Blue Jays backups: Josh Thole’s bat in recent perspective
Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole comes with limited offensive capabilities, but framing him among recent Toronto backups paints a less drastic picture for 2016
Toronto’s catching depth remains untouched as minor signings continue to trickle in elsewhere on the roster.
Josh Thole remains the leading candidate to back up Russell Martin in a scenario that would likely see him working exclusively with R.A. Dickey and sprinkling in the odd start elsewhere. The primary issue with Thole’s roster spot, however, is his soft bat.
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After three relatively strong offensive seasons with the New York Mets from from 2009 to 2011, Thole has regressed in the four seasons since. Across 691 plate appearances since 2012, Thole has two home runs, 25 extra-base hits and an OPS of just .563.
These are weak totals, even for a position that little is asked of at the dish. Perspective could be at play here, though, as the presence of Dioner Navarro in 2015 did provide a luxury that few teams have at the position.
With that, it should help to examine the output of Toronto’s primary backup catchers over the past five seasons.
2011: Jose Molina (55 G)
Molina’s 2011 season backup up J.P. Arencibia isn’t the kindest place to start if we’re looking to soften the optics of Josh Thole’s bat. That season, Molina was one of the league’s top backup options.
The veteran posted a slash line of .281 / .342 / .415 with an OPS+ of 104, giving him a greater value than Arencibia who started ahead of him. Molina was a luxury, but in relative terms, his production is an unrealistic expectation from the position.
2012: Jeff Mathis (71 G) Yorvit Torrealba (10 G)
The numbers put up by Mathis in 2012 to lean more towards a reasonable expectation. Across 227 plate appearances backing up Arencibia, Mathis hit .218 with just nine walks, but did add some power value with eight home runs. In a small sample of 30 plate appearances, Torrealba hit .214.
2013: Josh Thole (45 G) Henry Blanco (15 G)
Thole’s first season in Toronto after coming over from New York was very underwhelming, as the then 26-year-old hit just .175 with an OPS south of .500 behind Arencibia. The veteran Blanco did not fare much better over his 43 short plate appearances, hitting just .184.
2014: Josh Thole (57 G) Erik Kratz (34 G)
Here lies another comfortable bar for Josh Thole to live up to, and 2014 may be the most valuable comparable to line him up against. That season, Thole posted a .248 average and .598 OPS. Erik Kratz, on the other hand, turned 84 plate appearances into three home runs and a .572 OPS.
2015: Dioner Navarro (54 G) Josh Thole (18 G)
With Navarro shifted back into a reserve role this past season, he eventually overcame a slower start to see his numbers climb later in the year. Along with his excellent handling of Marco Estrada, Navarro tallied five home runs and a .682 OPS. That’s a number Thole has exceeded earlier in his career, but again in 2015, his OPS fell below 500.
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What it means…
Josh Thole does not need to do something he isn’t capable of.
That 2014 season with a .598 OPS should be held up as the bar that Thole needs to surpass to justify his roster spot, and perhaps with some level of playing time consistency, he’s able to do that.
Mike Wilner’s tweet from January 25th also captures one of the more valuable parts of this argument: how significant a difference will this make? When comparing Thole’s OBP as a Blue Jay of .283 to the American League average of .318 in 2015, the difference over 200 plate appearances would be seven times on base.