Do What at Catcher In 2009?

=== Deep Blue Can Play Chess, But It Can't Play Hockey ===

There isn't any way in the world to use math, or science, to answer the question "How good a defensive catcher IS Rob Johnson, anyway?!"   We don't even know how good a catcher Johnny Bench was, and we have a little more than 62 games to go on. 

The world is complicated.  A computer cannot "capture" an equation with literally 1,000's of variables.  The right tool for hockey playing is human intuition, not mathematical formulas.


=== My Intuition Being... ===

No better than anybody else's.  :- ) But this is SSI, so here's what my judgment tells me about Rob Johnson and the 2009 pennant race:


1) I think Johnson's a solid ML defensive catcher and pitch-caller - probably no more than that.  I do not expect him to be around the AL for 15 years, coaching pitching staffs, like Jim Sundberg was.

I think that in four years, Johnson will be a backup catcher somewhere, with this discussion lost in the annals of history.   I think that the love for Johnson is more "relief" than anything.

I'm not biased against Johnson.  For three years, I've been opining that he will have an 8-year career in the major leagues.  He's Dan Wilson, maybe a little bit less.  But IMHO the enthusiasm for him right now is a bit of a heat-warp.


2) I believe that the 2.80 vs 4.93 CERA difference is exaggerated.

For example, the K rates for both catchers are very similar.  Two pitchers who strike out the same number of men won't usually run ERA's that are so dissimilar.

And for example, the Mariners SCORE 5 runs per game with Johjima catching, but only 3.3 with Johnson catching.  This suggests that Johjima has caught more games in higher run-scoring contexts -- at Minnesota, Texas, New York, and Boston.

"IF YOU WERE WRONG, HOW WOULD YOU KNOW" Dr. D?  :- )  You would see pitching K/BB's that, for Rob Johnson, were shockingly better than other Mariner catchers', and shockingly better than catchers on other teams.  And you would see this tendency persist as Johnson changed teams.

We're not seeing that, and I can just about guarantee you that you WON'T see it.  Rob Johnson isn't a catching genius.  He's a solid American catcher and the boys are relieved to see that.


3) But I do believe that the CERA's probably WILL continue to differ by a run.  That's 162 runs a year.   A ballplayer who could net you 160 runs per year would be worth 16-20 games in the standings and his salary would be about $60-70M per season.

In other words, unless you think that Johnson's defensive contribution is VASTLY overrated, then you've got to relegate Johjima to deep backup status.  You have no choice.


4) The essence of sports coaching is to get your athletes visualizing the positive.  To fill them with hope.  To get them to focus on the good and to ignore the bad.

Read Timothy Gallwey's Inner Game of Tennis.  Sports psychology is all about the Zone -- laser-focused concentration on the positive.

You put Rob Johnson out there, and BOOM, your pitchers are concentrating on the positive.

Viewed through this paradigm, you MUST use Johnson.  If you don't, you might as well concede that coaching itself is irrelevant.


5) Johnson's OPS+ is 55.   You can't afford that.  But you especially can't afford that if you have two other batters with 55's.

You MIGHT win a pennant with a 50-OPS regular if EVERYbody else in the lineup hits.   You're not going to find a team winning a pennant with three guys like Johnson, Cedeno, and Woodward in there together.  That's three pitchers in the lineup.  You cannot do it. 

Ronny Cedeno's OPS+ is actually 30.  I'm all for open-mindedness and new paradigms, but you need to stay in contact with reality, too.  When was the last pennantwinner who had a player like that in the lineup?


This chess position has a pretty clear requirement, I think:  start Johnson, and get two ML batters into the lineup as soon as possible.   They don't have to be good.  They just have to be better than pitchers.

My $0.02,




...we should trade for Kouzmanoff.  I don't like Kouz, but he's a whale of a lot better than Woodward offensively and about the same as Woodward defensively.  Kouz is the most likely trade scenario at third can get Kouz for a bullpen prospect.
We also need to find a shortstop that can hit a tiny would be nice if Betancourt would step up his game defensively and be that shortstop...if he's MLB average with the glove the rest of the way and hits his career norms, you've solve Doc's line-up concern with two 85 OPS+ guys subbing in for two 50 OPS+ guys.


...I do think that Johnson's game-calling is being overestimated at the moment but that it's a real factor for this real team.  I think in any other situation, Johnson would stand out less (though I think he calls a game better than the average catcher).  The problem is...we have to deal with Johjima.  And Johjima is a SERIOUS problem defensively.  Despite the recent surge in his batting...I just don't think he's good enough offensively to merit the damage he does to the pitching staff.


I think that your call on Johnson being a footnote is probably correct. Once the pitchers get Moore - a similar American catcher from the game calling and defense perspective, but one that can hit a little bit - I think the bloom will rub off Johnson's rose. I do think that there is some room for improvement in Rob's bat - he is a rookie, after all, and it's pretty rare for a rook to hit well. Moore-Johnson will be an interesting catching duo, provided that Joh can be convinced to go back to Japan next year.
Maybe Wak will send down one of his 13 pitchers, bring Burke back up and let Joh take Sweeney's AB's at DH?


Not that I'd be terribly thrilled with Johjima as a long term DH, but he's been hot with the bat lately...wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to sneak him into the line-up in that role.


That IS an interesting suggestion.
It's not clear to me why Moore isn't up NOW.  Would like to hear the reasoning, beyond "you don't want to mess with a good groove the pitchers have going."
Am glad that Johnson's doing such a good job handling the pitchers, but his 55 OPS+ can't be minimized.  The end of the Mariners' batting order is a sucking chest wound.


That solutions such as Kouzmanoff (unfortunately) come into view.
Let's hope there's a better one available.  If Matt Tuiasosopo looks healthy, and is swinging the bat okay, within two weeks or so, then I'm okay with that.  At least then you are getting player development out of your 70 OPS+.
Maybe JFro or somebody could bring us up to speed on how feasible it is for Tui to get into game shape in the near term?

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