Morning Coffee with Mark Whelan: Padres Catching Situation – Rivera or Grandal?


Let’s talk about the Padres’ catching situation. The first important thing to know is that first baseman Yonder Alonso is back from the disabled list.

Why is the first baseman’s injury status the first thing to think about? Because manager Bud Black has been using catcher Yasmani Grandal at first base while Rene Rivera has been catching.  Grandal has started at first base eight times. And Black has also done the reverse. Rivera has played first twice while Grandal was catching.

Neither is a good first baseman. They are both being asked to play first to keep their bats in the lineup.  Grandal is hitting .210 with 9 homers and 24 RBI. Rivera is hitting .236 with 8 homers and 28 RBI.

Those numbers, while certainly not impressive, are what constitute “bats that you want to keep in the lineup” in San Diego in 2014. Rivera’s 28 RBI are second among active Padres. Grandal’s 24 are good for third.

I say “active” because the team RBI leader is Chase Headley with 32. Let’s hope one of these catcher/first basemen, or Seth Smith (31) takes care of that embarrassing situation soon. You don’t want your RBI leader to be a guy you traded away a month ago. Remember when Ryan Ludwick led the team in homers? Yuck. That leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Now that Alonso is back, most days Black will have to sit one of the catchers. Alonso may get a day off occasionally, but the dropoff in defense when using Rivera or Grandal is significant enough to keep Alonso there the vast majority of the time.

So who sits, and who plays?

Grandal has been hitting cleanup for much the last week. His ceiling offensively is much higher than Rivera’s. Grandal is a 25-year old whose minor league slash line reads .310/.408/.487. Rivera is a 30-year old who has spent much more time in the minors than in the show, and has a career average of .206. At the plate right now, we might be seeing Rivera’s best and Grandal’s worst.

But defensively, Rivera is in a different league than Grandal. While both are very good at framing pitches to steal strikes, Rivera is the catcher of choice for the Padres’ two best pitchers, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. And when it comes to throwing out baserunners, it’s not close.

Rivera has played 49 games behind the plate this year, and is second in the National League in Caught Stealing, with 20 baserunners thrown out. He has erased thefts with a success rate of 37%, good for fourth in the league, and just a hair under his career rate of 40%.

Grandal has thrown out six runners in 54 games while allowing 33 steals, a success rate, if you can call it that, of 15%. Among catchers with at least 40 games played, only Oakland’s John Jaso has a worse rate. His career rate of 19% is well below the major league average of 27%.

Rivera is clearly the better defensive catcher, and he is having his best year at the plate. His 8 homers are twice as many as the four he had in his entire career prior to this year. He is actually hitting better than Grandal. But we just keep expecting Grandal to get hot, and when he does, he has the potential to do a lot of damage. But it just hasn’t happened.

So for the time being, I guess we just call them 1A and 1B. No clear starter, no clear backup.