#31 / Catcher / Philadelphia Phillies
Jun 15, 1980
2012 Season: .248/.306/.504 (.809 OPS, 112 wRC+) in 157 PA, .257 BABIP
ZiPS............... .243/.310/.423 (.733 OPS)
James............ .255/.318/.460 (.778 OPS)
Steamer........ .250/.311/.431 (.742 OPS)
Oliver............ .243/.316/.417 (.733 OPS)
Contract: Pre-Arb Eligible -- MLB Minimum $490k; Arb-Eligible in 2015 (Cot's)
Erik Kratz is a native of Telford, PA, and a product of Christopher Dock High School. He attended Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia and is only the second player to ever be drafted from there, joining Larry Sheets. Selected by Toronto in the 29th round of the 2002 draft (the 866th player overall), Kratz toiled in the Jays system for seven years on teams from Medicine Hat to Dunedin, got released in late 2008, and finally made his major league debut at 30 with the Pirates in 2010. Unfortunately, he responded by going 4 for 34 for a .118/.167/.118 line. He was released again after that season and the Phillies picked him up.
In 2012 the long-suffering 32-year-old rookie catcher with the .809 OPS reminded many of a long-suffering 33-year-old rookie catcher with a .881 OPS.
But Kratz's success may be more sustainable than that of 2006 folk hero Chris Coste.
2006 Coste: .328/.376/.505, 4.7%/14.6% BB/K rates
2012 Kratz: .248/.306/.504, 7.0%/21.7% BB/K rates
Coste's success was driven in large part by a .363 BABIP. When that fell off to the .290s the following three years, his OPS naturally followed, although still at a respectable .739 from 2007 until he was released in July 2009.
Kratz needed only a .257 BABIP last year to get his .809 OPS, and while his HR/FB% rate looks high at 20%, it's not much different from the 18% rate he had in AAA the last two years. He showed excellent power, with a .256 ISO, and had more extra base hits (18 -- 9 doubles, 9 homers) than singles (17). It was only the 20th time in Phillies history that a batter has done that (with 10+ extra base hits). [aside: the most extreme example is a guy I don't remember named J.R. Phillips who had 12 hits in 90 PAs in 1996 -- 2 singles, 5 doubles, 5 homers]
As good as Kratz's offense was, his defensive stats were even better:
Here, Kratz had the 9th most runs saved above average in 2012, despite his limited playing time. His runs above average per batter faced was a close second to Ryan Hanigan.
In Defensive Runs Saved, Kratz ranked 8th in the majors, and had the highest DRS per inning, and by a good margin over the second highest (non-roster invitee Humberto Quintero). For a backup to rank 8th and 9th in counting stats like these is fairly impressive.
Kratz was particularly successful at gunning down runners, and his 45.5% caught stealing rate was the third highest in MLB, behind only Ryan Hanigan (48.5%), and Yadier Molina (47.9%). He has only thrown out 32% of runners in the minors (27% since 2009), so it remains to be seen how sustainable last year's success is.
The fact that the Phillies appear to have a capable backup catcher suddenly became more important when it was announced that Carlos Ruiz would be suspended for the first 25 games of the season, and Kratz will get the vast majority of the starts until Chooch returns. If 2012 is any indication, there aren't many backup catchers in the majors one would rather have as a replacement.
And of course, we can't talk about Kratz without linking to one of the best plays of 2012: Erik > Larry.