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11.09.2003

Elbo: Behind the Plate-Ball, or The Tools Of Ignorance, Part One

In the interest of keeping this space relatively timely in El Lefty's absence, I'll remark on some news from last week.

Does the signing of Alberto Castillo to a one-year contract mean that he will be the backup catcher to Yorvit Torrealba all season long? I assume here that we are going to bid Benito goodbye, and that he will be wearing the navy, sky blue and light tan before you know it.

It's hard to find a good catcher. It's even harder to find two. There are probably less than a dozen catchers out there who play a complete game: good defense, hit for a decent average, some power. I'm talking about Posada, Rodriguez, Varitek, Lieberthal -- solid ballplayers all. Piazza doesn't play good defense, but he makes up for that with his bat. And although we've seen him suffer through some weak weeks, Benito is one of these desirable catchers.

The rest of the catchers in the big leagues are either born catchers who struggle with the bat (reliable Brad Ausmus/Brent Mayne types who are liable to hit .230 for you), guys who can actually hit but really shouldn't be catching (Jason Phillips, Matthew LeCroy), or absolutely terrible hitters who can play every third day and give you solid defense (John Flaherty, I guess). Like I said, it's a tough position to fill, and every team needs two.

Will Yorvit Torrealba be the kind of catcher we want? I like him a lot, but I have to admit that his 340 major-league at-bats haven't shown me enough to form a real opinion. His plate judgment has been fine enough, his defense has been excellent, and he's shown an ability to drive the ball on occasion. But will we get Lopez, Lo Duca, LeCroy, or LaRue out of him? Really, it's still too soon to know. Fortunately, he's still only 25, on the way up, and he could give us lots of bang for very few bucks.

As for Alberto Castillo, I was surprised to learn that he'll be 34 next year. He's basically a terrible hitter (.574 OPS in 805 major-league at-bats) whose defense has made him a worthwhile commodity in the big leagues for nine years. Oh, by the way, 2000 third-round draft pick Trey Lunsford hit .287 in 108 at-bats in Fresno this year, while Guillermo Rodriguez hit .277 (with only 17 extra-base hits) in 238 ABs. (No idea about their defensive skills.)

This is a huge question-mark for the Giants next year. Whatever Benito's flaws were, he was a reliable player who provided substantial power in the 5th or 6th spot in the batting order. The team of Torrealba and Castillo will almost certainly be a significant step down from the team of Benito and Yorvit. What's the absolute best we can expect out of Yorvit? Maybe .280 and 15 homers? That'd be fantastic. More realistically, we can hope that he hits somewhere above the seventh spot in the order, sometime this year. And we can't expect much more than .210 with nothing extra out of his backup.


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