If you thought J.P. Arencibia was bad, Josh Thole would like your attention.
Sure, it’s hard to fault Toronto Blue Jays fans for having a “grass is greener on the other side” attitude when it comes to the team’s backstop over the last couple of years, most thanks to Arencibia’s underwhelming, if not outright poor performances (a -0.3 fWAR player with 20 home runs? Seriously).
However, as the team has seen with backups like Jeff Mathis and Thole… sometimes the not-so-good catcher you’ve got is still your best option.
Granted he has only played 38 games with the Blue Jays this season, but Thole is not making a very good case for himself as far as the role he’ll have on the 2014 Blue Jays is concerned. Forget for a moment that he’s being paid a paltry (by MLB standards) $1.25 million per year through 2014 compared to JPA’s pre-arb $505,600 this season, but the catcher has done little of what he was brought in to do.
Is he a defensive upgrade who can catch R.A. Dickey‘s knuckler? Sure. But with eight passed balls in 244.1 innings caught (inflated because of the pitch) compared to Arencibia’s 13 in 962.2 innings, an upgrade doesn’t mean the Blue Jays are getting a particularly good defender. At 0.5 fielding runs below average compared to JPA’s 7.0 runs below, the team is just jumping from … well, I think you get it.
However, it’s really in the offensive department where Thole is really contributing to most of his -0.7 fWAR on the season.
Is he a more patient, less strikeout prone hitter than JPA with less pop? That’s totally true on all fronts. With a 9.6 percent walk rate and 15.7 percent strikeout rate, Thole’s 0.61 BB/K is more than four and a half times that of Arencibia’s 0.13. That, however, does not mean he can actually hit the ball, as his .149/.239/.218 triple slash should tell you.
Yes, JPA’s .622 OPS and his 65 wRC+ are pretty terrible, but he’s practically Joe Mauer-esque compared to Thole’s .457 and 26 (!).
So, if he’s a marginal defender (though it is admitted skewed and is a big step up from “poor”) who can’t hit, and he’s being paid more than the guy he’s backing up … just why is it that the team would want him for next season? Dickey would be a good reason, but it’s hard to say whether that’ll truly be a compelling reason enough — and besides, it’s not as if the knucker has been setting the world on fire.
Either way, it’s something that the Blue Jays are going to have to think about next season when the topic of whether they should stick with JPA comes up again.
Well, until a time machine is invented and they can take the Travis d’Arnaud trade back, anyway.