Seattle Mariners catcher Rob Johnson hit .213 last season, with a .289 on-base percentage and a .326 slugging percentage. He is a bad hitter in a bad offensive ballpark. And yet he's very important to the Mariners success in 2010. That's why we think he's One2Watch4.
Johnson had the best Catcher's ERA in baseball last season, 3.22. A lot of that comes from 25 starts worth of handling Felix Hernandez to the tune of a 2.01 ERA, but King Felix wasn't the only pitcher to succeed under Johnson's tutelage. Johnson was key both for the success of Seattle's most important starters, and its most important reliever.
MOST VALUABLE CATCHER
Notable Mariners pitchers ERA and IP with Rob Johnson catching.
That isn't a lot of data to work with, but the returns on Johnson's work with pitchers were enough such that when the Mariners lost Kenji Johjima, they replaced him with Josh Bard, rather than someone who might have had a higher offensive risk/reward. The Mariners went 46-29 when Johnson started, 39-48 otherwise (again, partly attributable, but not completely, to Hernandez, who elevated from very good to great) so there is a comfort level here.
The Phillies and Cardinals have each won World Series titles in the last four seasons with lineups whose everyday catchers (Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina) were as offensively challenged that season as Johnson was in 2009 (an Adjusted OPS+ of 65…meaning his on-base and slugging totals were 65 percent of what an average player would have posted)
But can an American League lineup afford to carry such a bat behind the plate?
We checked on the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index for everyday and quasi-everyday AL catchers who had an OPS+ of 65 or worse. There have been 121 of them with at least 300 plate appearances. The 1903 Red Sox won baseball's first World Series with one- Lou Criger.
But what of the remaining 120? History tells us that you can win a World Series with one of them, though it has not happened often. The only one of the last 13 AL World Series champs to win with a catcher of that stature is the 2002 Angels, with Bengie Molina. In fact, it’s only happened three times since Criger: Molina and the Angels, the 1987 Twins with Tim Laudner, and the 1945 Tigers with Bob Swift (who was not their regular catcher in the World Series).
The Mariners seem to be locked in pretty well at specific spots in their lineup. Catcher is one in which there is the chance that the team may want to upgrade, if it is in position to contend for a championship late in the season. That’s why this situation bears watching.