Dan Hayes reported today that the Padres brass is ready to take the training wheels off of Nick Hundley and anoint him the starting catcher for 2011. This comes a week after Yorvit Torrealba declined his half of his mutual option, breaking up the dynamic duo who gave the Padres their most productive year from the catcher’s spot since Mike Piazza and Josh Bard went off in 2006. This’ll be Hundley’s first year in the starring role and the tone around Padresland could best be described as nonplussed but worry not, Hundley’s good. Well, he’s not bad. Let me explain.
First, let’s get this out of the way: catcher is the hardest position on the field to play. In his defensive spectrum, Bill James ranked it ninth, only ahead of the pitcher’s spot, in difficulty. The catcher is not only asked to stay in a crouched position for nine innings while enduring 90 mph foul tips and the potential steamroll, but he has to take a more cerebral role. Why don’t I just let Bud Black break it down, or at least break down what it is he thinks Hundley does right:
“I saw strides this year in his overall handling of the pitchers, handling of the game, and keeping the focus throughout the game,” manager Bud Black said.
“Just his overall in-game awareness, I saw progress. He really made strides on defensive end. I thought he threw better, much more under control and with accuracy.”
Oh yeah, the catcher also has to deal with the base running aspect of the game. Hundley’s .293 CS% would rank him fifth among qualified catchers (out of 13) and is a personal best. But then, who cares? If your beef with Hundley is because you don’t think he makes a good backstop, I’m not sure I can sway your opinion. But if you’re upset over questions concerning the Padres offense and see Hundley as another problem, keep reading.
This season, Hundley finished the year with a wRC+ of 99, which is down one point from his 100 in 2009. For those who don’t know, that makes Hundley incredibly average but consistently so. Of all catchers with 300 plate appearances, Hundley’s 99 was good for 15th out of 29, again pretty average. He was well below the Mauers and Poseys of the league but well ahead of the Kendalls and Bengie Molinas. He was below Torrealba (107 wRC+, 12th in the league) but keep in mind that Torrealba had a career year this season, at age 32. His career wRC+ of 85 is below Hundley’s 93. Again, something to keep in mind if you find yourself getting upset that the team let Torrealba slip away (assuming that they do).
More to my point, of the 17 players who received 100 at-bats from the Padres, Hundley’s 99 was good for ninth. Is this guy good at hitting the middle or what? His WAR of 1.5 also ranked the same. Hundley’s no Adrian, he’s not even Chase Headley, but he has more in common with Chase than he does with Everth Cabrera or Scott Hairston or some of the real holes this 2010 squad had. Jed Hoyer has his work cut out for him if he’s going to repeat this year’s 90-win success story. He’s got holes up the middle and Ryan Ludwick is going to have to do much better than he did after coming over from St. Louis, but Hundley will make Jed’s job easier. Leave him alone and he’ll do well to not mess things up.
It might not be the greatest of praise but for a team with the Sisyphean nature that this club has, it’ll do. Or, at least, it should.