Casanova Should Get More Love

on 06/28/2001

Raul Casanova has found a home in Milwaukee

There is a key choice that the Brewers must make soon. This choice could determine whether or not they go past being a .500 team and into a contender. The choice: Catcher. At the start of this year, Raul Casanova was the #2 catcher behind Henry Blanco, and with the information and the performances to date of both Blanco and Casanova, it was the right call. Casanova had hit .247 with 6 HR and 36 RBI, Blanco .236 with 7 HR and 31 RBI. Blanco's Gold Glove-caliber defense was the tiebreaker, and Blanco deserved to start.

However, things have changed. Over the first 75 games, Blanco has struggled mightily to reach .200 (.195 batting average - 31-for-159), has 1 homer and 12 RBI. His defense is still good (15 out of 34 baserunners were gunned down trying to steal), though.

However, Raul Casanova has taken his offense up a notch. Over this same timeframe, Casanova has matched Blanco with 31 hits, but in 110 at-bats, with 6 homers and 21 RBI. He's not made a single error to date, but he's only thrown out 5 of 27 baserunners trying prior to the game of June 27 at Pittsburgh.

Here's where it gets interesting. If Casanova's at-bats were to be doubled, to compare with some other catchers who are full-time starters, and if we were to assume that Casanova were to keep hitting at the current pace, Casanova would be hitting .280 (rounded down) with 12 homers and 42 RBI in 220 at-bats.

Where do these projected numbers rank? The batting average would rank in the middle of the pack among other every day catchers in the majors (AL and NL combined), but close to the top third. But the surprise comes with the home run and RBI totals.

Casanova's 12 home runs would tie Detroit's Robert Fick (primarily a DH), and would only be exceeded by Mike Piazza (19), Ivan Rodriguez (16), Jorge Posada (13), and Charles Johnson (13). The 42 RBI Casanova would have to date would only be exceeded by Posada (58), Johnson (44), and Piazza (44).

And even by doubling the at-bats, Casanova (220) would still be somewhat behind all four of these others (Posada 229, Johnson 224, Rodriguez 242, Piazza 261). Casanova's HR and RBI totals would rank in the top five at his position, right near some of the big name players.

The decision at this point, much like the choice at the beginning of the season, still involves a tradeoff between Casanova's superior offense, and Blanco's superb defense. But the improvement Casanova has shown offensively, as compared to Blanco's offensive decline, makes the choice to start at catcher every day (or nearly every day) more difficult to make. Blanco's glove is still important, especially when the opposing team has a base-stealing threat like Rafael Furcal or Luis Castillo, but Casanova's bat makes it very hard to ask him to sit.

Right now, if I were manager, I'd have to put Raul Casanova out there, and instead of hitting in the eight hole, he would be batting higher, probably sixth, in the lineup.

Casanova's spurt at .280 might not last, and if his average were to slip back to the .240 level, he might need to drop back to the 8 slot or return to being the backup. But at this point in time, Raul Casanova has earned the starting job at catcher.