Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season preview: Josh Thole
By Mike Scott
Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole is next up in our 2016 Season Preview series as he enters camp set to battle for a roster spot
Past Entries: Marco Estrada Justin Smoak Brett Cecil Devon Travis
Darwin Barney R.A. Dickey J.A. Happ Josh Donaldson Ryan Goins
Michael Saunders Aaron Sanchez Ryan Tepera Drew Hutchison Drew Storen
Jesse Chavez Roberto Osuna
Josh Thole will likely be the Blue Jays backup this year, both due his ability to catch the knuckleball and his spot on the 40 man roster. This is not a bad thing, either.
2015 Performance Recap
.261/.331/.333 (2009-12). That is what the Blue Jays traded for in December, 2010. A 25 year old catcher to form a battery with R.A. Dickey, the Cy Young arm who was also shipped Toronto’s way.
.212/.283/.258 (2013-15). That however, is what the Jays got. A measly .212 batting average, poor .283 on-base with an unimpressive .258 slugging. No matter how you spin it, those are underwhelming numbers.
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Here is the key number: 337 plate appearances (2013-15).
The triple-A wasn’t too kind to him in 2015 (.228/.320/.262), although he did walk a lot (11.8% of the time).
I am not suggesting that we ignore his performance thus far with Toronto (and Buffalo), but I am suggesting we look beyond the numbers.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Before we completely ignore the numbers, let’s look at his Steamer projection for 2016: .237/.298/.325 in 94 plate appearances
At first glance, these numbers look pretty unimpressive, but consider this: He is a catcher. Why is this important? In the entire MLB last season the average slash line between all catchers, both starting and backup, was .240/.303/.379. Now that we have apples to apples, he doesn’t look that bad statistically based on Steamer (which is traditionally conservative to begin with)
What Could Go Wrong?
Russell Martin could get injured. Although Josh Thole is a decent backup option, starting him for an extending period of time isn’t great for the team. Also, who would back him up in that case? A.J. Jimenez is the only option on the 40 man. If Russell Martin went to the 60 day DL, then Tony Sanchez might get added to the 40 man and make his debut, but it’s unlikely that would help much either.
What Could Go Right?
Having a personal catcher for R.A. Dickey makes sense. And who is better to do it than Thole?
Last year Martin did do a good job catching Dickey. The only problem was that he was playing hurt more than he should. Bumps and bruises may sound minor, but anyone who has taken a pitch off the thumb or a foul tip understands how it can affect you at the plate. This might help explain Martin walking less and striking out roughly 20% more than his career average.
Thole has caught Dickey for years, and has proven to be one of the most reliable options. To help protect Martin, regardless of ability, Dickey should have a personal catcher.
Roster is the main reason it is hard to see Thole not winning the backup role.
There are three catchers on the 40 man roster. Martin, Thole and A.J. Jimenez. Consider Jimenez hit .194 last year in another shortened season due to injury, and he hasn’t had any known knuckleball experience, so he is likely not going to be a candidate for the 25-man just yet. This means someone needs to be designated for assignment, waived or released to add another catcher who could replace Thole. Even recent the recent signing of Tony Sanchez does not improve Toronto’s situation, unless they free up space.
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It is fairly safe to assume that, barring a miracle, Thole will be batting bottom of the order. Thole has good hands as a hitter, and is a prime candidate for hit and run situations. Russel Martin contacted 63% of pitches outside the zone, while Thole managed 76.1%. Of course this is important because in a hit and run, you need to either foul it off or put the ball in play to avoid hanging a teammate out to dry. Expect to see Gibbons use the hit and run more frequently with Thole in the game due to his ability to make contact.
The Bottom Line
The Blue Jays will have a short leash on Thole, regardless of the roster situation or Dickey’s role with the club. Although he may be the favorite right now, mid-season however, is a different story.