Let me start this off by saying I think Michael McKenry seems like a great, great guy. The Pittsburgh Pirates backup catcher is known for charitable work and being one of the hardest workers and hardest hustlers around. However…
I don’t think he should be the backup catcher for the Pirates. His offense isn’t horrible, especially for a catcher, but his defense is just awful. He is above average at blocking balls in the dirt (hence the nickname, The Fort), but base-runners are able to steal against him at will.
Take today for example where New York Mets catcher John Buck has five steals in his 978 game career. The fifth steal came today against McKenry and the Pirates. Buck has also been caught stealing 11 times in his career. Conventional wisdom would make one think that the odds favor McKenry in that scenario, but that was not the case.
A lot of McKenry’s inability to throw out runners can be attributed to the pitchers, but the same pitchers are throwing to Russell Martin and he has thrown out 35% of opposing runners (compared to McKenry’s 7%).
Normally I would be fine with having a below average backup catcher, but not when a prospect is ready to take his place. Triple-A catcher Tony Sanchez, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 Amateur Draft, is ready to contribute at the MLB level. His offense is a bit behind, but his defense is much better than McKenry’s.
The 24 year old catcher has caught 24% of attempted base-stealers in his five year minor league career, and his offense has been getting better each season. Sanchez has a career .268/.366/.406 slash line in five minor league seasons, while McKenry has a career .228/.300/.398 slash line. Obviously it’s difficult to look too much into minor league statistics, but they do show that Sanchez isn’t going to be a huge problem offensively.
In my humble opinion it’s time to see what Sanchez can provide. Five years is plenty of time for a catcher drafted out of college to become MLB ready, and the Pirates need to stop letting Sanchez rot in the minor leagues.