Incomplete catchers past and present loom large in White Sox-Mariners series

It doesn’t quite rank up there with the Jim Thome Revenge Game in terms of impact or the Daniel Hudson Revenge Game in terms of all-around dominance, but Omar Narvaez’s Revenge Series this weekend in the canon of ill-advised trades repeating on the White Sox.

Trading Narvaez for Alex Colomé last winter wasn’t an individual mistake on those levels, at least when it looked like the White Sox were gearing up for immediate action. When the offseason passed them by with Colomé and Kelvin Herrera the most consequential additions, the context made it harder to justify. The Sox, until the last two weeks, have been as good as you can be with late-inning leads, but the late-inning leads haven’t been in large enough quantities to change the course of the season. Neither Colomé nor Herrera (lol) stood up as assets at the trade deadline, so if the Sox were hoping to generate trade value as a secondary outcome, that failed to materialize as well.

(Colomé’s second half: 21.1 IP, 21 H, 15 R, 8 ER, 2 HR, 13 BB, 22 K.)

Narvaez is doing his part to push the second-guessing to another level, especially with the series he had against his former team. He went 4-for-10 with a walk and a walk-off “homer” on Saturday — a fly ball that hit the yellow stripe on the padding and came back into the field of play, but one umpires never reviewed because they didn’t seem to understand Rick Renteria’s request. Of course, he had to hit it off Colomé.

That gave Narvaez his 21st homer, which represents both a step in the power development he showed last year, and also the chance that he’s benefiting from the juiced ball as much as anybody.

SeasonPA2BHRBB%K%BA/OBP/SLG
201832214911.820.2.275/.366/.429
201945212219.719.5.279/.354/.466


If you didn’t count on his doubles turning into homers and think those columns could flip if Major League Baseball deadens its namesake, then nothing has really changed over last year. He’d still give the Sox a decent left-handed bat and their best strike-zone judgment, and he’d still be a hard guy to trust with getting the best out of pitchers, as his defensive numbers remain dreadful. Narvaez helped give the White Sox one of the top offensive catcher combos in the game in 2018, and we saw where that got them.

Dealing Narvaez wasn’t necessarily the mistake. Acquiring Colomé wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. Maybe even trading the former for the latter would’ve made sense as a finishing move for a contender. As one of the first moves for a GM who then planned his entire offseason around one specific player his boss wouldn’t come close to landing, it ends up as perplexing as so many other Rick Hahn deals that have gone awry.

* * * * * * * * *

Dealing Narvaez for a closer would’ve also made more sense if Zack Collins could step up to replace Narvaez’s presence as a left-handed defensive liability with patience and some pop. Right now, Collins’ defensive issues are well ahead of the other aspects in the quest to replicate Narvaez’s game.

His problems with framing really stood out over the weekend. He twice started against a good framer in Seattle catcher Tom Murphy, and both times the Sox ended up with largely unfavorable strike zones.

The plate Murphy coaxed out of Quinn Wolcott was notably wider than the one Collins yielded on Friday:

Sunday was a little bit better in terms of strikes gained, but worse in terms of strikes lost:

One of the blue dots on the fringes decided Sunday’s game — Jose Ruiz’s full-count pitch to Murphy with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth. Statcast and Brooks Baseball both said it’s right on the edge, and the broadcast also suggests it’s the kind of pitch that defines the concept of “borderline.”

In isolation, you could call it Ruiz missing his spot, or home plate umpire Alex Tosi just not being moved to call that particular pitch a strike, rather than examining the way Collins received it. But closing out a pair of games where the catchers were the constant and the Mariners benefited from a net advantage of roughly 15 favorable calls, it’s worth focusing on the three-foot journey Collins’ mitt takes.

Pair his receiving and blocking woes with his scuffling bat (.123/.254/.228 over 68 plate appearances), and there isn’t a way to pencil in Collins to any future plans. The quality of his at-bats has improved since he returned, and we’ll have a better sense whether it means anything when he faces a larger percentage of right-handed pitchers starting this week.

There’s a path for Collins to succeed on an individual level and contribute to the team’s success, but just as it was with Narvaez, it probably has to take the form of relinquishing defensive duties to two better catchers. Whether he can hit enough to not catch is another question, but if the Sox didn’t wait around for Narvaez to present himself in that light, I don’t see a reason to be more patient with Collins.

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karkovice squad

it’s worth focusing on the three-foot journey Collins’ mitt takes.

Current thinking seems to be that amount of glove movement to the ball isn’t such a big deal, e.g. Flowers drops his glove then brings it up to receive the pitch. How the catcher sets up to give the ump a view and then whether/how the glove moves with the ball on impact seem to have a larger effect. Another factor is whether you’re reaching forward to catch pitches early versus waiting back for them. Former risks some interference calls but makes it more likely to grab the ball at a point it looks like a strike.

On the strike lost to Murphy, Ruiz missing the target doesn’t help matters but for Collins’ part it might have more to do with how setting up in a standard crouch affected the slot the umpire used to view the zone. His hand looked pretty still when glove met ball, it doesn’t look like he dragged it out of the zone.

He probably should’ve dropped his left leg to get lower pre-pitch. Yeah, it would’ve exacerbated his blocking issues but that only matters if the pitch is a strike in the first place.

Haven’t been able to watch any more of his games to get a sense for what’s up the rest of the time, tho.

mikeyb

Yep, to me this one was one of the least problematic for Collins. The little flinch at the end isn’t great, but this one is mostly on Ruiz/the ump. Collins gets the glove to the spot and doesn’t let the ball carry him up and in, nor does he really yank it back. When you’re set up low and miss up and in, it puts the ump in a really tough spot.

As for the other misses from Collins, he just doesn’t seem to have “soft hands.” Power fastballs and hard sliders really seem to yank his glove around. I’m hopeful that catching for MLB quality pitchers regularly can help in that regard, but I don’t think he’s ever going to get to league average. He just looks like he’s a split second late on reacting to the pitch while catching (and while hitting, honestly).

As Cirensica

My opinion on Collins can be summarized as this:

We hated (included myself) Flowers because he couldn’t hit. Some reckon he had value behind the plate which took me years to appreciate. So Flowers had the framing to pair up with a poor hitting tools.

Collins has neither.

Patrick Nolan

Let’s just blow everyone’s minds and trade for Tyler Flowers.

karkovice squad

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ParisSox

And with that last point, therein lies the genius of Reinsdorf – wage suppression for catchers.

karkovice squad

And putting home plate umps in their place.

Steve

Bringing people back is a theme for this team.