Michael McKenry has gained many fans in Pittsburgh over the past few seasons. Despite being highly unknown prior to joining the Pirates, “The Fort” works hard on and off the field and has surprisingly become one of the more recognizable players.
However, some under-the-radar rumblings out of Bradenton during spring training this year suggested that the 28-year-old backstop was falling out of favor. Most of that was led by pirates.com writer Tom Singer, who had this to say on his blog:
“Carlos Paulino: Wasn’t even in Kissimmee. But the Bucs love his arm. Just how deep that love is was hinted by the reassignment to Minor League camp of Tony Sanchez. Paulino will get some more looks to determine whether he might rank as the top midseason callup candidate.”
“Carlos Paulino: Had no chance to throw out the runner on a pitch that had gotten away from him — and still almost did. McKenry has to hold down The Fort, or Paulino could sneak ahead of him on the depth chart.”
We didn’t buy this from the start (read here) and still don’t see any chance of light-hitting Carlos Paulino (currently Class AA) cracking the big league roster this year. But maybe Singer was just revealing the club’s high praise of Paulino’s arm. Spring training would have been an appropriate time to do so, and if there’s been one flaw in McKenry’s game this year, it’s his own throwing from behind the plate.
As everyone recalls, the McKenry-Rod Barajas duo was absolutely awful at throwing runners out in 2012. Thankfully, Russell Martin has improved the club in that area. However, The Fort is still letting the team down in the stolen base department.
Entering Tuesday, McKenry is just 1 for 11 in gunning down base stealers – opponents have swiped bags at a 91.7% rate, one of the highest marks against any catcher in baseball.
Keep in mind that he’s started just six games, which is tied with John McDonald for the fewest of any Pirate who’s been on the roster since Opening Day. It’s getting out of hand for McKenry; he’s allowing too many runners to advance into scoring position via the stolen base, and he’s losing a lot of value because of it.
One emerging metric for catchers is Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB). Here’s the explanation from FanGraphs:
[quote_simple]”Calculated by The Fielding Bible, Stolen Base Runs Saved measures how many “runs” a catcher contributes to their team by throwing out runners and preventing runners from attempting steals in the first place.”[/quote_simple]
And here’s FanGraphs’ grading scale:
Russell Martin has already produced an rSB of +2, which is very good – he’s essentially prevented two runs from scoring by throwing runners out.
Michael McKenry, on the other hand, already has an rSB of -2, meaning that he’s pretty much cost the Pirates two runs with his inability to throw runners out. His -2 mark is tied with Chris Iannetta, Jesus Montero, and J.P. Arencibia for worst in baseball, although they’ve all played a significantly greater amount of innings than The Fort.
At this point, McKenry is hurting himself and the team with his poor arm behind the dish. His value is diminishing because of it; no matter what kind of offensive stats he puts up, it’s difficult putting someone out there who will only thrown out one of every ten runners. He’s not nearly as valuable as a backup catcher if he can’t throw anybody out, which is why the Tony Sanchez and Carlos Paulino type players will receive praise for their arms. Even if Sanchez or Paulino can’t hit, their defensive capabilities make them commodities off the bench. The Pirates are a team that needs to piece together wins any way they can, and they can’t afford to have opponents running wild on the base paths. Russell Martin has cracked down in that regard, and it’s time for Michael McKenry to do the same.
Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and MLB.com | Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons