The Case Against Rob Johnson

Dave · July 21, 2010 at 11:41 am · Filed Under Mariners 

On Tuesday, Mike Salk came to the defense of Rob Johnson, arguing that he has some value to the team that we don’t see from our perspective. And, while I respect Mike’s opinion, I felt like we should add some facts to the discussion.

The rest of my response to Mike’s post here can be read at his blog.


23 Responses to “The Case Against Rob Johnson”

  1. msfanmike on July 21st, 2010 12:28 pm

    Thank you Dave … you said it all – and quite well.

    Johnson is nothing more than a backup catcher … and not even at the ML level. He can’t hit, catch, call a game (he gets the signals from the bench) or throw very well; but on the rare occasion that he does get on base, he is not a tremendous liability on the basepaths – as he runs pretty well “for a catcher.”

    Relevance of this mention: None really. I am simply trying to say one positive thing about the guys playing ability and this is all I could come up with.

  2. Carson on July 21st, 2010 12:40 pm

    No disagreement here, obviously.

    The one thing I appreciated you pointing out was how Felix’s wild pitches have gone up, a point I made before.

  3. robbbbbb on July 21st, 2010 12:55 pm

    The case against Rob Johnson is, quite neccessarily, the case for some other catcher. Who is that other catcher, and what are his strengths and weaknesses?

    Adam Moore, and his ability (?) to hit a baseball? Josh Bard, or some other freely available talent? A trade target, or someone deeper in the Mariner system?

  4. The_Waco_Kid on July 21st, 2010 12:56 pm

    Johnson is great at working with pitchers and is a very heads-up player, but your arguments are undeniable. We should keep him as a backup, and one day I could see him coaching. He’s a minor league athlete with a major league mind.

    Can you do a post about trades we could make in the next week, or have you given up hope on that? I’ve heard Lopez/Jack/League/DA mentioned, not that they have the most trade value right now.

  5. stevenboise on July 21st, 2010 1:06 pm

    I’m not an expert at the fine aspects of catching. Can someone talk about the ability of a catcher to block the plate on plays? I’ve always “felt” (no tangible evidence) that RJ has a hard time holding onto the ball from the fielders on plays at the plate as well. There may be a lot more that goes into this skill, but it just seems like he either fails to catch the ball or drops it more often then not.

    I also noticed, during two games on TV a few weeks back, where he had close plays at the plate from Saunders (this was in back-to-back games). The camera replay was from directly over home plate and neither time did RJ look like he was trying to block the plate from the runner. Both times he was out in front of the plate. Giving the entire plate to the runner then trying to swipe tag the runner as he went by.

    Am I seeing things wrong? Am I being bias against RJ cause I think he sucks? I remember Wilson blocking the plate and getting run over regularly. I even have an autographed photo of this from Wilson while being run over by Ivan Rodriquez from Texas.

    I just don’t see that same skill from RJ.

    Can someone educate me on this?

  6. JMHawkins on July 21st, 2010 1:18 pm

    The case against Rob Johnson is, quite neccessarily, the case for some other catcher. Who is that other catcher, and what are his strengths and weaknesses?

    That other catcher is Adam Moore for the rest of 2010. Call him up and give him the rest of the year to show he can be next year’s starting catcher (that includes staying healthy). If he can’t cut it, than trading for a Catcher-of-the-future this offseason becomes a priority (’cause it’s really hard to find those guys so start looking early).

    If he looks like he can be at least close to a league-average catcher, then we have other priorities.

    But one way or another, the team can’t go into the offseason wondering if Adam Moore is their catcher of the future or not. Either he is or he isn’t. Finding that out trumps Johnson’s pitch-calling ability.

  7. Lavalamp on July 21st, 2010 1:45 pm

    I had a discussion about this last night at the game, with a couple of people who are Rob Johnson fans. My argument basically boiled down to saying that when intangibles (“pitchers like him,” “calls a good game,” etc.) are the only things you do well, you are not a major-league starter, and barely a backup. All other things equal, I’d rather have the guy with the better intangibles than the guy without, and I have no doubt Rob Johnson is a really nice guy like Mike Salk says. But I would hope one thing the organization and the fanbase learned from the Bavasi years is that a bad team full of “good guys” with intangibles, creating a family-friendly atmosphere, is still a bad team and not much fun to watch.

  8. justinh on July 21st, 2010 1:57 pm

    As a former high level pitcher I do have to say it is extremely important to have a battery-mate who understands your repertoire and has a good execution plan. It can really make all the difference when you have a tight relationship and your catcher is in sync with you.

    That being said, RJ just doesn’t have the natural talent, and you cannot have someone like Lopez hitting cleanup with an OPS of .600 and a starting catcher like RJ. Johnson would be a great guy to have as a backup on a team that can hit, but not here. He would be a good fit for Tampa or another younger team with a good offense as a backup catcher. Johnson is that kid in school who goes in after school and asks the teacher for extra credit and does five hours of homework a night and gets good grades, but really is not
    naturally all too bright.

  9. dchappelle on July 21st, 2010 2:21 pm

    You’re such a meanie.

    Not sure RJ is supposed to be a backup catcher either. Normally your backup catcher is also supposed to be good at catching or hitting.

  10. Oolon on July 21st, 2010 2:22 pm

    Rob Johnson isn’t a very good player, but amazingly there are only 5 players on the team with better WAR ratings than him. And one of them (Sweeney) is on the DL! I doubt that pre-season projections would have had him much higher than a 0.4 WAR at this stage and many probably would have had him at less – to me he’s playing up to our (very low) expections.

    And while he does have 9 passed balls, how many expected runs does that equal compared to the league average in passed balls – there must be a number for the negative value of a passed ball. If the league average is (guessing) 3 passed balls at this stage of the season then his extra 6 might have led to a few extra runs being scored against us – but certainly not enough to account for more than a win or two (though, of course, with a team that can’t score, every run against is a big problem!).

    On the bright side the pitchers want him as their catcher and might pitch better with him catching, he does only let one passed ball past him every 51 innings (so it’s not an hourly event like it might seem by reading posts on ussmariner) and he has a pretty good record throwing out runners (10 caught out of 29 attempts).

    He’s definitely not a good catcher, but he probably shouldn’t be the scapegoat for a disappointing season (even though he is an easy target).

  11. Evan on July 21st, 2010 2:25 pm

    There is one point you made that isn’t necessarily true: that catching the ball is the most fundamental part of his job. Yes, he’s the worst at catching the ball in all of baseball, and it’s not close. And he’s not going to get better at that.

    But what does that really cost the team? Let’s take the difference between him and the typical catcher in both wild pitches and passed balls and assign it to his WAR – how much worse does that make him?

    Now, for this to matter he’d need to have some other skill that outweighed that cost. Salk’s point was that he’s a better game caller than other catchers, and we know that’s not true (the other M’s catchers haven’t produced worse pitchers’ results). But perhaps the extent to which the pitchers think he calls better pitches makes this a more appealing place for pitchers to pitch. That probably has monetary value.

    I just don’t think we have enough information to say unequivocally (as you did) that catching the baseball is the most fundamental part of his job.

  12. robbbbbb on July 21st, 2010 2:45 pm

    Oolon: WAR makes only a minor adjustment for catcher defense. The designers of WAR basically admit that they have no clue how to handle catcher defense, so they don’t. Only stolen bases/runners thrown out are accounted for.

    0.4 WAR is four runs. Rob Johnson’s got 9 PB. Say that’s 5 above the league average, which is probably good enough for our purposes. Is 5 PB worth -4 runs? Probably not, but I bet it’s close.

  13. The_Waco_Kid on July 21st, 2010 2:51 pm

    Normally your backup catcher is also supposed to be good at catching or hitting.

    That’s about 18 on our list of problems right now.

  14. Oolon on July 21st, 2010 2:56 pm

    Your point is no doubt correct – adjusting him to -0.1 WAR feels about right. Unfortunately for the Mariners that puts him even with Bradley, Kotchman, and Figgins (all at -0.1 WAR) and ahead of Jack Wilson (-0.2 WAR). YOW!

    To me those four are much more disappointing than Rob Johnson.

    Johnson isn’t a good player but we’re pretty much getting what we expected. I can’t see the need to constantly berate him just because he’s matching our poor pre-season expectations. Bradley, Kotchman, Figgins, and Wilson are the real culprits on the hitting side of the team – they are the ones that were counted on to produce.

    Ironically, had we been told before the season started that Rob Johnson’s WAR would be better than the average WAR of Bradley, Kotchman, Figgins, and Wilson we probably would have been very happy…

  15. Spanky on July 21st, 2010 2:56 pm

    Allow me to make an observation in regard to pitchers requesting RJ as a battery mate: Has anyone stopped to think that this is more of an indictment of the OTHER catchers on the team than it is of how good RJ might be? I haven’t heard anyone say they would prefer RJ over Joe Mauer. There are only two catchers on the team and if your choice was between “terrible rookie catcher that doesn’t know how to call a game” and “terrible veteran catcher who at least knows enough to help you set up hitters”…wouldn’t you say you would prefer the latter?

  16. Catherwood on July 21st, 2010 3:19 pm

    I also think that the passed ball count is pretty darn subjective – the scorer has to decide whether the ball is “passed” or “wild”, and I don’t think there are any objective criteria for that. Good catchers knock down a lot of “wild” pitches so that they don’t become Wild Pitches. RJ just seems to stick the glove out there and hope. The same thing seems to be true on other plays at the plate: he’s just not very good at catching the damn ball.

    But Spanky’s point is well-taken: if the pitchers seem to like pitching to him, they must see him as the best of a bad lot, no?

  17. msfanmike on July 21st, 2010 3:23 pm

    I just don’t think we have enough information to say unequivocally (as you did) that catching the baseball is the most fundamental part of his job.


    Not only is it the most fundamental part of his job, it is also his job Title

    I read your entire post – so I am not just cherry picking on one item within your entire train of thought and running with it, but come on … how in the world can you say this – and mean it?

    Are we on candid camera?

  18. justinh on July 21st, 2010 4:17 pm

    Spanky, there are only a few catchers in the game who do as well as RJ does with his staff combined with his knowledge of the game. Mauer, Carlos Ruiz, Yadier Molina, and Pudge would be the ones who who really stand out as catchers who can handle all aspects behind the plate, as well as hit. You see quite a few teams around the league today, and always, using players who may not be able to hit, but can handle the intangibles behind the plate. The Angles didn’t use Napoli, a stud offensively, much at all before they put him first because of Morales. Texas has 2 of the best young catchers in the league, yet they are going with Matt Treanor because of his skills. I’d argue, as many have, that Soto’s lack of intangibles behind the plate have hurt their staff.

    Guess what I’m trying to say is I agree watching RJ can piss you off, but what you don’t see are the little things that can really help a pitcher. And unfortunately you cannot provide any stats on the intangibles. There are only a handful or guys in the majors who can play good defense behind the plate, hit the ball, and have the mental makeup to play behind the plate. He’ll, if you have two of those three you are a good catcher.

    I’m not saying let’s sign RJ for the next six years, but we have many more pressing needs on this team and I do think he is better than what we give him credit for. If we had an offense like Texas, I would start him.

  19. auldguy on July 21st, 2010 4:20 pm

    The problem is simpler than you’re making it out to be. Baseball players and fans with a high level of knowledge about the game understand the situation. Rotisserie geekdom does not. Any professional user of statistics, when presented with a situation that flies in the face of his/her preconceived anticipation, rather than shouting that no one else knows what is going on would look at the situation to try to determine what factors not under consideration, measurable or not, are effecting outcome.

  20. Jay R. on July 21st, 2010 4:33 pm

    Guess what I’m trying to say is I agree watching RJ can piss you off, but what you don’t see are the little things that can really help a pitcher.

    You know what also really helps a pitcher? Blocking pitches in the dirt. Throwing runners out. Having an OPS higher than your body weight.

  21. Dave on July 21st, 2010 6:39 pm

    Spanky, there are only a few catchers in the game who do as well as RJ does with his staff combined with his knowledge of the game.

    Prove it. Prove any of it.

    Oh, sorry, you can’t. Instead, you’re just going to hide behind these magical intangibles and assume you know things that we don’t, and because they’re intangible, you don’t need evidence. Isn’t this a fun game?

    When you want to rejoin reality, feel free to come back. Perhaps you can return on your fluffy pink dragon that none of us can see but that you know is real.

    The problem is simpler than you’re making it out to be.

    There is no problem. There’s truth, and then there’s the nonsense that you believe.

  22. mymrbig on July 21st, 2010 9:19 pm

    I’ve heard of Klaw-baiting, but has anyone coined the phrase Cameron-baiting? Or Dave-baiting? Or something? Regardless, if Johnson can’t hit, and he is poor at catching the ball, I’m waiting for the explanation that his intangibles are so valuable that they outweigh the measurable data.

  23. Oolon on July 21st, 2010 9:27 pm

    Don’t mind Dave. After the way the Mariner season has gone, especially after calling them contenders and the 6th best organization in all of baseball, he’s feeling a little peckish.

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