2011 Rockies Player Reviews: The Backup Catchers (Morales, Alfonzo, Pagnozzi)

Backup catchers are always an odd lot. Unless you're a fan of the Atlanta Braves and have a complete boss like David Ross as a backup to an complete boss of a starter, the rationales for when and why your backup catcher gets playing time is always somewhat of a mystery. The rationales are almost more entertaining than the actual baseball. Some backup catchers are caddies for a particular pitcher or pitchers, much like Miguel Olivo was for Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010. Some catchers are born mentors and are brought in to be a stable pony for a young stallion, a la Crash Davis. Then again, some backup catchers are completely inexplicable, so you just grin and bear them.

The Rockies broke Spring Training with Chris Iannetta at the helm and Jose Morales backing him. Morales was acquired in trade from the Minnesota Twins in hopes that his batting style could complement Iannetta's: Morales profiles as more of an AVG/OBP kind of hitter, while Iannetta is more of the "walk a lot and when you actually hit it, it goes for extra bases" batter. Morales ended up being "effective", so to speak, in the fact that he posted a .352 OBP in his 71PA, and that Ubaldo Jimenez had like 1 decent start with Morales catching him, so Morales ended up being Jimenez' personal catcher. Past that, Morales had all of 3 extra base hits and ultimately graded out at a 58 wRC+. Morales threw out 40% of potential baserunners, which is awesome, and he played 3 innings in 2 separate games at 2B, which is hilarious.

Fast forward to mid-June, and Morales took a foul tip off of his thumb, breaking it, and ending his season. Enter Matt Pagnozzi, who then played 7 unforgettable games behind the plate, batting .286/.348/.286, good for a 72 wRC+. It was 7 games, people. Let's celebrate that .286/.348 AVG/OBP line.

Those 7 beautiful games soon gave way to the Eliezer Alfonzo era. His first game in, he crushed a grand slam in San Diego that like broke a window in the warehouse in LF and then started a fire that burned down like half of San Diego. Actually, it was like his 7th game. Manager Jim Tracy was so impressed with this performance that he proceeded to play Alfonzo every game until Alfonzo was finally captured and arrested for the mass act of arson and strange snake juice drinking. During his 25 games of grandeur and mastery, Alfonzo batted all of .267/.304/.320 while throwing out 1/3 of the baserunners he faced.

The reality was that Alfonzo got suspended for a 2nd violation of MLB's drug policy. That is to say, a 2nd PED violation. That sucks.

So let's think about this realistically, as far as grades go. What passes for a backup catcher these days? The Nationals fielded Pudge Rodriguez for 44 games at a 63 wRC+ level. Every catcher in Anaheim sucked, so they're probably a bad example. The Mariners fielded Chris Gimenez and Josh Bard in relief of Miguel Olivo (who didn't really perform much better than most other backups), and they kind of posted an Alfonzo level performance. Sounds about like the Rockies backups played just about as strongly as most other backup catchers did.

So here's the grades:

Subjective grades: Morales gets an A because I thought his catcher stance when he called for a low and away breaking pitch was just hilarious. Dude got like an inch off of the ground and kicked his outside leg WAYYYYYYY outside. Pagnozzi gets an A because his name is ridiculous, mispronounced by most Americans (yes, biondino, I remember your comment: Pan-YOTS-ee), and he had the highest batting average of the group. Eliezer Alfonzo gets a giant F because he's a big stupid butthead and only big stupid buttheads bat cleanup for Jim Tracy. Including Tulo. That's right, I went there.

Objective grades: Really, these guys played about as well as we could've expected. They played pretty decent defense, too. So stacked against the collection of other crappy backup catchers in MLB, I'm going to give these guys a B-. It would be higher, but David Ross and Jake Fox wrecked the curve.

(No, Alfonzo isn't really a butthead. I've heard nothing but good things about him as a teammate. I hope he can find work after his suspension is lifted.)

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