What to Do? Who Catches Pavano?

13 Sep

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It seems like something that has been debated for months already. Sometime in late May or early June, Drew Butera became the personal catcher for Carl Pavano. Pavano went on a very nice run of good starts and gave a lot of credit to the defense of Butera. But as the Twins are set to start a three game series in Chicago, and Pavano is scheduled to start on Thursday night, the question has to be asked. Who should catch Pavano?

Let’s take a quick look at how Pavano has done with the two catchers this year:

Caught by Drew Butera:

  • 14 games, 102 Innings.
  • 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .683 OPS
  • 13 SB in 19 attempts
  • 0.53 HR/9
  • 4.9 K/9
  • 1.67 BB/9

Caught by Joe Mauer:

  • 15 games, 95 Innings.
  • 3.79 ERA, 1.08 WHIP .691 OPS
  • 16 SB in 18 attempts
  • 1.04 HR/9
  • 4.45 K/9
  • 1.13 BB/9

From May through August, I thought the move made a ton of sense. With the amount invested in Joe Mauer, both in years and in dollars, they must force themselves to give him adequate time off. Giving one of the pitchers the backup catcher, in my mind, is a decent way of doing that. When the backup catcher is as good as Drew Butera is, it doesn’t hurt. I think we can all admit now, even if you couldn’t earlier in the year, that Butera does a tremendous job behind the plate. I know some may disagree, but the idea of having Joe Mauer catch every day is just not smart. I think everyone understands that.

However, now we are in mid-September. The Twins play three games in Chicago with a chance to dash the hopes of the White Sox. Carl Pavano is scheduled to start on Thursday night. Who will catch him? Will it be Drew Butera again, or will Joe Mauer get to catch the Twins righty? Is Pavano slightly better when Butera catches him? That argument could be made. But is that slight difference worth the offense lost by having Butera catching and batting ninth in the lineup, or Thome DHing and batting in the middle of the order?

I am of the belief that if (WHEN!) the Twins make the playoffs, Joe Mauer will be behind the plate, catching Pavano and the rest of the Twins starters. I would be completely shocked if Butera caught in the playoffs, and I think we all know that he won’t.

So the biggest question is… How important is it for Mauer and Pavano to work together in a game situation before the playoffs? I’m of the belief that it isn’t as important as many want to think. Mauer caught Pavano a lot earlier in the season. He caught Pavano last year when he came to the team in August. Before each series, all the pitchers and catchers meet together to discuss the plan of attack on the opponent’s hitters. Mauer and Pavano are both in the meeting and hearing the same information. I have zero concern about Mauer and Pavano working together. Would it be nice for them to get a couple of starts together before the playoffs? Sure. Is it vital? Not necessarily.

So, what happens on Thursday night? Maybe it depends upon what happens in the first two games or maybe now is the time to make the transition. The Twins have a little leeway here. Having Mauer healthy is much more important in my mind than having him play every day and catching Pavano during the regular season.

That speaks to several things. The Twins are just 2.5 games behind the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League (1.5 games behind Tampa). The Yankees and Rays play to each other seven times this year yet. The Yankees play six more games against the Red Sox. It is fully within the realm of possibility that the Twins could have the best record in the league and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Twins are playing great at Target Field. They are 48-23 at home and 37-36 on the road. That means something in the playoffs. The Twins should absolutely push to achieve the top record in the league, but I also believe that having players go into the playoffs at 100% is also important. That means that the team should give Joe Mauer a few more days. It means that JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson should get time off to get healthy. It means Jim Thome should rest his back. It means that it would be nice to give Michael Cuddyer a day off sometime. My opinion is that the Twins can compete with anyone in the league when they have their full complement of players healthy. I think that is just as important as gaining home field advantage. I believe players need the time off. That doesn’t in any way mean that they should not try to win games, and regardless of who is in the lineup, they should expect to win. If Ben Revere gives Denard Span or Delmon Young a day off, I expect that he will contribute. If Matt Tolbert gets another start or two at 3B, that is fine, and he can contribute. It is a fine line, no doubt, between going for the league’s top record and making sure players are healthy. I tend to side with health.  

But that’s just my opinion… what do you think? Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.

By the way… last night, I co-hosted Fanatic Jack’s Twins podcast, so be sure to listen to that here. Darren “Doogie” Wolfson and Andrew Bryz-Gornia were guests of the show.

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15 Responses to “What to Do? Who Catches Pavano?”

  1. adyacent September 13, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Who is the 1st base back up right now? Morales? Tolbert?

    • Kunza September 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

      1. Punto
      2. Punto
      3. Punto

    • Anare September 14, 2010 at 11:00 am #

      Morales

  2. DH in Philly September 13, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    If Pavano wants Butera, I’d let him have Butera.

  3. Jon September 13, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    It basically comes down to which C/DH option you want in the playoffs: Butera/Mauer or Mauer/Thome. Thome >>> Butera, simple as that. I think they should start using Mauer with Pavano on the mound now to get them more comfortable before the playoffs.

  4. USAFChief September 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    This is why it was a terrible idea to start tying Butera to Pavano in the first place. Of course Mauer needs days off from catching. That’s not the issue, and only an idiot would argue otherwise. But you schedule those days by what makes sense: what’s the matchup, how much has Mauer caught, how healthy is he, when are the off days coming, etc. You don’t put down “Butera” every fifth day, because sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, like last Friday, when there was an off day the day before, and an off day coming up in three days, and you’re leaving Thome on the bench with a RH starter on the mound for the opposition.

    Butera is a terrible hitter, one of the worst in the major leagues. He simply cannot be allowed to start a playoff game. That’s lunacy. Break this habit now, Gardy, and put it behind you so it’s not an issue come playoff time.

  5. JimCrikket September 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    I don’t think you can write off the chemistry issue when you are discussing the relationship between a starting pitcher and his catcher. It’s not just about who blocks the ball better or who throws better (although those are certainly issues when you have sinkerball pitchers and pitchers with slow deliveries from the stretch). It’s also about understanding the way each person thinks and getting in to a smooth, trusting, rhythm. Catching is as much art as science.

    That’s why I agree it made perfect sense to pair Butera up with Pavano through the last few months. More effective at throwing runners out, even with Pavano’s slow delivery, and it maximized the likelihood that the Twins could be successful even when Mauer took a day off from behind the plate.

    I do think it’s important to get Mauer a couple of games behind the plate with Pavano if the Twins plan to have him catch every game in the playoffs (which they should). That doesn’t mean it has to happen in Chicago, since even if the Twins go to a 6-man rotation, Pavano would still have a couple more starts.

  6. USAFChief September 13, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    You lost me Jim. If it ‘made perfect sense’ for Butera to catch Pavano during the regular season because it ‘maximized the likelihood that the Twins could be successful,’ then why would you be against Butera starting in the playoffs? Shouldn’t you be arguing Butera should catch Pavano in the playoffs?

  7. Gamer September 13, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    In 1991, Scott Erickson’s pet catcher was Junior Ortiz. He started all the games he pitched throughout the playoffs. Don’t know if that matters for the future, but I think it is very interesting.

    • Kunza September 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

      Yeah but we didn’t have Joe Mauer as our catcher, either.

  8. JimCrikket September 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Yeah I can see where that would be confusing… let me try to explain.

    Perhaps “maximized” was the wrong term. I would argue that pairing Pavano and Butera during the regular season, allowing them to work together consistently, made it more likely that the Twins could be successful in those games where Butera had to catch to give Mauer necessary days off from being behind the plate (as opposed to just throwing him in there against whoever happened to be starting a given game).

    In any one particular game, where there is no concern for Mauer being “rested” (such as would be the case in playoffs with built in offdays), I agree the Twins chances are “maximized” with Mauer catching every game.

  9. JakeGalt September 14, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    USAFChief is dead right. It has never made sense to “blindly” use Butera every 5th game–ignoring match-ups, off days, etc. When fans/pundits point out other pitcher-catcher relationships (Erickson-Ortiz, Maddox-whoever the Braves backup at the time was, etc.) they ignore these facts: Mauer is a historically good offensive catcher, he’s also left-handed (rare in baseball) which means using match-ups makes more sense (for both Joe and Butera), he’s also gold-glove caliber catcher (Brian Harper certainly was not), Jim Thome (most dangerous bat in the lineup) is the one sitting (not the case in Atlanta, for example, when Maddox hand-picked his catcher). And, by the way, Thome is also left-handed so it makes more sense to rest Joe and/or Jim against tough lefties instead of simply whenever Pavano pitches. Look at Pavano’s run support over his last 7-8 starts. It’s been horrible and he’s lost 4 1-run games and 1 2-run game.

  10. Nathan September 14, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    1) Just a nit to pick… “as good as Butera”????? Butera isn’t any good. He’s a decent defender with an absolutely abysmal bat.

    2) Butera should not be catching Pavano during the playoffs or any key game. Look at the win loss totals. Yes, Pavano is a better pitcher with Buterrible behind the plate, but the end results show that he’s won less games and lost more because of it. That has a ton to do with what his bat does to the lineup.

  11. Anare September 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    I have thought all along that there was something fishy with the Pavano/Butera exclusive partnership. I always figured Pavano had an issue with Mauer but maybe it is vice versa. In any case, it is highly unlikely that Mauer would DH for Butera to catch a playoff game so whatever caused Pavano to prefer Butera is something Pavano or Mauer has to get over now. It’s one for all and all for one, boys! Go Twins!

  12. Brian September 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    First time blog reader, and I’m sorry but you lost me with this sentence:

    “When the backup catcher is as good as Drew Butera is, it doesn’t hurt.”

    Butera is the worst hitting player in baseball. No level of defensive wizardry could overcome the value he loses at the plate, and frankly, most Twins fans overrate Butera’s defense. He couldn’t hit in rookie ball, and he can’t hit in the majors.

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