In trying to come up with an honest assessment of who among the American League-leading A’s deserve spots on the AL All-Star Game roster, it hit me in the face – again – when it came to the catcher’s position.
Neither Derek Norris nor John Jaso has enough plate appearances to qualify to be included among the league leaders in batting categories, but their figures, taken together, lead all the other teams by far.
Indeed, a case could be made that Norris individually is a close second to Kansas City’s Salvador Perez as most deserving to start behind the plate in the Midsummer Classic from performance to this stage of the season.
That is the result of using WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the one sabermetric category that takes into account a player’s full value, including defense, range and base-running. Norris (1.7, 22nd overall among AL postion players, through Saturday’s games) was close behind Perez (1.8, 19th).
Just one thing, though, Norris’ offensive part of his WAR rating came from only 163 plate appearances through Saturday, making him a non-qualifier.
Only six catchers qualify, and of the five remaining besides the Royals’ Perez, former A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki, now with Minnesota, comes in a very distant second in WAR (1.1, 55th). Yes, Suzuki has put up some career-high hitting stats so far this season – .297/.367/.395 .763 OPS with 11 doubles and 28 RBIs in 197 plate appearances and 49 games.
Perez’s defensive is superb, and his bat is decent – .271/.325/.425 .748 OPS with 14 doubles, six homers, 20 runs and 20 RBIs in 223 plate appearances and 54 games.
But compare that to what the combination of Norris and John Jaso has put up with manager Bob Melvin masterfully manipulating the match-ups: .292/.393/.484 .877 OPS with 12 homers, 16 doubles, 47 RBIs, 44 runs in 331 plate appearances.
And the last few games, Stephen Vogt, just recalled from Sacramento, has joined the party.
All three are good enough hitters that they are not always behind the plate when in the lineup. So here is what all the A’s catchers have done this year while catching:
They have led the AL teams’ catchers in all the main offensive categories – average (.288), on-base (.387), slugging (.468) and OPS (.855). They are also first in total bases (104) and tied for first in RBIs (34), runs (33) and homers (9).
My take on the rest of the A’s All-Star chances will wait for now. But A’s fans can only hope Josh Donaldson hasn’t been thrown off his game at the plate by the bright lights of Broadway and the maddening machinations of Manny Machado at the yard near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Donaldson's WAR (4.6) still makes him the MVP of the American League so far, but the past two series have seen his offensive production plummet. Still, a couple of timely homers that contributed to two wins were a saving grace.
Postscript on last homestand: It’s petty, but just one thing sticks in my craw.
Think back to that Memorial Day Monday opener of the homestand when the A’s rolled over their nemesis, the Detroit Tigers, 10-0. How sweet it was, watching there in the stands.
And topping it all off in the bottom of the eighth, with the game well in hand 6-0 A’s, Norris went deep for a grand slam, and P.A. announcer Dick Callahan got to inform all of us in the sellout crowd of 35,067 that we had all won a "free one-topping personal pizza from participating Round Table restaurants with another purchase."
Well, not quite, at least not at the Castro Valley location. What we got, with the purchase of our drinks, was a $4.79 credit on the $6.19 cost of a one-topping personal pizza. The way the young woman at the register explained it, $4.79 was the original price, but the price had gone up to $6.19.
Put it this way, if baseball used that same definition of "free," a team would get only three runs, not four, for a grand slam.