Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bryan Holaday Scouting Report

According to Michigan Live, the Detroit Tigers appear slated to use Bryan Holaday as their back up catcher. The team lost Gerald Laird to the Braves in free agency and traded away prospect (who was in AAA with them and played in the Majors with the Marlins) Rob Brantly during the season (to help land them Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez).

Holaday is a 25 year old right-handed hitting catcher that was drafted in the 6th round out of TCU. He made his Major League debut in the middle of 2012, playing in 4 games for the Tigers (he went 3 for 11). He spent the rest of the year in AAA, playing in 75 games. Holaday really struggled, with a 91 wOBA + and 77 OPS +. While his K/BB wasn't bad (better than league average at 1.95), he didn't for any power (measly .080 ISO) mostly likely driven by a high (50 %) ground-ball percentage. It is easy to blame the lack of power numbers on AAA Toledo's home park (92 park factor in 2012 and 98 park factor in 2011), but Holaday's numbers were much worse on the road. In his short professional career, Holaday has not been league average in any of his stops. This may be surprising when you look at his college statistics, but Holiday had a .917 OPS in 701 at-bats before the change in bats (which has suppressed offense at least somewhat) when the Mountain West League Average was roughly .881 in 2010. Considering that most Mountain West players do not succeed professionally (one of the best pitchers in the conference that year was Wily Kesler, who never made it to AA and is pitching in Independent Ball) , you would expect an "average minor league hitter" would probably be better than .036 better than league average (C.J. Cron had an eye popping 1.172 OPS in the MWC that has translated to above average numbers in A +. College numbers, and minor league numbers for that matter, do not always translate linearly of course, Justin Smoak being a great example, but the point stands that you have to look at the college numbers in their context, especially before the change in bats).

The bat not seeming to be there is not a huge deal for Holaday, as he was drafted mainly as a defensive first catcher. Obviously as a senior college catcher with the arm and complete confidence that he would stick behind the plate, he was taken as a high floor player (meaning he was not risky, but his upside of what he could be is not as high as most players). In the minors, his caught stealing rate is exactly the same as Rob Brantly's, and he allows less passed balls. The basic catching statistics aren't always helpful (there are a lot variables and sabermetrics and scouting has gotten much better when it comes to evaluating catcher defense), but I really liked Rob Brantly's defense when I watched him (though the advanced fielding metrics at Fangraphs and Getting Blanked rated him as negative in the small sample size).

In reading pre-draft scouting reports, it did seem that most thought he would have more power that he has shown. Again, statistically, this can be explained. He also isn't a huge guy, though his swing itself is pretty smooth and the bat looks quick. In college, he had an obvious uppercut swing, which makes his low power/high ground-ball rate 2012 make no sense (while he didn't hit for much power in AA in 2011 either, he at least didn't have a big ground-ball rate). However, when I watched the video of his few MLB at-bats, the uppercut was basically gone. There is a bit of a leg kick and a lunge in his swing, but he isn't striking out a lot, so it is not as if those things are causing him to not make contact (it just might not be particularly good contact). He doesn't really have any kind of platoon splits over the last two years in the minors, which is a good thing for a backup catcher.

While Gerald Laird doesn't exactly leave big shoes to fill, starting catcher Alex Avila was ridden hard by the Tigers in 2011 and the wear and tear showed in 2012. Avila also has developed some really nasty platoon splits, and has become completely ineffective versus left-handed pitching. This makes the Tigers backup catcher very important, as it needs to be someone who can hit lefties (Holaday is right-handed, but again he hasn't shown platoon splits in the minors) and step in capably in the case of an injury. The Tigers are a team that will be the favorite in the AL Central and will again try to compete for a World Series. Putting themselves in a situation where Holaday is their main backup option seems very unwise, as he is a 3rd option and AAA player in my mind. The Tigers should go after another backup catcher or at least have another legitimate option in mind.

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