2011 Postmortem: A position-by-position look back at the season with some preliminary thoughts on 2012. Plate appearances listed for each player represents overall plate appearances, not just those logged at the position in review. The stat wOBA is weighted on-base average -- read more about it here. It's like OPS but better, and on the same scale as on-base percentage. Cliff's Notes version: a wOBA below .300 is poor, .330 is about average, .400 is elite. fWAR is FanGraphs wins above replacement -- read more about it here.
Josh Thole's MLB triple slasher pre-2011 was an encouraging .286/.357/.373 in 286 plate appearances, better than the National League average line for catchers. The patience and contact skills he demonstrated in the minor leagues translated to the bigs over a smallish sample size, leaving most fans bullish but not completely sold on young Thole's offensive skills. His defense seemed adequate as well, as he gunned down 42% of attempted baserunners (13 of 31) from 2009 to 2010. Compare to the league average rate of 29% over that period. Attempts to quantify catcher defense portrayed Thole favorably as well. The Mets may have had an average-or-better catcher on their hands for cheap, and a full season's worth of playing time would help determine his long-term role with the organization.
Thole entered 2011 as the primary catcher, with newcomer and leftist crusher Ron Paulino the planned sidekick. Due to an unfortunate 50 game suspension for PEDs rolled over from 2010, Paulino had to sit out the first 8 games of the season and missed several weeks on top of that due to anemia. Organizational filler/matinee idol Mike Nickeas was the Opening Day backup in Paulino's stead.
The opening months of the season were a struggle for Thole. He had just 6 extra base hits (all doubles) in 146 plate appearances by May 31st and his OPS was a feeble .575. Defensive miscues were numerous and memorable. Unsurprisingly, his playing time slightly decreased when Paulino returned and went 5-for-7 in his first start of the season, the Osama bin Laden game on May 1st. Paulino continued to hit and boasted a batting average heavy .830 OPS by the end of June. But from June onward, the catchers' performances at the plate reversed.
Thole improved his power numbers over the final four months, hitting 3 home runs and 11 doubles while sporting a .759 OPS. The shoddy defense continued though, and he finished with a poor 21% caught stealing rate and led the league in passed balls with 16. It's worth noting that catching R.A. Dickey's divine knuckleballs is no easy task for any mortal. Meanwhile, Paulino descended into the Henry Blanco Second Half Of Suck, posting a .524 OPS from July through September. Also, reports indicated that the club wasn't happy with Paulino's game preparation. Nickeas didn't hit at all and likely never will, but he earned praise for his defense from Mets coaches. As a group, Mets catchers were well below average in 2011.
There is talk that the Mets might move on from Paulino and feature a Thole/Nickeas tandem in 2012. Thole deserves a spot on the team in some capacity going forward, but if Thole/Nickeas is indeed the plan for next season, then not much improvement from the catcher position is to be expected. This is just early speculation though, and enhancing the backstop situation should be a goal for the near future.
Unfortunately, the Mets don't have other viable internal options. Maybe Dusty Ryan? As for outside players to target, I'll stick with my annual tradition of advocating a trade for Braves backup David Ross. He's the best reserve catcher in baseball and with the Braves reeling from their September collapse maybe they're looking to shed some players. If not Ross, then free agents Ramon Castro, Ramon Hernandez and Jose Molina are worth a look.
Desired 2012 starting catcher: David Ross
Projected 2012 starting catcher: Josh Thole