Name: Josh Thole
|162 Game Avg.||162||533||35||119||20||1||4||44||48||70||.251||.322||.322||.645||80|
*162 Game Avg. is his career average based on if he played every game of a 162-game season.
January 18, 2013 – Signed 2-year deal worth $2.5 million with Toronto Blue Jays
March 24, 2013 – Optioned to Triple-A Buffalo Bisons
June 7, 2013 – Recalled by MLB Toronto Blue Jays
Josh Thole was picked up by the Blue Jays as part of the R.A. Dickey trade last November. As a player with minor league options remaining it wasn’t surprising to see Thole start the season in Triple-A Buffalo. Thole was considered a candidate for the Blue Jays back-up catching role after successfully calling Dickey’s starts during R.A.’s spectacular 2012 campaign. The Blue Jays decided to start the year veteran Henry Blanco out of spring training who was signed to a non-guaranteed contract in January. It was uncertain how much Thole would play in 2013 but Steamer projected a .256/.326/.349 triple slash in 118 plate appearances going into the season.
As mentioned Thole started the year playing in the International League with the Buffalo Bisons. He batted .322/.383/.510 with 7 home runs and 31 RBIs in 41 games at Triple-A. Meanwhile Blanco struggled with the Blue Jays batting only .184/.262/.263 before he was designated for assignment in early June. Thole was then called up to become Dickey’s personal catcher but playing every fifth day he was never able to find a rhythm. His strikeout rate spiked to a career-high 18.5%, which was much higher than his MLB average of 13.1%. His lack of production at the plate led to a -0.7 rWAR and -0.5 fWAR. His wOBA was a minuscule .231 and wRC+ a paltry 31. I wasn’t exactly on the “Free Thole” bandwagon but thought the 26-year-old catcher would contribute more in 2013.
No one expected Thole to bring much power and his .067 ISO was right around his career mark of .071. He put far fewer balls on the ground this year (43.6%) compared to last year (57.7%) but a net increase to his line drive rate of 0.3% wasn’t enough to get him any more hits and actually appeared to further regress in 2013. His BABIP of .213 is possibly an outlier but even at a more normalized rate there he most likely still would have been a low .200’s hitter.
Considering what the Toronto Blue Jays potentially gave up for Dickey, Thole and Mike Nickeas it would be really nice if Josh could have a comeback campaign in 2014. His Steamer projection for next year is .248/.318/.350 with a 0.5 fWAR, which is probably what I would have expected him to put out in 2013. If that’s the case he still looks to be a serviceable back-up catcher and his familiarity with Dickey’s knuckleball also gives the Blue Jays reassurance they have someone who can keep the trick pitch from turning into too many passed balls or wild pitches. Dickey pitched much better after Thole started catching him on a regular basis but there were too many other factors at play including Dickey’s nagging neck and back injuries that hindered him early to come to any real conclusions
Looking at Thole’s career numbers (which I included above) he appears to be regressing each year since he’s been in the majors. He has a $1.75 million team option for 2015 and I’m not 100% sure but I believe he also still has at least one minor league option year remaining. If the Blue Jays are looking to upgrade their production behind the plate Josh Thole is probably not the answer but if he performs anywhere close to his career averages should be a decent back-up option for the Toronto Blue Jays next year.