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Ivan Rodriguez, Astros Catcher
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Ivan Rodriguez, Astros Catcher
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 10, 2009

A surprising number of commentators think the Astros signing Ivan Rodriguez as their catcher was a good thing. I thought it would be so accepted as a bad move I didn't even comment on it. But I was wrong.

For example, Steve Phillips of ESPN.com had the following to say about the Houston Astros acquiring the former Rangers, Marlins, and Tigers catcher:

“Ivan Rodriguez is a perfect fit for the Houston Astros, and I really expect this deal to work out for everyone involved. He wanted more of a role than the Marlins and Giants were offering, and I think he will get a good share of playing time in Houston.”

I am not sure I agree. Wait, I take it back – I completely disagree.

No one is more impressed with the career of Ivan Rodriguez than I am. I have given him more subjective element credit than I have ever given any other player for his role in the winningest period in Texas Rangers history, and for his roles in taking the 2003 Florida Marlins to a World Series Championship and the 2006 Detroit Tigers to a World Series appearance. I have raved about a report that Keith compiled comparing the offensive vs. defensive contributions of Rodriguez and Mike Piazza, which indicated that the offensive difference between them compared to the difference of their defensive contributions (or in Piazza’s case, lack thereof) was a wash.

There is no doubt that Ivan Rodriguez should be, and will be, a first ballot Hall of Famer. It doesn’t mean he will be a viable Major League Baseball player in 2009, however . . .

Ivan Rodriguez has not made a legitimate offensive contribution to a major league baseball team since 2004, his first year in Detroit. Since that season, he had two years in which his on-base percentage was under .300. In those two years, his K:BB ratios were among the worst all time (93:11 and 96:9). In his “good” years, his OPS+ was under 100, he registered negative batting runs, and his overall production was down in every category.

Could this be blamed on playing in Comerica Park? It could, if not for the fact that I-Rod’s home numbers far surpassed his road numbers in those seasons. If anything, playing at Comerica was the only thing keepings his stats palatable. Consider also that once he left Comerica for Yankee Stadium for the second half of 2009, he went .219/.257/.323 with a 51 OPS+ in 33 games the rest of the way.

Signing Ivan Rodriguez could be justified despite his offensive terribleness if a good argument could be made that he still handles pitchers well or fields his position. Fact is, he is still an asset when it comes to throwing out runners, ranking in the top of the field in caught-stealing percentage. But I-Rod had the second highest catcher’s ERA (obviously a subjective stat) in the majors last season behind Ramon “Here, just take the base” Hernandez. This represents a two-year drop during which I-Rod went from one of the best to middle of the pack to one of the worst in just three seasons.

Don’t get me wrong – the Houston Astros have been putting Brad Ausmus behind the plate for nine of the last eleven seasons, so there is virtually no way Rodriguez could represent a drop-off in offensive production. But the Astros have a young catcher in J.R. Towles who hit well in the minors and is a reputed game-caller/defender behind the plate. To spend a year watching I-Rod play mediocre ball may entitled him to a new nickname - J.R. Toiles.

For the last few years, I have been considering commemorating the damage Craig Biggio did to the Astros in his final year with the team by creating a Craig Biggio Award given to the veteran player who most hurts his team by hanging on too long when he should have retired (also possibly called the Thriller Video Award, given to the player who most resembles a dancing zombie on the field when you assumed he was already dead).

I haven't created that award - yet - but if I had, Ivan Rodriguez would almost certainly be the leading candidate heading into 2009.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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