Josh Thole has seemingly been rather quiet of late. And then all of a sudden, he smacked a homer during Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, his first of the year. Not exactly known for his power, I was a little shocked, especially given that the Mets have been scoring buckets of runs lately without the use of the long ball (this game was an exception). Thole hasn’t exactly fallen into oblivion, but with Ronny Paulino mashing lefties (he currently sports a .396/.431/.500 line vs. southpaws, Terry Collins has (wisely) been platooning his two backstops. But make no mistake, Thole, as of this moment, should still be the Mets catcher in the long term.
Before the season, I expressed my support for Thole and explained that he would be a perfectly adequate catcher, given his penchant for getting on base and decent showing on defense. I also mentioned that given the batting order of Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jason Bay and Ike Davis, Thole wouldn’t be asked to do a whole lot offensively. Unfortunately, that lineup was together for a few innings on April 14th and hasn’t been seen since, so the Mets have asked for more offense out of the catcher position (as evidenced by Paulino hitting cleanup last night). That, combined with the fact that Thole got off to a terrible start, hitting just .205/.281/.241 through May 31st, made me doubt my initial belief ever so slightly. However, in the past month or so, Thole has quietly improved offensively.
Over his past 22 games, amounting to 74 plate appearances, Thole is hitting .339/.446/.452 with the one homer, raising his slash line on the season to .253/.342/.316. The power is probably never going to be there (at most, Thole may hit five dingers in a season), but the significant rise in his batting average and on-base percentage is very encouraging. Indeed, Thole’s plate discipline has greatly improved since the start of the season. In March/April, Thole’s BB/K was 0.44. That rate rose to 1.14 during May and a whopping 4.50 during June. On the season, Thole is now has his walk rate up to 11.9% and his strikeout rate down to 14.4%.
One aspect of his game, however, that Thole must absolutely improve upon if he wants to stick around is his defense. Thole has cost the Mets five defensive runs, thrown out just eight of thirty-two baserunners, and allowed ten passed balls and fourteen wild pitches. Granted, Thole has the unenviable task of catching R.A. Dickey, so the high number of passed balls makes some sense, but only six of them were when Thole caught Dickey; four passed non-knuckle balls at this point in the season still seems a little high. As a point of comparison, Mike Piazza only had three passed balls during the entire 2000 season, and Mike was never know as a great defensive catcher. The number of wild pitches is also a little concerning, if only because I’ve witnessed Thole, on multiple occasions, not drop down to his knees in order to block a ball in the dirt. Doing that alone would help reduce the number of wild pitches and improve him defensively.
Thole also benefits from the fact that he doesn’t have anyone nipping at his shin guards in the minor leagues. Here is a quick look at how some of the catchers in the Mets farm system are doing this season, with player age and minor league level (current team listed first) in parenthesis:
Mike Nickeas (28, AAA): .190/.252/.260, 0 HR,
Raul Chavez (38, AAA): .158/.167/.199, 0 HR
Salmon Monriquez (38, AA/AAA): .278/.330/.417, 4 HR
Kai Gronauer (24, AA): .229/.315/.300, 1 HR
Jean Luc Blaquiere (25, AA): .190/.358/.262, 1 HR
Francisco Pena (21, A+): .199/.255/.292, 3 HR
Juan Centeno (21, A+): .315/.338/.384, 1 HR
Alberto Cordero (21, A): .237/.266/.306, 2 HR
Blake Forsythe (21, A): .209/.296/.330, 3 HR
Given that Thole is still just 24, the ages of these minor league catchers (too old or too young to make a run at the majors in the next couple of years) and their lack of success, Thole should keep his job for the foreseeable future. As for Paulino, he is now 30 years old and not really looked at as a team’s long term catching solution, but more of a backup/platoon player. Unless Thole goes into a complete tailspin over the next couple of years, or the Mets go out and spend money on a free agent catcher, expect to see Thole behind the backstop in the coming seasons.
Tags: Amazins Catcher Daniel Murphy David Wright Ike Davis Jason Bay Jose Reyes Josh Thole Josh Thole Catcher Josh Thole Platoon Knuckleballl Matt Kaufman Mets Mike Piazza Minor Leagues New York New York Mets Passed Ball Paulino R.A. Dickey Ronny Paulino Ronny Paulino Catcher Ronny Paulino Platoon Sandy Alderson Terry Collins Thole Triple A Wild Pitch