Not Like Mike: Mets Catchers In the Post-Piazza Era

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Ronny Paulino became the 82nd Met to get behind home plate in the team’s 50-year history last night, and he was outstanding, smacking five hits including the go-ahead double in the 14th inning.  Which has everyone wondering: Is Paulino the next Mike Piazza? … Wait, what?  Paulino’s career high in homers is 11, and his career high in RBIs is 55?  Well, he is only 30–maybe this will be his breakout year.

Anyway, Piazza was the Mets catcher from the middle of 1998 through 2005, starting over 100 games in all of those years except 2003, when he missed significant time with a groin injury.  From 2006 to today, six Met catchers have played 50+ games in a season, and Paulino will likely become the seventh.

Here’s a look at four of those guys who have had the burden of trying to fill Piazza’s enormous shoes, and for the most part have paled in comparison.

Paul Lo Duca, 2006-07

As is typical of most 34-year-old catchers, Paulie was on the decline when he came to the Mets in 2006.  He had his best season in 2001 with the Dodgers, hitting .320 with 25 HRs and 90 RBIs, and in 2004 he split time between LA and Florida and had 13 HRs and 80 RBIs.  But he had a mediocre 2005, and by ’06 the Mets had no reason to expect big numbers.  Nonetheless, that year he produced out of the two-hole despite his lack of speed, hitting .318 with a .355 OBP–his best performances in those categories since ’01–and he walked a career-high 80 times.  In 2007 his OBP dropped to .311, although he did drive in 54 runs.  Still, he threw out a sub-par 23 percent of runners as a Met, similar to Piazza.

Ramon Castro, 2005-09

Ramon was never the number one guy behind the dish for the Mets, but he’s worth mentioning since he started 128 games with the team and was used off the bench often.  With Piazza’s stamina withering in 2005, Castro made a career-high 57 starts and appeared in 99 games.  He got much less playing time in ’06 with Lo Duca thriving, and his best year came in ’07, when he had career highs of 11 homers and a .285 average in 144 ABs.  At the start of the 2008 season, many fans hoped Castro would be the starter, but he strained his hamstring late in spring training and Brian Schneider got the job.  Castro hit just .245 in 143 ABs in ’08, and he was traded to the White Sox in May 2009 after Omir Santos beat him out for the backup position.  He was a solid defensive option, although after two years of nailing over 30 percent of runners in 2005 and 2006 he threw out just three of 30 runners who ran on him in ’07.

Brian Schneider, 2008-09

The Mets signed Schneider after three years with the Nationals, in which his batting averages were .268, .256 and .235 from 2005 to 2007, respectively, so they could not have expected much.  Nonetheless, he made 98 starts for the Mets in ’08, and he managed to bat .257 with a .339 OBP.  In 2009, though, he struggled mightily, and upon returning to the team in late May after a six-week DL stint he found himself in a platoon with righty Omir Santos. Schneider made just 52 starts that year, and he hit .218 with a .292 OBP.  Schneider threw out 33 and 34 percent of runners in 2008 and 2009, but these numbers actually marked a significant drop from earlier in his career; Brian hosed 53 and 50 percent of runners back in ’03 and ’04.  Overall, Schneider was worth just 1.2 Wins Above Replacement as a Met.

Rod Barajas, 2010

Things started out promising for Barajas, and through May of 2010 he was hitting .270 with 11 HRs and 29 RBIs in 145 ABs, including some hits in crucial late-game situations.  But in 104 ABs between June 1 and August 19–his final game as a Met and only game with the team in August after a DL trip–he hit .163 with 1 homer and 4 RBIs.  That’s about as quick and drastic a mid-season fallout as I’ve ever seen.  To top it off, Barajas gunned down just four of 27 base stealers before the Mets traded him to the Dodgers for a pile of cash.

The other two guys to play 50+ games at catcher since Piazza left are Santos, who is now with the Tigers, and Josh Thole.

Just for fun, and to jog your memory, here are a few other names of Mets who have seen time behind the plate in the last five years, along with their years with the team and their total number of appearances as a Met: Mike DiFelice (2005-07, 42); Kelly Stinnett (2006, 7); Sandy Alomar, Jr. (2007, 6); Robinson Cancel (2008, 15); Henry Blanco (2010, 46).

Since Piazza left, the Mets have made a habit of signing past-their-prime catchers–Lo Duca, Schneider, Barajas. Hopefully, we won’t be saying the same regarding Paulino, and last night was a good start.  Still, Paulino has just a one-year contract.  Ideally, Thole will become the first really good Met catcher in some time, and the first catcher since Todd Hundley to come through the Mets system and earn a starting role.

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Tags: Brian Schneider Josh Thole Mets Mike Piazza New York Mets Omir Santos Paul Lo Duca Ramon Castro Rising Apple Rod Barajas Ronny Paulino Todd Hundley

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