Kurt Suzuki - Black Hole of Suck? Or the Best Available Catcher?

I had this post drafted for a while, and I'm throwing it on today to piggyback on ElCroata's Kurt Suzuki post.  Unofficial Kurt Suzuki day!


I used to like Kurt Suzuki, a lot. I even got his t-shirt, back when he was the blasphemous #24. Kurt wasn't the greatest but after Kendall he was an encouraging young bright spot on the team.

Here are his hitting stats in 2008 and 2009: Not bad for a catcher. Not an obvious liability in the lineup.

.249/.346/.370 - 7HR - .320 wOBA (4th out of 9 qualified C's) - 3.0 WAR (5th)

.274/.313/.421 - 15HR - .321 wOBA (4/9) - 3.0 WAR (5/9) 

I'll take that from the catcher position.  Given that he played so many games, it was generally well above average for major league catchers as a whole.

Skipping ahead to 2011, his stats are pretty abysmal. And they are somehow better than his 2010!

.237/.301/.385 - 2.2 WAR (better than only John Buck and Miguel Olivo...Yikes).

He was 8th in wOBA and 7th in WAR out of 9 qualifying catchers. It's worth expanding the view beyond just qualifying catchers, with the understanding that catching enough games to qualify could tend to impact stats downward due to the workload.  Still, by my count, there are approximately 35-40 catchers who saw time in the majors in 2011 that hit better than Kurt, including such luminaries as Ryan Hanigan, Wilson Ramos, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Doumit, and Nick Hundley

One obvious flaw that we are all familiar with as A's fans is his penchant for infield pop-ups and GIDPs with runners on base and in high leverage situations.  This is not an illusion, in 2011 he had the lowest Fangraphs clutch score out of all mlb players.  Yes, an abysmal -2.46.  Most sources say clutch is not a great predictor of future clutchiness (career stats are better) but it does tell you how bad he was in 2011, last in the league.  Which made him extremely painful to watch.

Also, I know this was just one AB, but I can't really get over the HBPK. I imagine his teammates still rag him about that. It's doubtful he could live that one down. But he's great at defense, right?

As far as I can tell, there's no great way to quantify catcher defense, and how well he works with the staff, but his percentage of runners thrown out is awful.  ElCroata broke it down for us in a previous post:

Suzuki actually only threw 16 guys out in 92 attempts for a 17% CS. It doesn’t really change the tendencies (he is slightly worse than in 2009, but better than in 2010) but does put the number down even more. BB-Ref keeps a good track of that here.

The league average this year is 23%, btw.

Also ElCroata just showed today that Kurt was good at blocking pitches, but is on a significant decline.

I have no idea how much of an impact catchers have on pitchers, but he certainly didn't help anything with the Gio and Cahill implosions this year.

So, assuming any defensive/intangibles don't really outweigh his lack of offense, what are our options?

With no obvious catcher prospects waiting in the wings, ideally we would find someone who would be with the team for more than one year, especially because I don't see 2012 as a contending year (though you never know, of course).

Internal options:

I feel like Donaldson and Recker deserve a chance to compete for the backup C job in spring but I think either of them would actually be worse than Suzuki as a starter.  I also think that if we could acquire a better backup who would actually make Kurt worried that he could lose playing time to a good backup, then we should do that.

Free Agents (via MLBTR):

Do Not Want (mainly because they are old and/or worse than Suzuki): Rod Barajas (36), Ivan Rodriguez (40), Henry Blanco (40), Jason Varitek (40), Jason Kendall (38), Josh Bard (34), Henry Blanco (40), Ramon Castro (36), Dioner Navarro (28), Brian Schneider (35), Gerald Laird (32),


Ryan Doumit (31) - $7.25MM club option for 2012, $8.25MM club option for '13 with a $500K buyout.  The Pirates have a guy they like in Jason Jaramillo who is way cheaper.  I think there is a very good chance to trade for Doumit even if the Pirates do sign him.

Yadier Molina (29) - $7MM club option with a $750K buyout.  He's never played for anyone else but the Cards.  My guess is they are picking up his option (especially as they went to the WS).

I would mention Kelly Shoppach but his option is definitely going to be picked up by the Rays at $3.2M.  Damn the Rays and their smart contracts.


Jose Molina (36) - Jose is still good, and I am willing to bet he will stay good for at least 2012.  The downside is he has only been a full-time starter for one season in his career (but that might actually mean that his age isn't as much of a factor).  Also, the Molinas are pretty much guaranteed to be awesome.  Can we sign their kids now?

Ramon Hernandez (36) - This is kind of an emotional pick, obviously, but he has played well for the Reds.  My worry is that in the O DOT CO I'm not sure if he would be an upgrade over Suzuki.

Chris Snyder (31) - $6.75MM club option with a $750K buyout.  Is this a typo?  Who signed Snyder to this crazy contract?  Anyways, option will almost certainly be declined since they have Doumit and Jaramillo available.  He has brought his K rate down quite a bit, resulting in a good season of part-time play.  An unknown quantity to some extent, who knows if he would be better than Suzuki as a full-time starter.  0.7 WAR in 34 games is decent though.

So, the free agent pool isn't really guaranteed to bring any significant upgrade over Suzuki.

Trade Targets?

My feeling is that generally speaking, very good catchers are not traded that often. But there might be blocked backup or minor league catchers that we could try to pursue.  There might also be Saltalamacchia-like reclamation projects that would be worth bringing into the fold as a backup who could push Kurt. 

In terms of major league catchers, here are some names of potential trade targets, trying to stick to players that might be realistically gettable...although the two questions that pertain to all of them are:  1) are they available? and 2) do they really represent an upgrade over Suzuki?  Not sure on any of them:

Nick Hundley - his 2011 was definitely better than Suzuki, but career has been up and down for the Padres.

George Kottaras - backup for BrewCrew.  Had a better wOBA than the starter, Lucroy, but that doesn't tell us much, as I believe Catchers' hitting stats generally go down with a higher catching workload.

Francisco Cervelli - I actually think that he would be good in a full-time role, he is not going to get the chance with Russell Martin in front of him.

Wilson Ramos - Do you think the Nats would part with him?  I like him, very solid, 3.1 WAR, .267/.334/.445

Jason Jaramillo - If the Pirates pick up the option on Doumit, Jaramillo is the backup, we might be able to make a play for him (at this point I would rather have him at his price than Suzuki at his current price).

Ryan Lavarnway - I think the BoSux get rid of Varitek, but they have Saltalamacchia starting.  I think Lavarnway could be had.  However they probably want to try to package Lackey in any trade.

Geovany Soto - Theo might be cleaning house there.  He may want Kurt (whose popups would play better in Wrigley than in Oakland).  Soto might be had.  Not sure if he is much better than Kurt though.

I am not familiar with most teams' prospects, but potentially we might be able to get a blocked prospect at the catcher position from some other team (maybe from a team like the Giants, Braves, etc., who have an entrenched star catcher).

Given the above:

  • Should we replace Kurt?
  • If so, who should we replace him with?
  • Is the replacement really an upgrade?
  • Is Kurt a black hole of suck?  Or is he a decent MLB catcher and our best option? 
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