2012 Postmortem: A position-by-position look back at the season with some preliminary thoughts on 2013. Plate appearances, OPS, and fWAR for each player represent statistics posted at all positions, not just the position in review. OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. fWAR is FanGraphs wins above replacement -- read more about it here.
There's a strong case to be made that no team in the National League received worse overall production from the catcher position than the Mets. Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Kelly Shoppach, and Rob Johnson combined to post a .567 OPS, the worst mark in the league. Defensively, they did not impress. Their caught stealing rate was 24%, a touch worse than the league average rate of 27%. An attempt at quantifying catcher defense rates each member of the quartet slightly below average. Perhaps they deserve credit for the strong seasons of several starting pitchers but it was nonetheless a rough year for Mets backstops.
Heading into 2012, Josh Thole seemed poised for a slash line around .275/.355/.365, considering his age, his big-league performance from 2009-2011, and his limited upside. Unspectacular but plenty acceptable from a guy being paid peanuts. He enjoyed a strong April (.831 OPS), doing Josh Thole things: making contact, drawing walks, and slapping singles. Then Ty Wigginton slammed his bulbous shoulder into young Josh during a play at the plate in the eighth inning of a Mets-Phillies tilt in early May. Thole held on to the ball and recorded the out but hit the disabled list with a concussion. Click here to watch it if you're not squeamish.
He missed about three weeks, returning on June 1st just in time to catch Johan Santana's no-hitter(!). Thole's season was significantly less awesome thereafter. Going from my gut, without looking at stats, he must have led the league in weak groundouts to second base. His walk rate decreased and his already slight power vanished. From June through September, his slash line was .217/.273/.263. Oof. There was also the bizarre report that said the Mets tried to convert Thole into a power hitter mid-season. That plan was subsequently abandoned. He threw out a below average 23% of potential base runners and was second in the league with 18 passed balls. However, keep in mind he catches R.A. Dickey. Also keep in mind the type of season Dickey had with Thole catching the majority of his games.
In previous years, he had shown the ability to hit righties well but he posted an OPS of just .591 against them in 2012. It's reasonable to speculate that Thole's concussion -- of which he has suffered several -- played a role in his struggles. Still, Thole's regression was one of the bigger disappointments of the Mets' season. Thole enters arbitration this offseason and will likely cost about $1 million. With no viable internal options, it's tough to envision the Mets not bringing him back. And that's fine, but 2013 becomes something of a do-or-die season for him to prove himself. A repeat of 2012 would likely spell the end of Thole's time in Flushing.
Mike Nickeas made the Opening Day roster with the lowest of expectations and managed to live down to them. His frequently-praised defense probably wasn't good enough to compensate for his .174/.242/.229 slash line. He did hit a grand slam against the Padres in May, a nice memory in an otherwise forgettable season. Let's hope Nickeas isn't part of the 2013 plan.
Former Mariners farmhand Rob Johnson played in 17 games for the Mets and nearly matched his career OPS of .574. The highlight of his season was probably when he took the mound against the Blue Jays in a May blowout and tossed a scoreless inning. He topped out at 87 mph and even struck out a batter.
In August, the Mets traded a player to be named later (Pedro Beato, as it turned out) for the large, lefty-crushing Kelly Shoppach. He provided some instant power, crushing 3 home runs in his first 11 games as a Met. He cooled off a bit in the final weeks but remains a viable platoon option (.868 career OPS vs left-handed pitchers). Shoppach turns 33 next April and is a free agent this offseason. He appeared to enjoy his time in New York and it seems like the Mets will at least consider pursuing him.
A Thole/Shoppach platoon wouldn't be terrible, even with Thole's down year vs righties. Maybe Shoppach wouldn't play exclusively against lefties. It would certainly be an upgrade over the Opening Day Thole/Nickeas tandem. Other free agent catchers include David Ross, Russell Martin, Yorvit Torrealba, Matt Treanor, and Gerald Laird. It's unlikely to happen, given the Mets' coffers, but I'll continue my annual tradition of advocating the acquisition of Ross, with Thole as his backup.
Projected 2013 starting catcher: Josh Thole