Right-Handed Pitching and the Need For Stephen Vogt

Tasos Katopodis

If Stephen Vogt wants to start the season in Oakland, he'd better hope that Derek Norris doesn't learn to hit right-handed pitching any time soon. Vogt is lucky, really. Instead of competing against a particular player for a job, he's competing against a set of roster constraints that make a catching platoon of Norris and John Jaso fairly unworkable.

Offensively, the Jaso-Norris platoon is a match made in heaven. Norris' career wRC+ against lefties is 140, while Jaso's is 126 against righties, giving the A's Buster Posey-level production from the catcher position for a fraction of what the real thing would cost.

Of course, there's a major and oft-discussed drawback — Jaso can't really play defense. He's not a good blocker, he certainly isn't good at throwing out runners, and he's even below-average at framing pitches.

Jaso sat out the last two months of the season last year after suffering from multiple concussions, prompting many to question whether his professional career catching five-ounce spheres thrown toward his head at around 100 miles per hour was over. Offense was always his strong suit, and he's a perfect fit for the A's offensively. He's a left-handed hitting catcher, a fairly rare variety, and he displays a fairly large traditional split.

That wouldn't be a problem, of course, if Derek Norris were thought of as an everyday catcher. His current role isn't too far from that, but the idea of having him catch five games a week while using Jaso behind the dish for only two, DH'ing for a few other games, doesn't work either — Norris is as offensively anemic against righties as Jaso is unable to hold his own on defense. It's apparent that there's a missing piece.

If Bob Melvin and the A's front office weren't repeatedly insisting that Jaso is still thought of a catcher and not a designated hitter, Vogt would be a consensus shoe-in for the 25-man roster. But apparently Jaso is a catcher in the minds of A's coaches and execs, and if he and Norris are going to platoon, he'll be playing catcher more often than anybody else.

Beane and Melvin have to consider the delicate balance between putting their team's best foot forward and investing for the future. The investment is allowing Norris to face right-handers as often as he did last year, when he faced righties 135 times, recording 173 plate appearances against left-handers. Norris is the second-youngest player on the projected 25-man roster (after Sonny Gray) and he'll certainly improve — it's a question of when, and of whether allowing him to progress over the course of the season will cost the A's record-wise.

Putting the team's best foot forward entails keeping Norris and his wRC+ of 33 against righties (not a typo — it was actually 33 in 2013) out of the lineup, letting Jaso's bat and Vogt's glove get the job done instead. Vogt is no superstar offensively, but he's a solid lineup anchor whose numbers could see big jumps as his playing time increases in his second year in the big leagues.

But carrying three catchers is far from an ideal solution, even if one is used mainly as a designated hitter. It's a waste of a roster space, especially for a one already crowded with big-league caliber infielders. If Vogt makes the team, it could come at the expense of Daric Barton or Nate Freiman, or perhaps a fifth outfielder like Michael Taylor or Sam Fuld.

It's not ideal for Norris, either, to face mainly lefties. From a career development standpoint, his platoon role could hinder him substantially when he reaches the free agent market. No team platoons quite to the degree Oakland has over the past two seasons, and when one signs a talented young catcher, the ability to hit righties will be a baseline expectation, not a bonus.

The bottom line, though, is that the A's are in as good a position to win a World Series this year as they have been at any point throughout Billy Beane's tenure as general manager. Norris is a very good catcher and a vanquisher of southpaws, but he and the other two catchers on the club have obvious drawbacks.

Vogt has certainly made a good case for himself in the the first two weeks of spring training — he's putting up a slash line of .476/.522/.667, and no A's catcher other than minor-leaguer Chris Giminez has made an error so far in Cactus League play.

Thoughts? Should Vogt make the team and be the primary catcher against right-handed pitching? Should Norris get the majority of at-bats at catcher, period? Or should the A's just grin and bear it, allowing Jaso to catch against right-handed opposition?

Today's Game Thread will be hosted by JJ209 as part of the Spring Training Game Thread Auditions. Check the FanPosts around game-time if you don't see it promoted to the front page yet. The A's take on the Rockies at 7pm PT at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. CSNCA is airing the game in the Bay Area, which means that Bob Melvin will have his first opportunity to test out MLB's new and supposedly improved replay rules.

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