Devin Mesoraco will catch Johnny Cueto more this season, severing the personal catcher relationship between Cueto and Bryan Peña. This according to manager Bryan Price as reported by Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News.

“Realistically, I see him (Mesoraco) as a Yadier Moilina type guy who is going to catch 145 games a year, more so than I see him catching 110 a year and playing 20 or 30 at first base. … It stood out more last year because I linked up Johnny Cueto with Pena catching,” Price added. “I anticipate Mesoraco catching a lot more games this year, especially if he stays healthy. We won’t pair Pena with Cueto as much. Devin did a real nice job with Johnny the times he caught him.”

Mesoraco just signed a new contract with the Reds, extending his time with the club a year, through 2018. The agreement includes a $400,000 bonus for any season the catcher has 502 or more plate appearances. (That’s the number of PA that qualifies a hitter for the hitting titles, based on 3.1 PA per game.)

Catching 145 games amounts to playing 9 out of 10. Peña catching Cueto every fifth day meant Mesoraco played 8 out of 10, or 130 games over the course of a full, healthy season. The Reds play ten games in American League ballparks, mostly in May. Price can use Peña behind the plate in those games and keep Mesoraco’s bat in the lineup as the designated hitter.

This isn’t the first time Price has said he would forego the personal catcher arrangement. Heading into 2014, Price said: “Unless there is a reason to do it, I don’t have an intention to line up our starters with one catcher throughout the course of the entire year.” Price proceeded to assign Brayan Peña to catch Johnny Cueto for most of the season.

Playing Mesoraco over Peña makes a big difference, not only at the plate, but also behind it. Mesoraco is a plus defensive catcher, while Peña isn’t. Here are stats from last season, with the defensive runs calculation by FanGraphs.

Catchers

If Price follows through with his announced plan, it’s welcome. The Reds can’t afford to sideline an impact bat in 20 percent of their games. Benching Mesoraco is especially costly against left-handed pitchers — he had an OPS of .925 against lefties, while Peña put up a .459.

Johnny Bench caught at least 140 games nine different seasons. So did Gary Carter, including at age 31. Mike Piazza did it six times. Two-time Gold Glove winner, Salvador Perez did last year. Devin Mesoraco (26) can be that kind of catcher. Injuries are always possible, particularly for catchers. But the added risk of playing one more game out of ten is worth the boost in offense.

If you believe in the importance of locker room presence, Price’s new policy raises the status of a young vocal leader. It must undermine a player’s clout for the manager to sit him every time the #1 pitcher takes the mound – on Opening Day, in the postseason, in ace-vs.-ace matchups. If anything, Mesoraco should sit during the #4 or #5 pitcher’s turn and always catch Johnny Ceuto.

Adding games behind the plate is preferable to Mesoraco learning a second position. Beyond taking time away from mastering the dark skills of catching, every game that Mesoraco plays at first base or left field is a game that Peña’s weak bat is in the lineup. And, it makes the Reds weaker defensively at two positions.

41 Responses

  1. Michael J Hampton

    Agree with everything you say. Price is talking the talk, let’s see if he walks the walk. We heard pretty much the same thing last year, and then he proceeded to do just the opposite.

  2. Tom Reed

    With the contract extension and the positive word from the manager, it looks like Mesoraco can become the leader on the field and in the clubhouse. A positive for the Reds. Very similar to having an outstanding quarterback.

  3. doctor

    If Devin got to 130-140 games/500PA every year, that would be great. I am in the camp that for catchers, to give them regular rest to keep them fresh as possible, especially when they are a hitter (i.e. Posey, Lucroy, Mauer). I understand why its hard not to keep writing these guys names in the line up when they can hit. Such a big advantage for a team to get good offense production from C spot. Hopefully Devin can maintain his power & production to cause such a good quandry.

    also, this recent set of Mesoraco articles gets me laughing about a top 10 catcher prospect list a few years ago that had several guys like Jesus Montero ahead of Devin, even though the “experts” stated Devin would stay at C for his career while the others would more likely have to move to 1B or DH.

  4. lwblogger2

    There is no way that Mes is catching 145 games a year. It kinda bugs me that Price says that. Nobody catches that many games during the regular season, nobody. I love the idea of Mes catching more and getting away from the ‘personal catcher’ model of playing time. I think it’s best to go by what kind of work load the catcher has had and other factors when deciding to rest him. A good example is most day game after night game scenarios; especially during the dog days of summer. To say that Mes is going to catch 145 just isn’t realistic. Molina, one of the busiest catchers ever has never had more than 136 starts and 138 appearances behind the plate. Bench had 139 starts once, at age 20. I think 130 starts would be about what we’d expect from Mesoraco assuming good health and not wanting to work him to death.

    • MrRed

      I agree with you that targeting 130 games seems more realistic. But assigning Pena to Cueto exclusively isn’t going to allow for that. Price needs to make a concerted effort to better utilize Devin. Giving him a DH slot in AL parks and rest in day games following night games seems to be an obvious opportunity to stretch him out during the season. But, health providing, they’ve got to push to use him a lot next season. The drop off when he is out is too great to allow if the Reds want to have a shot next year.

    • Steve Mancuso

      The guy who won the Gold Glove in the AL this year started 143 games at catcher and played catcher in 3 others.

      • lwblogger2

        Yes, in fact he did. He also appeared in 137 w/ 126 starts in 2013. His 2014 numbers in that area also beat the next most (LuCroy) by 10 games, or about 2 games per month. So, I shouldn’t have said “never”. That said, I believe my main point holds water. Perez is the only catcher who has made over 140 starts since 2008 when Kendall did it (149!!). Russell Martin did it in 2007 (143). So, it isn’t unprecedented but that doesn’t mean the expectation isn’t unreasonable. Going back to 2007, I’ve found a very, very select group of catchers who has done it.

        I know you go to a lot of games as do I, if Mes looks even on pace to catch 145 at the break, we’ll meet up at GABP and I’ll buy ya a cold one or a Brat.

  5. Drew

    Mez will need day’s off, why not leave Pena catching Cueto and thus have that as one of the days off for Mez and it gets Pena some game action. That right there reduces Mez to around 130 games. He could PH in those days off and such and if the NL would wake up and join the AL and add the DH like they should it could give Mez other options.

  6. reaganspad

    Devin should be in LF (or RF) on days that he is not catching.

    10 games of DH is fine, that would put him up to 140 games.

    I would like another 10-15 from my top right handed power hitter. Those extra days off could be in RF when you might give Bruce a day off versus tough lefthander

    • Jeremy Conley

      The thing is, running around in the outfield is not a day off, and catcher’s actually need days off. DHing would be fine though.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Devin makes it clear that he’s still learning how to master catching. He talks about how much time he spends on all the little details, plus preparing. I’d hate to see that investment diluted by him having to learn how to play a much different position.

      • reaganspad

        Steve, I do not disagree with what you are saying, but I would guess that if you gave Devin a shot to play outfield on off days he would take it, like Frazier did at 3rd, LF and 1st base. The guy is a gamer

        I think Meso knows what his bat means to the team

      • Joe Atkinson

        Whether Mes would take the opportunity to play the extra days in the outfield or not is irrelevant (and I agree – I’m sure he would). You can’t just take a player and drop them in the outfield at the Major League level – there are intricacies of the position that require a lot of work outside of game time. I think what Steve is saying is that, instead of taking that time outside of games to learn the intricacies of the outfield, Mes should be using that time to master the intricacies of catching. I couldn’t agree more.

        I’m kind of baffled that the same fan base who watched Yonder Alonso try to play left field still thinks that you can just toss Mes out into left field on his days off and he’ll be able to play it well.

      • Thegaffer

        In an interview last year, Frazier said playing 1B last year hurt him at the plate as he was less comfortable. He also was not great on defense at First either. So, the extra ABs Mes may get by playing out of position may not provide any real added value.

      • reaganspad

        OK, fine. I will resolve to have Meso have 450 abs. At least we will save that $400,000 kicker on him getting 500 abs. Whew, I was worried about that.

        I think it is wrong, just like it is wrong to have Chapman throw 60 innings.

        Winning teams figure out how to use talent.

        The Dodgers used Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager in Right Field when they weren’t catching and were a championship team.

        We will have Pena catching and Mesoraco not even available to pinch hit because he is our “backup” catcher on days he doesn’t start

  7. cleveredsguy

    Pretty interesting that Price is going with this switch after being so stubborn about it in 2014. It makes me wonder if this change signals a change in management’s thinking. i.e. Mesoraco signed an extension so we are going to prioritize Devon’s playing time and development over who Cueto’s catcher is since he is not in our long-term future anymore.

    I for one am glad management has taken this stance as the offensive output as summarized above will greatly impact our run production. As soon as the Mesoraco deal was finalized I thought that further solidified the opinion of myself and many that Cueto is no longer in our budget range, as he outperformed last year. Normally Walt takes the approach of who’s contract is next up when dealing with extensions. See Bailey’s deal last year. It seems they have moved on from Cueto and the possibility of extending him.

    Looks like a win/win for the Reds. If Cueto is successful this year the Reds can either get a draft pick at the end of the year when he signs elsewhere (if they are in contention), or trade him at the deadline for more than a draft pick would be worth (if they are out of contention). They also won’t be saddled with another very expensive long-term deal and will be able to call up one of their many arms from the minors in 2016 to fill the gap at the cheapest possible cost.

  8. sultanofswaff

    I don’t see why Pena is ahead of Barnhart in the pecking order. Barnhart is a plus defender, Pena is a below average defender. Barnhart gets on base at a high clip (.341 in his minor league career), Pena does not (.293 in his major league career).

    • lwblogger2

      A lot of teams like to have a veteran backup catcher, especially when the starter is rather young. That’s probably the biggest reason. Also, while I like Barnhart and he gets on base, he provides very little other offensive value. I do enjoy watching him behind the plate though.

      • Thegaffer

        The reds will not carry 3 catchers, so Barhardt will be at AAA with options to come up if there is an injury. Pena is not getting cut as he is liked, cheap, and a better hitter than Tucker.

      • Carl Sayre

        Tucker will be the backup catcher next year so I like him playing on a regular basis in AAA rather than ride the pine with the big club.

      • preacherj

        Pena is also our first base back up!! (Why, I’m not sure)

  9. Tom Gray

    I like the idea of Mesoraco catching 90% of the Reds games. Bench did in the 1970’s. There’ll be plenty of time for LB or 1B (days off C) but he’s young enough to catch still.

    • Michael Smith

      The last time Bench caught 90% of the Reds games was 1969 according to baseball reference. After that the Reds found ways to get him into other positions a dozen plus times a year.

      • Tom Gray

        Those Reds teams dominated their opposition. Bench (and other regulars) were rested often in the 1970’s. Still he averaged about 140 games at C in the early part of his career. I expect Mesoraco can do something like that over the next few years.

  10. ManuelT

    I’ve always thought not letting Meso catch Cueto was a bad idea. What if we made the playoffs and Pena’s caught Cueto all season? Would this result in Pena starting over Meso in the playoffs? OR more likely, Meso catches Cueto but their ability to develop a rapport has been compromised by Pena doing the job all season. This setup would not bode well for playoffs.

  11. mrredlegz

    Not sure why they would plug Mesoraco in for anyone else, anywhere else on the diamond. I mean, isn’t the point of trying to get your best hitters more ABs compromised when you give Jay Bruce a day off and let Mez roam RF? Ideally, you have both in the lineup as often as possible…

  12. scheffbd (@scheffbd)

    No question Mesoraco’s hitting makes him far better than Pena. But Pena played more innings at first base than catcher last year, so that’s why Mesoraco looks a lot better defensively. They were practically equal and slightly below average last season using the two metrics added together for defensive runs in fWAR.

    Mesoraco: -3 Stolen Base Runs Saved, 2.4 Passed Pitch Runs
    Pena: 0 rSB, -0.3 RPP

    Pena has a small edge on pitch framing numbers, which aren’t factored into WAR. I think Mes is a work in progress still on catching defense but need his bat in the lineup as much as possible.

    • lwblogger2

      I also think that Mes has some defensive upside. The pitch framing metrics are a bit overlooked in my opinion. That said, as a guy who’s caught an awful lot of games, I love that sort of stuff.

      • WVRedlegs

        I like the Tech Talks with Chris Welsh in the pre-game shows when Mesoraco has been on them. Mesoraco is a smart, tough player. He is no dummy. He has been taught very well. I think many people don’t give him enough credit behind the plate.
        As for the Tech Talks, I don’t know why the Reds don’t market those, at a nominal cost, to little league and high school coaches and teams. Those little 3-4 minute pieces are very informative most of the time. I wish they had something like that back in my day. Could you imagine Tech Talks with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose?

    • CP

      I’m curious how the Stolen Base Runs Saved would take into account Pena catching Cueto and Mes catching someone like Latos. Pretty unlikely the guy catching Latos will ever score well.

  13. Earl Nash

    If the Reds can get what they can out of Devin Mescoraco as the Braves did with Brian McCann then it’s a winning setup. I think Mesoraco doing the bulk of the catching maybe starting in May, but I would think while the weather is dicer in April and also in the middle of the summer heat, you would still want to get Pena a few extra starts.

  14. VaRedsFan

    I hope this comes to fruition. I’ve been hollering that the way to get him more AB’s is to let him catch 9 out of 10 games. This “stick him in the OF” is ridiculous.

    Also, fix it so his off days don’t come when a lefty is starting. If the night game is vs a righty and the following day games is vs. a lefty, don’t start him the night game and sit the day game. It’s the little things.

    • Shchi Cossack

      To expand on what VRF proposed, Mesoraco put up a .925 OPS against LHP last season. Any LH reliever that faces Mesoraco is either an elite LH pitcher or has a fool for a manager. A LH stater is another matter entirely. The starting rotation is pretty much set, so a LH starter may not be an elite pitcher. Against LH starters, Mesoraco put up a 1.024 OPS last season. Mesoraco MUST start against EVERY LH starter.

      Pena has a career .680 OPS against RHP and a career .586 OPS against LHP. Last season, Pena put up a .699 OPS against RHP and a .449 OPS against LHP. Unless Mesoraco is physically unable to play, Pena should NEVER face a LH starting pitcher.

      Last season, Pena put up a .762 OPS during the 1st 2 months while mesoraco struggled through 2 trips on the 15-day DL. That was an invaluable performance from a backup catcher with a career 77 OPS+, but I believe that performance led to illusory and inflated expectations from both the fans and the manager regarding Pena’s capabilities. During the remaining 4 months of the season, Pena put up a .583 OPS. In line with WJ’s standard modus operandi, Pena is making $1.4MM in 2014 on the back end of a 2-year contract for an aging veteran. I liked Pena last season on an $800K contract (although he was grossly misused by the manager), but on a $1.4MM contract, I believe WJ’s weakness for aging veterans once again reared its ugly head.

      • Michael J Hampton

        This /\/\/\ as much as anything regarding how to use Mes. I don’t really see him catching 145 games, maybe if he doesn’t have any major injuries, 125 – 130 games at catcher and another 5+ as DH for a total as a starter approaching 140 games at most. However, it it critical to optimize his bat and as the Old Cossack has shown, Mes needs to be in there against every LH starter regardless of who is pitching for the Reds.

      • lwblogger2

        Exactly where I stand on it too.

  15. Tom Gray

    The magical 4 words are just a few weeks away.

    Pitchers and catchers report…

    • Shchi Cossack

      The longest 4 weeks of a long offseason every year, especially looking out the window at 4 inches of snow blanketing the ground.

      • Tom Gray

        19 inches at Chicago O’Hare Airport not far from my house. Spring training is a fun time of year. Loved Florida but haven’t been to Arizona yet.