When attempting to begin a piece in review of Phillies catcher Erik Kratz, I became flustered with how to start. Honestly, when I think of Kratzy, the first thing that pops into my head is this:
No matter how Kratz plays for the duration of his tenure in Philadelphia, or even if his career were to suddenly and tragically end today, Kratz's association with turkey bacon will stand tall. Like the product he peddles, Kratz is lean, but not in his body mass, only his batting average.
Even prior to the beginning of the 2013 regular season the Phillies knew that the team would be without starting catcher Carlos Ruiz due to an adderall-based PED violation that led to a 25-game suspension. With Ruiz saddled on the sideline, the Phillies turned to an unlikely backstop who had propelled himself into the backup role after a solid 2012 campaign. Enter Erik Kratz, a catcher originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the MLB draft way back in 2002. Kratz finally broke into the big league with the Pirates in 2010, but it wasn't until the Phillies picked him up as a minor league free agent in 2010 that Kratz's true journey to the big leagues would begin.
Technically Kratz played for the Phillies in 2011, but six plate appearances ain't much, and so his Phillies career really begins in 2012. Taking a look at Kratz's overall value to the Phillies since 2012 and more specifically in 2013, we see that the Turkey Bacon Backstop has proved quite valuable in a moderate amount of playing time. Using the new figures that calculate the value of a win calculated by Lewie Pollis at Beyond the Box Score, we see that Kratz's 2.0 wins have been worth about $12.5 million compared to his 2013 salary of $500,000 and 2012 minor league salary. So far, despite minimal playing time, he's been worth it.
So, value aside, let's focus on Kratz in 2013. Kratz slashed at .213/.280/.386, which at glance seems pretty bad, although one number sure does stand out: the slugging percentage. As a big right-handed hitter in a home park that sports two short distances down the lines and a shortish wall in left-field, it wouldn't surprise or aggravate anyone to know that when Kratz came to bat, he looked to crush fastballs with big swings. This essentially made him the typical pull hitter susceptible to breaking balls away, or really just anything off-speed. Pitchers quickly picked up on his tendencies after some success in 2012, changing their approaches to him at the plate accordingly. According to TexasLeaguers.com, pitchers threw Kratz 360 fastballs (4/2 seamers), and 502 none fastballs, including breaking balls and off-speed pitches. After seeing this data, and watching the big man at the plate, it leaves no doubt as to why his numbers at the plate dropped from the tune of a 111 wRC+ to a 78 wRC+.
Still, no one in their right minds would think that Erik Kratz's primary function on the Phillies was his bat. Rarely do backup catchers, unless they are prospects waiting to get their chance as the starter, supply his team with great hitting. Kratz's most important addition to the squad is his ability to handle the pitching staff, play defensively behind the plate, and even his specialty, receiving. According to Matthew Carruth's statcorner.com catcher framing numbers, Kratz was worth 6.7 runs above average just by turning boarder line balls into strikes more than he turned borderline strikes into balls. This skill has most recently been written about by numerous analytically-minded writers including Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh who has at times discussed Kratz's above-average receiving abilities. As far as blocking pitches in the dirt and holding runners, Kratz under-performed in 2013 in comparison to his 2012 numbers, but some of that difference can be accounted for by the small meniscus tear he suffered that led to surgery and 35 days on the disabled list.
In review, Kratz's 2013 can be summed up as one in which his bat faltered, left-knee suffered, receiving skills shone, and status as "Turkey Bacon King" reigned supreme once again. With Carlos Ruiz taking his first turn in free agency this offseason, Kratz looks to have a secure job with the big league club come 2014. Cameron Rupp looks like the perfect AAAA catcher to build good rapports with the AAA arms that could and probably will see time in Philadelphia, and other options like Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle seem to have hit abrupt halts in their contention to eventually catch at the big league level. If the Phillies think that Kratz's production behind the plate can return to the level he enjoyed in 2012, than using him as a 50:50 playing time guy with another catcher, whether it be Ruiz or someone else, could work. Still, the more likely place for Kratz looks to be as the backup to whoever Ruben Amaro decides to overpay to start behind the plate for the Phillies in 2014.
Now that we've examined Kratz the player, let's see what he thinks about his 2013 performance:
1) This season has been an unmitigated disaster. How did you contribute to that disaster?
Honestly, the disaster for me began when the season started, showing that I couldn't handle the job of starting catcher. Fortunately, even though I'm 33 years old, I won't be a free agent until the 2019 season, so unless the higher ups trade me or outright release me, I can continue to contribute in a disaster-like manner for years to come.
2) If I had traded you mid-season, would the team have done better or worse?
Good question, given my lack of overall production due to the return of Chooch into the lineup, I'd say if RAJ somehow found a team willing to give up more than a dozen eggs for me, it probably wouldn't have changed things one way or the other.
3) All of my options are open for next year. Should I trade you, release you, or keep you?
This is easy, please, and I'm actually on the floor begging, don't trade me or release me. While my momentary status as a celebrity on the farm animal talk show circuit might provide for my family for a few months, most likely playing for the Phillies, even at less than $1 million a season, is the most money I'll ever make in my life. Also, I know the secret behind Kyle Kendrick's success, so at least for 2014 I'm most likely invaluable.
4) Some people have questioned whether I should keep my job. Tell them to go fuck themselves by explaining why I should keep it forever.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not get ahed of ourselves, when you say some people, you mean most. Now, as merely a backup catcher who probably gets paid less than you per season, I'd have no issue also telling you to go fuck yourself. Still, you gave me a chance when no one else did, and i've provided more value for your crappy teams these last two seasons than guys like Victorino, Brown, Revere, Galvis, Ruf, and so on and so forth. So, if anything, you may have made some stupid moves, but just like myself you have some value, and maybe if you hunker down, start buying into the "use all the information we can gather" system that everyone else is employing, we can put together a team to compete.
5) Overall, explain to me how your time with the Philadelphia Phillies has been the highlight of your life.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.... are you serious with that question? Well, I played almost as long in the minor league's as Chris Coste, and that's saying something. So, just the idea that the only team to keep me in the majors for longer than a few days has been the Phillies makes this stint so far the highlight of my life. Unless you count this: