Back in July, the Mets were in the playoff hunt and in need of two things: bullpen help, and a right-handed power bat. They could have used that power in the outfield, but Sandy Alderson was hoping to get some from Jason Bay once he returned from his concussion (hmmm). So, he decided to try and find a catcher that could platoon with Josh Thole. The Amazins were rumored to be interested in players like Ramon Hernandez, Kurt Suzuki, or Miguel Olivo, but none of them panned out before the deadline. However, an August 14th waiver-wire deal that brought Kelly Shoppach to the Mets has been a great pick-up, as he’s hitting .303/.395/.606 in 33 at-bats since the trade.
In 2010 and 2011, Shoppach was with the Tampa Bay Rays in a part-time role behind the plate. He struggled with the bat, hitting .196 in 158 at-bats in 2010, and .176 in 221 at-bats last year, but has found his groove again with the Boston Red Sox after he signed a one-year/$1 million deal, as he hit .250/.327/.471 in 140 at-bats before being dealt to New York. Since the trade, he’s been platooning with Thole, and thriving by hitting for more power and driving in runs than any of the Mets’ other three options at catcher.
So, what’s with his turnaround? He’s having a great season with the bat because he’s been making more solid contact on a consistent basis. Sounds pretty simple, I know, but it’s something that has been missing from his game for a while. His BABIP jumped from .212 last year to .416 this season, largely because he’s hitting line drives at the highest rate in his MLB career. He’s hitting liners 22.1% of the time, compared to 12.1% in 2011. While his ground ball rate (36.8%) has remained near his career averages, his fly ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points to 41.1%, much closer to his career average of 42.5%.
Outside of what he’s doing at the plate, Terry Collins has been thoroughly impressed with his presence behind it as well, praising how he calls a ballgame and the way he handles his young pitching staff. Having recent postseason experience with both the Indians (’07 ALCS) and Rays (2011 ALDS) is huge for a team that is not only young, but mostly homegrown. He knows what a winning culture is like, and he’s brought that attitude and experience with him to the Mets clubhouse, as they’ve finally caught fire during a lackluster second half.
Shoppach fills a lot of needs for the Amazins with his recent arrival, as he provides the pop that the organization desires, and the experience that will hopefully benefit Thole if they feel he is still the answer for the future behind the plate. The biggest wild card will remain whether or not Shoppach resigns with New York this winter.
Alderson wanted to bring him aboard to see if he fits in with the team and the organization’s plans moving forward, and on the surface, it looks to be a perfect fit. He will likely be looking for a contract higher than his currently $1 million salary since he’s outproduced it in 2012, but this shouldn’t be something Alderson will have to break the bank for with his tight budget. The ineffectiveness of Mike Nickeas and Rob Johnson leaves the Mets no choice but to sign a right-handed backup catcher this winter, and Kelly Shoppach should be that man.