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November 27 2006

The Phillies appear poised to sign Adam Eaton and pay him $24 million over three years.


November 27 2006

The best offensive catcher in the National League last season was the Braves' Brian McCann.  In his 434 at-bats McCann hit 24 home runs and drove in 93 runs while posting a 333/388/572 line.  There were a handful of others who also had big years with the bats.  Michael Barrett hit 307/368/517.  David Ross smacked 21 home runs in 247 at-bats.  Josh Bard posted a 338/406/537 line in 231 at-bats.  And Chris Coste's fairy tale of a ride put his name on the list as well.

In his 198 at-bats Coste hit 328/376/505 with seven home runs and 32 RBI.  But if Coste's numbers put him right up there with the most productive catchers in the league, why aren't the Phillies ready to turn the keys over to him?  It must be they don't believe he's able to handle the load, either offensively or defensively.  Or could it be both?

The defense seems the easier question of the two.  Coste looked bad behind the plate for the Phillies at times last season.  Opponents ran wild on him, he threw out just six would-be base-stealers in 31 attempts (19.4%).  Coste caught 434 1/3 innings last season.  Of the 21 NL catchers who caught as many or more innings as Coste did, only two, Mike Piazza and Michael Barrett, threw out a lower percentage of base-stealers.  Four of the 21 posted a lower fielding percentage.  Two had a lower range factor. 

One thing in Coste's favor -- Phillies pitchers did a nice job with him behind the plate.  Here's a look at the catcher's ERA for the Phil's backstops in 2006:

 

Player Inning CERA
Lieberthal 484.0 4.74
Coste 434.1 4.48
Fasano 365.2 4.80
Ruiz 176.1 4.13

And that seems to make some sense.  That's really a big part of the problem with thinking of Coste as a bad defensive catcher -- it just seemed like the Phillies' pitchers were pitching better when Coste was around.  They were.  But was it because of Coste or because of who was pitching for the Phillies?  Coste had just 27 at-bats for the season on July 1 -- by the time he was playing regularly the starters that had killed the team ERA early in the season, Floyd and Madson, were hurting them less.  Madson was out of the rotation by the end of July, Floyd in early June.

The offense is a little murkier.  Clearly Coste was a fabulous offensive player last year and he gave the fans more than his share of magical moments.  It's hard to forget his first career home run when the fans in San Diego threw the ball back onto the field as if to recognize his years of hard work.  Or the three-run home run against the Marlins as part of a seven-run inning that helped get the Phillies out of an early 4-0 hole in a key game late in September.  For most Phillies fans all they've ever seen out of Chris Coste is a monster bat.  He smoked the ball in spring training and when he finally made it back with the team last season he did the same. 

The problem is that if you look at what Coste has done at all levels he was hitting better last year with the Phillies than he had at virtually any other time.  Only once in his 11 years in minor league and independent league ball has he ever equaled or bettered the .881 OPS he posted this year with the Phillies.  And when he did it was a long time ago.  In 1999 he hit 335/389/534 with the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in the Northern League.

And here's what he did at Triple-A last year for the Red Barons:
 

AB 2B HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
147 8 2 177 236 272 508

It's a very small number of at-bats.  And Coste was great at Triple-A in '05, hitting 292/351/466 with 20 home runs in 506 at-bats.  But it's a reminder that this guy didn't just appear out of thin air and start crushing the ball.  He's been around a while, and for virtually all of the time he's been playing he didn't hit as well as we saw him hit in '06.

But he did hit in '06.  He was awesome.  He deserves a chance to play and I think he's going to get it.  He doesn't need to be nearly as good with the bat in '07 to be a productive player, even if he gives below average defense behind the plate.  He's a joy to watch.  But if it were my team I'd want a backup plan, and I'd want it to have more than the 69 career at-bats Carlos Ruiz brings to the table.

Kevin Roberts had an interesting column about what the Phillies do in their at-bats after Ryan Howard walks.  Burrell haters beware.

The Boston Globe speculates the Phillies may be interested in Trot Nixon and points out that Jimy Williams may be a Nixon fan. 

The Orioles may be very close to a deal with Danys Baez.

This article says that Randy Wolf is close to signing with the Dodgers.  It also suggests Wolf may be willing to take less money to return to southern California.

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