Third-string catcher Erik Kratz went 2-for-4 with a game-tying three-run home run and a lead-off double in the 11th to set up the eventual winning run in yesterday’s 8-7 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Snapping an 0-for-12 slump, the well-traveled catcher sent his triple-slash line soaring to .333/.400/.800 in 50 plate appearances, causing many to scramble to create room for him on next season’s roster, whether as the back-up catcher…
…or the outfield.
Obviously, Kratz isn’t a 1.200 OPS player and he will absolutely come down to earth as the sample size grows larger, but there is something to be said about the 32-year-old Minor League journeyman who has hit 11 of his 15 total hits for extra bases. For one, he is an extreme pull hitter, even though pitchers have tended to pepper the outer half of the plate.
Kratz has hit both left- and right-handed pitchers well (.596, .406 wOBA) and hasn’t been fooled by fastballs or off-speed pitches (.604, .385). Even among the hitting “basics” (walks, strikeouts, home runs), Kratz is as evenly-split as you can be within a small sample. Simply put, he hasn’t shown many weaknesses, even as pitchers have attempted to exploit his pull-friendly style. When the pitch is on the outer-third of the plate or further, Kratz has posted a meager .272 wOBA. Of the 14 outside pitches he has put in play, only two of them have actually gone to the right side of the field — a ground out to first base against the Braves, and a fly out to right field against the Diamondbacks.
Productive back-up catchers are rare because the position itself generates such players at a low rate, and those that are there become the everyday catchers. Since 1901, the Phillies have had just five other part-time catchers post above-average offensive numbers.
Since Kratz came into the season with very little service time, the Phillies will be able to pay him under $500,000 for the 2013 season if they decide to break camp in Clearwater with a Ruiz/Kratz team behind the dish. This is a lot better than what they had done in 2010 — signing Brian Schneider to a two-year, $2.75 million deal, and brought him back again for the 2012 season on a one-year, $800,000 deal. As a Phillie, Schneider has a 68 OPS+.
As to the calls for Kratz at third base or in the outfield, well, no. But he certainly fits in as the second-string backstop.