A 4ish hour argument erupted on Twitter today over who should serve as the Twins interim backup catcher while Jose Morales is out after having wrist surgery. Fortunately the biggest issue for the Twins heading into the year (besides Joe Nathan) is who is going to be backup catcher for a month, so that’s good.
The two candidates are prospect Wilson Ramos, whom I most recently named the Twins #4 prospect, and defensive specialist Drew Butera, who came over in the Luis Castillo trade. Fortunately, the answer is short and sweet.
Why? Let’s take a look.
1. Service time
Wilson Ramos, by being with the major league club, will hit free agency earlier than he otherwise would. While this isn’t necessarily a problem of the Twins paying him more, as Ramos figures to be gone before he hits the latter years of arbitration, it hurts his trade value. If he comes in in the latter stages of 2010 and 2011 and plays well, a good hitting catcher with less service time is going to have more value than a good hitting catcher with more service time. Also, there is the possibility that the Twins could dangle Ramos in a Heath Bell type deal (not that I would necessarily advocate that), in which case he would fetch more in return as a catcher tearing up AAA rather than a backup catcher in the majors.
2. It’s only a month.
Actually I don’t know exactly how long, and Google was most unhelpful, but a month sounds familiar and it works well from a math standpoint.
So if Morales is out for a month, how much will playing Butera over Ramos hurt the Twins from a performance standpoint?
First, the baseball season is six months long, so whatever we assume their total value to be, we can cut that by one-sixth. Secondly, as backups they’re likely to see only one or two games a week. To make this decision more important, let’s make it two. So 4 weeks x 2 starts per week = 8 starts. Even though they’re going to hit 9th in the lineup and get maybe 4 at-bats a game, I’m going to do 5 so the math is easier and again, making this more worthwhile.
So over the course of 40 at bats, first of all, the difference is going to be negligible. Any player can have a hot month or a cold month. That is one mark in favor of Butera.
CHONE projects Wilson Ramos to be worth .6 WAR in 370 PA. If my math is correct, then in 40 PA, he will be worth roughly .06 WAR. Butera meanwhile is projected for -.5 WAR over 293 PA. Without even calculating their values in 40 PA, I can say it’s not worth it to play Ramos for even a full season over Butera. One win is worth sacrificing to keep Ramos’s service time lower. That’s why the word stopgap was invented. But, for math’s sake, Butera’s value over 40 PA would be -.06 or so. So you are sacrificing roughly a tenth of a win in playing Butera for a month over Ramos for a month, and you get to keep Ramos’s service time down and his trade value up. That, my friends, is what we call a no brainer.