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Thread: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

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    Smells Like Teen Spirit jmcclain19's Avatar
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    Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    This is Part two of my installment about the relative worth of Reds position players. You can see the first part, about Reds 1B Sean Casey here.

    http://www.redszone.com/forums/showthread.php?p=794451

    This time, the target in the crosshairs is starting catcher Jason LaRue. I've attempted to put LaRue's season into a fair perspective, and that perspective is measuring his stats against those of his compatriots, the starting catchers from around the MLB.

    As of August 4th, 26 MLB Catchers have had at least 250 Plate Appearances at this point in the season, a little more than 2 a game to ensure status as an "everyday" catcher. The four teams who did not were Baltimore, Seattle, Colorado and Pittsburgh.

    Batting Average

    LaRue's MLB Rank - 14th (.268)

    Among the 26, LaRue places almost smack in the middle. Players with similar averages are Michael Barrett (.268) and Mike Piazza (.268). His 62 overall hits puts him dead last, probably due to his 231 PA, also dead last overall among every day catchers.

    On Base Percentage

    LaRue's MLB Rank - 4th (.364)

    If the whole goal of hitting is not to make an out, than Jason is one of the best backstops at doing that. No doubt his high amount of HBP (11) contributes to this. His OBP is higher than other well known "hitting" catchers like Paul LoDuca (.359), Jason Kendall (.351) and Victor Martinez (.352). LaRue's OBP makes him an even more valuable weapon, when you realize that the .96 bump between his average and OBP, is bested only by Gregg Zaun(.274BA/.376OBP). This helps LaRue, who is a notoriously streaky hitter, still be a valuable hitter even when the hot streak goes cold. In fact, the only other catcher with a differential over .90 is Jorge Posada (.250AVG/.340OBP).

    Slugging Percentage

    LaRue's MLB Rank - 6th (.459)

    This is where LaRue shows off his value. His .459 slightly trails Ivan Rodriguez (.461) and Mike Piazza (.468), two of the most well known power hitting catchers of the last generation. Also in front of LaRue is Michael Barrett (.461), Jason Varitek (.552) and AJ Pierzynski (.480). LaRue's 17 Doubles help buoy this, as Jorge Posada, Bengie Molina and Rod Barajas all have more home runs than LaRue but far less doubles and have a lower slugging percentage.

    On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage

    LaRue's MLB Rank - 2nd (.823)

    So take LaRue's high slugging and high OBP and what do you get? A player who ranks second among everyday catchers in OPS, behind only Jason Varitek (.936). AJ Pierzynski (.808) is the only other player who tops out over 800. This puts LaRue ahead of vaunted rookie Joe Mauer (.794), Michael Barrett (.791) and Mike Piazza (.799).

    Salary

    LaRue's MLB Rank - 11th-Tied ($3.00Mil)

    Here are the 26 everyday MLB catchers and their 2005 salary, per ESPN.com

    Mike Piazza - $16.07Mil
    Jorge Posada - $11.00Mil
    Jason Kendall - $10.57Mil
    Jason Varitek - $8.00Mil
    Pudge Rodriguez - $8.00Mil
    Mike Lieberthal - $7.50Mil
    Paul LoDuca - $4.60Mil
    Ramon Hernandez - $4.31Mil
    Damian Miller - $3.25Mil
    Michael Barrett - $3.13Mil
    Jason LaRue - $3.00Mil
    Brad Ausmus - $3.00Mil
    Bengie Molina - $3.00Mil
    AJ Pierzynski - $2.25Mil
    Brian Schneider - $2.00Mil
    Mike Matheny - $2.00Mil
    Toby Hall - $1.95Mil
    Rod Barajas - $1.85Mil
    Greg Zaun - $950K
    Victor Martinez - $700k
    Johnny Estrada - $460K
    Jason Phillips - $339k
    Joe Mauer - $325K
    Yadier Molina - $323K
    John Buck - $318K
    Chris Snyder - $318K
    So LaRue is near tops of every major offensive category, while pulling in a salary that is just slightly above the middle of the pack as far as salary goes. Even in comparison to the rest of the division, the Cubs and the Brewers pay their backstops more and have less of an output than what the Reds receive. The Reds also don't have the same problems that the Yanks and Phillies do, with catchers who have inferior numbers than guys like LaRue while pulling in nearly four times the salary. So it appears that far from being too expensive. LaRue is a relative bargain, in comparison.


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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    That's some good stuff. Good post.

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    Member Gainesville Red's Avatar
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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Hell of a post, Hell of a post.

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Good facts.

    I like Larue. I can't see the wisdom in dumping him and making Valentin an everyday catcher.

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    good facts i've always liked jason and i think he's underappreciated for the job he does

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Excellent series you are doing here. Liked both this one and the one on Casey.

    LaRue is an interesting puzzle to me this offseason. How much might he get in arb?

    To me, he feels very underappreciated. But I would try to sign him to a 3 yr 12M deal and see if he bites, go as high as 15M. If he doesn't go for that, probably let him go to arb then look to move him.

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Not to be critical but, at a position like catcher, defense is also a part of the equation. Without the time to look up the stats (and defensive stats are somewhat nebulous anyway) here are my impressions of Jason on 'D'. Above average skills at throwing. He gets a rap at passed balls but, personally, I don't think he is as bad as some see him in this catagory. I like the way he usually blocks the plate. Calls a decent game but it's hard to tell if the pitchers can actually produce what LaRue is calling for. (Every 'gameplan' in every sport is great on paper, the step between theory and execution is a very big one however.) Jason could probably frame his pitches better.

    I've followed LaRue since his days at Chattanooga and I think the Reds are well served with him as the starting catcher---especially at his salary. For those that don't agree, picture Javier Valentin as the everyday player. Despite Javier's recent hot streak that's not a picture that leaves me smiling.

    Rem

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Great post, and I was curious, since you have a lot of the stats already compiled, and Catcher is a very defense oriented position, is there a way to break it down on defensive as well as offensive rank?

    I know that will change some of the positioning of the catchers, just curious. Overall Great research and great post.
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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    I don't speak for jmcclain19 but to my knowledge catching defense isn't well measured by any metric. Part of this is due to sample size and part of it is due to usage patterns that create confounding waves in the data. I would be very wary of making inferences based on CERA or defensive win shares or anything else.

    He can hit, but observationally putting Jason LaRue behind the plate is the equivalent of mailing yourself a letter bomb. He never sets a target. He doesn't frame pitches well for the umpires. He does throw well, but controlling the running game is at least half the pitchers responsability. He doesn't block the plate well, although he is willing to take a hit. He may not have many past balls, but I've seen the scorer at GAB call wild pitches on balls that have bounced off his chest protector.

    The other side of the coin is how are pitchers developing with Jason around? Part of the catchers job is to make the pitcher....2% better. Does anybody think that's been happening with the reds staff? I know there is plenty of tar on that brush. It drove Don Gullet out of town. I simply don't know how much of that tar belongs on LaRue.

    Now, three former catchers, Bob Boone, Dave Miley and Jerry Narron, all seem very comfortable with Jason behind the plate and you have to include that when you think about him. As jmcclain points out, LaRue carries a mean stick for his position. By his contractual status the reds still think of him as an up and coming star. Obsiously I disagree, but I can't point at any hard and fast numbers about why, just ...observations and anecdote.

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Quote Originally Posted by dfs
    Now, three former catchers, Bob Boone, Dave Miley and Jerry Narron, all seem very comfortable with Jason behind the plate and you have to include that when you think about him. As jmcclain points out, LaRue carries a mean stick for his position. By his contractual status the reds still think of him as an up and coming star. Obsiously I disagree, but I can't point at any hard and fast numbers about why, just ...observations and anecdote.
    Jason isn't going to make anyone forget Johnny Bench - or Pudge Rodriguez for that matter. But who is going to do a better job back there? Perhaps the Reds could do like the Astros and Cardinals - and now the Giants - and put Sardinha back there and hope he hits his weight. The Cards have had enough offense over the last few years to carry Mike Matheny's weak stick. Obviously the Giants felt the same way or they wouldn't have signed him. HOU has had Ausmus behind the plate for years - save for the one he was in DET - but they have had a pretty good offense in the past so they could afford him back there too. But docthe Reds have enough offense that they could carry a great field/no hit catcher? Or they could go the other way and look for a good stick at catcher who is poor in the field. But some believe they already have that in LaRue.
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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Quote Originally Posted by dfs
    I don't speak for jmcclain19 but to my knowledge catching defense isn't well measured by any metric. Part of this is due to sample size and part of it is due to usage patterns that create confounding waves in the data. I would be very wary of making inferences based on CERA or defensive win shares or anything else.
    Understand that, but there are parts that are measurable. Passed Balls, Fielding %, Runners Caught Stealing etc. I'm sure jm knows more about good metrics and measurements than I do. I was just curious how they balanced out when you threw the defensive stuff into the mix.

    One of my big problems with fantasy baseball as it's played to day is the focus on offense, and I was just looking at a little balance to include his defense. I like Jason's fire and drive, and I think he's a decent defender. I know other catchers out there that aren't and for all the grief we give him, myself included, I think we will be surprised at how high he ranks when you compare him defensively as well as offensively. As Chip stated Most people, and include myself in that group thought of LaRue as all offense... But My opinion is changing as I've watched other catchers this year. I think LaRue is better than the average MLB catcher in a lot of catagories we just tend to focus on the ones he's deficient in.
    Last edited by RedsFan75; 08-05-2005 at 11:52 AM.
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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    I think LaRue is better than the average MLB catcher in a lot of catagories we just tend to focus on the ones he's deficient in.
    Very true, the state of the game these days also has reduced the number of plays in front of the plate, LaRue is extremely quick in getting on nubbers and foul balls. He's also very quick going left to right, it's the way he brandishes his glove that gives him the most trouble.

    His approach is influenced by the equipment he wears, it's lighter and the gloves are bigger than the old days. Catchers in the past generally were slower moving large men with bulky gloves and bulkier chest protectors. They tended to throw their body at the ball more than todays crop. They sacrificed their body more and they payed in the the average amount of games that they could play and the hitting they could produce in those games.

    Aspects like defense tend to be "of the moment" decisions by fans, based on what WE thought should have happened, that's a slippery slope to grasp in trying to evaluate a catcher. So much of what he does is not being broadcast to the stands or the fans at home. Therefore we tend to focus on his hitting or their reaction in a crisis situation such as his ability to stop a pitch that isn't where it's suppose to be.

    One thing about the equipment is that it has enabled the position to produce more hitters. In the early days of the game hitting catchers were few and far between, mostly due to injuries, fatigue and the fact that most were larger men with one skill, blocking the ball.

    Since the equipment changes keep coming it's easy to see more franchises having catchers that produce (offensivly) above the league average for that position.

    Below is the NL catchers OPS vs the leagues average for that position in 3 eras 1876-1905, 1906-1945, 1946-2004

    FWIW the Reds have always had good hitting catchers, since Ivy Wingo first put on a uniform.. it's as much a part of this franchises history as non power hitting BA driven first baseman.

    Code:
    Fred Flintstone Catching
    
    1875-1905
    
    
    OPS                             DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE      G     
    1    Phillies                   .050     .688     .639     3534   
    2    Giants                     .019     .660     .641     3932   
    3    Pirates                    .006     .654     .649     3468   
    4    Dodgers                   -.009     .637     .646     2572   
    5    Cubs                      -.016     .618     .634     3785   
    6    Braves                    -.016     .615     .632     4059   
    7    Reds                      -.017     .634     .651     2599   
    8    Cardinals                 -.020     .626     .646     2471   
    
    The first wave of tools - Catchers move closer to the plate
    
    1906-1945
    
    OPS                             DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE      G     
    1    Giants                     .042     .713     .671     8465   
    2    Cubs                       .036     .708     .672     7895   
    3    Reds                       .032     .703     .671     8001   
    4    Cardinals                  .018     .689     .670     8168   
    5    Phillies                  -.019     .655     .673     8270   
    6    Pirates                   -.019     .653     .672     7734   
    7    Dodgers                   -.044     .628     .672     8068   
    8    Braves                    -.050     .622     .672     8094   
    
    1945-2004 - The age of plastic
    
    OPS                             DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE      G     
    1    Dodgers                    .037     .737     .700    11951   
    2    Reds                       .019     .718     .700    12016   
    3    Pirates                    .016     .716     .700    12005   
    4    Phillies                   .016     .715     .700    11617   
    5    Braves                     .009     .708     .699    12155   
    6    Rockies                    .002     .732     .730     2347   
    7    Cardinals                  .001     .700     .699    12327   
    8    Mets                       .000     .695     .695     9416   
    9    Giants                     .000     .699     .699    12430   
    10   Expos                     -.009     .688     .697     7307   
    11   Marlins                   -.028     .701     .729     2347   
    12   Padres                    -.029     .671     .700     7418

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    I think Jasons worth every penny. Not only does he play hard, but he is one of the most feared catchers for baserunners from what I heard. Not the Greatest offense in the world, but you gotta admit, when he's hot, HE'S HOT!! And you can't blame the poor guy for passed balls, I mean look at our bullpen!! I think he doe's considerably well under the circumstances. :
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    Last edited by Casey_21; 08-05-2005 at 02:01 PM.

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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    There may not be a better catcher in the league the last few years at throwing out runners and I know that nobody plays as hard. I love his hustle.

  16. #15
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    Re: Is Jason LaRue overpaid or just underappreciated?

    Larue is fine at his present salary. Keeping him when his salary escalates into the 5M+ range would not be a good move. I don't believe a LTC makes sense with Jason. I like him, but you can't fall into that trap given the Reds market level.

    I'd offer him arbitration and then try to deal him in the offseason maybe in a blockbuster package involving one of Kearns/Pena and then slot the catcher position with cheaper solutions. Posting an .800OPS season of hopefully injury free ball should put him at peak value this offseason.

    A bit painful but one move that I think is needed.
    Last edited by oregonred; 08-06-2005 at 01:49 AM.


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