Addressing Milwaukee’s “Personal Catcher” Situation
By: Ryan Smith
The Brewers had just experienced a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. To make matters worse, the Crew only managed to score 10 runs over the course of those four games. Some fans – myself included – couldn’t help but start to wonder if it was too early to be genuinely concerned about this season. At that given moment, the Brewers were pathetic.
Then last Sunday’s outburst happened. The Brewer bats woke up to the tune of 16 runs. Sure, a good portion of those runs came against the very mortal Jason Marquis, whose less-than-stellar performance that day forced him into unemployment. Still, it was nice to see the team wake up at the plate.
For Brewers fans, Sunday’s game was a damn good time.
Helping to lead the charge on Sunday was The Jonathon Lucroy. (I’ve decided to refer to him as “The Jonathon Lucroy” because of the way he’s dominating at and behind the plate this season.) Already having a breakout season, The Jonathon Lucroy continued his success at the plate with a monster performance, crushing two home runs and knocking in seven runs along the way. I couldn’t help but think that Sunday might have been just what the doctor ordered: a game to build some confidence for our struggling lineup.
On Monday, my excitement would be put on hold.
Randy Wolf was pitching.
Now let me point out that I am a fan of Randy Wolf. I was never a big fan of Randy Wolf as the second guy in our rotation, but as our fourth? Sign me up.
My problem with Randy Wolf is George Kottaras.
Let me point something else out: I like George Kottaras. As a kid, I grew up cheering for Milwaukee and Boston, and I’ve continued to do so for quite some time, so I liked Kottaras well before most Brewers fans started using his name as a verb early this season.
My problem with George Kottaras is Randy Wolf.
I can buy into the idea of a pitcher having a “personal catcher” for a few reasons. Tim Wakefield always had a specific catcher in Boston, and if you remember Jason Varitek trying to catch the knuckleballer in the ’04 playoffs, you completely understand why he has his own catcher. I would understand if someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka had a personal catcher because he came to the big leagues with a rumored seven pitches. I would even understand if someone like Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay requested a personal catcher because, well, I’d give those guys whatever the hell they wanted.
But Randy Wolf? As Tom Haudricourt tweeted during Monday’s game, Randy Wolf has exactly eight 1-2-3 innings this season. He’s pitched 46.1 innings thus far. That performance warrants a personal catcher?
Sorry. I don’t buy it.
I’ve heard other arguments for this whole “personal catcher” situation that Wolf and Kottaras have going. I get the idea that giving The Jonathon Lucroy an off-day every fifth game will help save his legs and keep him fresh into September.
But does the situation have to be so rigid? Does it have to be every fifth game? What about every seventh game? Wouldn’t that still give him more off days than other top-tier catchers have throughout a given season?
Or if they insisted on giving him that fifth game off, couldn’t they juggle it around from starter to starter, based on the each game’s pitching matchup?
Monday’s game against San Francisco was the perfect example of my last point. The Giants were sending southpaw Madison Bumgarner to the mound. The Jonathon Lucroy is, quite simply, hitting the crap out of the ball against lefties, sporting a line of .419/.455/.742 in 2012.
The left-handed George Kottaras, in limited at-bats, has a line of .167/.500/.167 against lefties this season. So basically, he knows how to draw a walk against left-handed pitching but isn’t as gifted when it comes to actually swinging the bat in those same situations.
So I have to ask Ron Roenicke one thing: why?
Why take out a guy who is hitting the ball with reckless abandon regardless of where you put him in the batting order? Why give him an off-day against a left-handed pitcher when he might be our most dangerous bat against lefties outside of Ryan Braun? Why not wait and give Kottaras his turn in the lineup against Matt Cain on Tuesday?
Because it was Randy Wolf’s start. And George Kottaras is Randy Wolf’s personal catcher.
Before the game, when asked about possibly changing this philosophy, Roenicke said, “I like them both out there. I think there should be some times when I’d rather put ‘Luc’ in there catching Randy. Tonight would be one of them. But we need to talk to them more about that if we decide we’re going to go that way.”
Once again, sorry. I don’t buy it.
Mr. Roenicke, I’m a fan of yours. I like the style of game you preach to the players. I like your aggressiveness on the bases. I love seeing a suicide squeeze once a week.
But I also know that you’re the manager and they are your players. It is your job to try and put out the lineup that gives us the best chance to win the game on any given night. “We” don’t need to talk about anything if “we” are going to make a decision.
You need to make that decision. The next time Randy Wolf is matched up against another lefty, you need to put out the best lineup possible.
You need to make sure you have The Jonathon Lucroy out there. Because right now, The Jonathon Lucroy trumps any “personal catcher” system that you have in place.