Discover more from Shea Bridge Report
Francisco Alvarez belongs behind the plate
Calls to move him to DH ignore what makes him valuable in the first place
Here’s why Francisco Alvarez belongs behind home plate: because catching is really hard.
Teams looking for catchers face a dilemna. Catching is difficult — but it’s also completely essential, because the catcher fields almost every pitch. You can’t hide a bad defender at catcher the way you can at first base; the ball would just roll away.
The difficulty of the position, combined with its importance, means defense has to be a major factor in finding a catcher, often at the expense of offense. Most of the time, all teams can do is find a guy who can play the position, with any offense he can provide coming as a bonus. MLB catchers had a .663 OPS in 2022, lower than any other position — because there aren’t many guys who can play such a difficult defensive position while also hitting well.
It’s simple: catching is hard, which means fewer people can do it, which means not many great hitters can do it. Lots of guys can play first base or DH while doing pretty well on offense. Not a lot can do the same behind the plate.
But Francisco Alvarez can.
Alvarez may not be a star defensive catcher; he might not even be an average one. But he can play the position. There have been murmurs for years that he’ll eventually become a DH, but playing Alvarez anywhere but at catcher would waste the skill that’s made him so valuable in the first place.
Consider it. If Alvarez is the DH, who’s catching? Omar Narvaez, Tomás Nido, James McCann, Ramón Castro, Brian Schneider, Josh Thole…Mets history is rife with guys who could play catcher and hit a little bit. Guys who could block most balls in the dirt and throw a few runners out at second, with OPS’s that usually started with 6. When Alvarez starts at DH, that’s who’s behind the plate.
But if Alvarez is catching, who plays DH? Any hitter the Mets could ever dream of. It could be anyone. Right now, the answer is probably Daniel Vogelbach, at least against righties, but the position is wide open: literally any available hitter can do the job.
Maybe even…well, I won’t say it out loud, because I won’t be the one to jinx it, but his name starts with S and rhymes with “Bohei Bohtani.”
The specific players doing the hitting aren’t the point. The point is that in general, DHs are vastly better hitters than catchers. Which means the Mets would much rather have Francisco Alvarez and a DH in their lineup than Francisco Alvarez and a catcher.
In concrete — albeit hypothetical, for now — terms, it’s the difference between A) having Francisco Alvarez at DH and Tomás Nido at catcher, and B) having Francisco Alvarez at catcher and Shohei Ohtani at DH.
Alvarez’s position is the whole reason he’s so exciting as a prospect in the first place. If he was a DH, he’d be vaguely intriguing, a guy with good power who might also hit for a solid average. But because he’s a catcher with those same offensive skills, he’s vastly more valuable.
For some perspective: J.T. Realmuto had an .820 OPS in 2022, number one among qualified catchers. But among qualified potential DH’s — i.e. all position players — he ranked 26th. In other words, in 2022, if a DH had an .820 OPS, there were 25 better options available. If a catcher had the same OPS, he was irreplaceable.
If Francisco Alvarez is in the starting lineup on Opening Day, there are two ways the lineup card might look. Alvarez could DH, in which case Omar Narvaez would probably catch. Narvaez had a .597 OPS last year; against righties (let’s say they’re facing a righty), it was .600. Or Alvarez could catch, in which case Daniel Vogelbach, with his .879 OPS against righthanders last season, would DH.
Alvarez and Narvaez in the lineup together, or Alvarez and Vogelbach? The choice is easy — and it’s even easier when you consider that the DH could eventually be anyone. It could even be…well, again, I’m not going to say it.
In the end, it’s not complicated: a slugger at catcher is more valuable than a slugger at DH, because there are lots of sluggers at DH, but not very many at catcher. Alvarez is such an exciting prospect — the top prospect in baseball! — precisely because of the position he plays. He won’t be the best defensive catcher the Mets have ever had, but his skill level behind the plate is less important than the fact that he can play catcher at all, and mash while doing it.
Catchers who can hit don’t come around often, and when they do, they’re not quickly forgotten. Johnny Bench. Mike Piazza. Roy Campanella. Gary Carter. Legends. That’s not to say that Francisco Alvarez will end up on their level, but at the very least, he deserves the chance to try.