Wednesday, June 15, 2011
The best backup catcher in the majors
By David Schoenfield
David Ross plays behind Brian McCann, maybe the best catcher in the majors, so he doesn't actually get to play that much. But over the past three years, the Atlanta backup has hit .287/.387/.503 in 349 plate appearances. He has power, he has patience and he has a good arm, having thrown out 39 percent of basestealers in his career.
David Ross doesn't get to play much, but when he does he produces for the Braves.
You're telling me this guy shouldn't be starting for somebody?
But that's the way baseball works sometimes. Especially for catchers, where getting a regular job -- and keeping it -- involves a lot of luck, finding the right manager who happens to like you, or landing in the right spot.
John Buck signs with the Marlins for $18 million over three years. Miguel Olivo gets a two-year, $7 million from Seattle. Rod Barajas gets starting opportunities with multiple teams even though he's proven multiple times he's going to give you a lousy .280 on-base percentage. Ross is as good as those guys, probably better. He just didn't catch the right break.
Originally a seventh-round pick by the Dodgers, Ross hit .258 and slugged .556 in 40 games as a rookie in 2003. He backed up Paul LoDuca in 2004, but had a bad year, hitting .170 in 190 PAs. That happens a lot to backup catchers and their sporadic playing time. The Dodgers sold him to Pittsburgh the following spring. When Ryan Doumit reached the majors, the Pirates traded him to the Padres for J.J. Furmaniak. He played 11 games for the Padres and hit .389 but they would trade him to the Reds for a guy who never played in the majors. In 2006, he finally received some regular playing time -- and he hit well, .255/.353/.579 in 296 PAs, good for a 130 OPS+. In 2007, he finally got a chance to start -- and blew it. He hit for power, but hit just .203. In the eyes of baseball people, this confirmed what they believed -- Ross is a backup catcher.
The Reds gave the starting job to Paul Bako in 2008, which worked out as about as well as expected. In August, Bako owned an OBP below .300. Ross' was .366. So of course Ross got released. He played eight games with the Red Sox and even made their postseason roster. That brought him to Atlanta for a two-year deal in 2009. He signed another two-year extension last season that takes him through 2012. He's 34 years old and the brand is now permanent.
Hey, Ross is doing OK. He's making $1.625 million this year and next. He's in the major leagues, which is more than you can say for Bako. Maybe he'd be exposed as a starting catcher. But I wonder what kind of career he could have if he'd ever landed in the right spot.