About sixteen months ago, Dave Cameron took a look at a free agent catcher who at the time had not yet found a team:
There are quite a few teams who could use some added punch from behind the plate in 2009. If they can get over their obsession with batting average, Dave Ross could be a very low cost, short term option to provide some walks and power at a position where both are rare.
I’d like to make the exact same argument again this off-season. Although David Ross is currently backing up Brian McCann in Atlanta, he could most likely be had for a reasonable price. But what makes Ross such an attractive player? Here are some relevant stats over the past four seasons:
2006: .379 wOBA, 12.5 BB%, 23.9 HR/FB%, .324 ISO
2007: .286 wOBA, 8.6 BB%, 16.5 HR/FB%, .196 ISO
2008: .321 wOBA, 17.6 BB%, 7.9 HR/FB%, .127 ISO
2009: .386 wOBA, 13.9 BB%, 16.3 HR/FB%, .234 ISO
Ross’s ability to take a pitch should not be underrated or overlooked. He only swung at 16.8% and 19.7% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2008-2009, making him one of the more disciplined hitters in the game. Ross also slugged .508 last year while hitting line drives 21.6% of the time.
Thanks to these numbers, Ross has put up 5.8 WAR since 2006, an amazing amount for a player who has been overwhelmingly a backup catcher. In fact, Ross’s 1.7 WAR last year was just in 1/3 of a season! Ross’s value is clearly derived from his patience, power, and position. He’s basically “Adam Dunn lite” behind the plate.
The problem with Adam Dunn-like players, however, is that they typically are poor defensive players. This isn’t the case for Ross. In a study on catcher defense by Matt Klaassen (aka devil_fingers), Ross was the third best defensive catcher in baseball during the 2009 season. Here are three other studies, each of which again attest to Ross’s defensive prowess. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if we implemented some sort of defensive catcher stat, Ross’s value would increase even more.
Going into 2010, here are what the projectors say Ross will most likely do:
CHONE: .323 wOBA
Marcel: .321 wOBA
Bill James: .334 wOBA
Fans (15): .342 wOBA
The fans think more highly of Ross than the projectors do (not a surprise). However, Marcel also thought Ross would hit .232/.330/.421 in 2009, though Ross ended up hitting .273/.380/.508. Maybe the fans know something, or maybe Ross benefited from a BABIP .70 points higher than his career average.
It saddens me to think that Ross is going to spend most of 2010 on the bench in Atlanta when he could easily be the starting catcher in many other cities (two teams especially come to mind). While I realize Ross benefits from not having to live the grind of a starting catcher, we can still regress his numbers for some wear and tear and he’d still be a very valuable commodity relative to his salary. Maybe somebody will make a late move and add a nice piece to their team, but we’ll most likely watch Ross on day games after night games and alternate Sundays, which is a real shame for baseball.