Josh Thole: Blue Jays Year in Review


Josh Thole originally joined the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the R.A. Dickey trade with the New York Mets prior to the 2013 season, and has primarily been used as Dickey’s personal catcher ever since.  Thole struggled greatly at the dish in his first season North of the border, but 2014 saw his numbers return to his career averages.  Despite these improvements, has Thole still yet to reach the quality that the Blue Jays seek in a backup catcher?  Is Josh Thole’s value to R.A. Dickey enough to justify his shortcomings with the bat?

The Good:

Thole’s batting average improved in 2014 due to his re-comittment to using the whole field.  Especially in the early months of the season, Thole was staying back on pitches and slapping them to left field.  His improved patience was a welcome change after a 2013 season that looked like a ball player with minimal skills who was trying to do too much.


The reason that Thole is a Blue Jay, however, is entirely tied to R.A. Dickey.  Thole learned to catch Dickey’s knuckleball in New York, and was behind the plate for many of his Cy Young season starts.  The ability to catch the knuckleball goes beyond the physical act of receiving the pitch.  Josh Thole is also experienced in how a knuckleballer handles runners on base, varies speeds, and utilizes their secondary pitches.  Dickey is clearly most comfortable with Thole on the other end of his pitches, and surely would prefer to continue the partnership going forward.

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The Bad:

A lack of power makes Josh Thole a very unappealing option outside of his scheduled starts behind the dish.  Thole was consistently the last option for manager John Gibbons, and perhaps the Blue Jays would benefit from a backup catcher who could contribute more as a pinch-hitter.

An OPS under .500 in 2013 and under .600 in 2014 is not scaring anybody, but again, that is not Thole’s primary value to this team.  I wonder, however, if the Blue Jays could “teach” another catcher to work with the knuckleball.  Could catching prospect A.J. Jimenez establish a chemistry with Dickey and provide an option with more potential and a better bat off the bench?  Might the Blue Jays give George Kottaras a shot?  Moreover, how would this sit with Dickey?

The Blue Jays were forced to consistently field a very weak bottom 3 in their batting order through 2014, and the presence of Thole often pushed that number to 4.  On a roster with 8 other strong hitters, Thole’s weak bat may be easier to hide, but his offensive inefficiency often dug a big hole even deeper in 2014.

The Future:

Josh Thole has an option for 2015 that I expect the Blue Jays to pick up.  Unless additions are made, he seems to be a necessity to R.A. Dickey’s future success.  They will certainly hope to squeeze more out of him at the plate, however, and I would expect to see him spending a ton of time with Kevin Seitzer.

If he is surpassed by an in-house option or offseason addition throughout Spring Training, so be it.  Thole is still a player that I would not mind having in the system, given his age and unique abilities.

Don’t rush out too quickly to buy your Josh Thole jerseys for 2015, but it seems more likely than not that the Blue Jays catching situation will stay the same behind Dioner Navarro for the immediate future.