, as he has struck out in 24.6% of at bats, about five percentage points more than average. That is slightly exaggerated, though, as his high amount of walks lowers his AB total – his K% in terms of plate appearances sits at 20.4%, three points above the league average.
Soto’s performances is worthy of praise and over the course of a full season, those could be MVP quality numbers. However, Soto has only appeared in 97 games this season, compiling 353 plate appearances and 3.4 WAR. Part of that has been injuries – recently, Soto has suffered a knee injury, and he had a DL stint in early August. However, a bigger part of that is simply former Cubs manager Lou Piniella’s reliance on backup Koyie Hill and reluctance to hit Soto high in the lineup.
Unless they’re Jason Kendall, most catchers can’t play every day, and as Jason Kendall shows, they probably shouldn’t. However, sometimes, a players skills necessitate that he is in the lineup more often than others. Geovany Soto, despite his poor 2009, was still projected to post a wOBA in the .350s, an excellent mark for a catcher. His backup, Koyie Hill, is not good. Hill has a .254 career wOBA and was projected for a slightly more serviceable .290 mark. However, Hill has forgotten how to take a walk (3.8%) and as such, his wOBA is all the way down to .236. Despite the fact that Soto is clearly the superior player and didn’t miss any injury time until late July, Hill already has appeared in 65 games and compiled 186 plate appearances of -0.7 WAR baseball. This is inexplicable – Soto may have needed rest, but there should be limits to the amount of time a star-level player as Soto spends on the bench.
Even when Soto is in the lineup, he doesn’t get his full dosage of plate appearances. Soto has seen the cleanup slot twice, the fifth slot eight times, and the sixth slot twice. The other 78 times that Soto has started the game have seen him in the seventh or eighth slots. Soto’s profile suggests that he should be hitting 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. Given that each slot sees about .11 more PAs per game than the one below it, Soto has missed out on anywhere between 30 and 50 plate appearances thanks to this relegation to the bottom of the lineup. With similar performance to his season to date in those PAs, that could be another half-win added to Soto’s line.
Geovany Soto has been incredibly productive for the Chicago Cubs this season, and if it weren’t for a number of factors keeping him out of the lineup, he could be having an MVP quality season. It’s hard to blame his injuries on Cubs management, but there is no excuse for Soto remaining in the 7th or 8th slot in the batting order or seeing Koyie Hill constantly spot starting.
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