I’m Sorry, Jim Hendry, But Jason Kendall is NOT a Good Catcher

A good hitter? Yes.

A good-hitter who plays the catcher position? Um, OK.

A good catcher? No.

He is horrible at catching anything in the dirt. In the short time he’s been on the Cubs, I’ve seen more balls bounce away and allow baserunners to move up than I had all season. Even with Michael Barrett.

Unfortunately, this is one of the key qualities of a good catcher.

And for catchers, defensive excellence trumps all other concerns.

I had thought the Cubs had figured this out earlier this year, but now I’m not so sure. If they value defense at the catcher position — which is just another way of saying they like their pitchers to give up fewer runs — why do they play Jason Kendall every day?

The Cubs used to have a couple of catchers who could catch the ball in the dirt, and called good games. They traded one, Rob Bowen, to Oakland for Jason Kendall. They sent the other one, Koyie Hill, down to AAA Iowa when Henry Blanco came off the DL few weeks ago.

When Carlos Zambrano was pitching lights out in July, he used Hill as his catcher. Since Kendall got here, he has caught all (or nearly all) of Zambrano’s games. Zambrano basically stinks right now, with an 0-5 record in his last 5 starts and an ERA around 9.

It’s pretty tough to make the case that these are just coincidences.

Also, since July 17, Kendall’s first game with the Cubs, the team is 8-6 in July, 12-16 in August, and 3-3 in September, 23-25 overall.

Contrast that with this: during the post-Michael Barrett and pre-Jason Kendall era, i.e., with Bowen and Hill, the Cubs were 7-3 in June, and 9-3 in July. 16-6 overall. This was the “we need a catcher who can hit” phase.

Be careful what you wish for. It might come true.

Why does anybody need a catcher who can hit? Can somebody explain that to me? Guys like Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra and Ivan Rodriguez don’t just fall off trees; it isn’t realistic to use them as benchmarks for what you want in a catcher. They come around like once per decade, or less.

16-6. What, that’s not good enough?

See 2007 team stats and stats for individual pitchers by catcher (scroll all the way down): Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill, and Sean Marshall

Also see this interesting breakdown (from about a month ago); Kendall apparently makes Sean Marshall a better pitcher, by a longshot, and should catch him all the time. And Marquis seems to pitch well to both Kendall and Hill. The other pitchers all do much better with Hill.

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