Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Koyie Hill problem

I’ve been a supporter of Koyie Hill since the 2007 season when, I believe, he played a significant role in turning the team around and getting them on track to win the division title.

Since that time, while Koyie has been given high grades by the pitchers that he catches for, he has performed quite poorly not only at the plate, but in the field as well.

Last season I finally started to waiver on my support for Koyie Hill. A big part of Koyie’s game has been that he could throw out base runners and was a fundamentally a good catcher. Last year, he was terrible at throwing out base runners, was fundamentally poor behind the plate and had some unforgivable lapses in judgment that cost the Cubs dearly.

Now, I’ve said all this before I even opened up FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference to support my call for Koyie Hill to go away.

Yeah...it's the bat's fault.

So with that, we look at Koyie’s WAR last season and we see that he was a -0.7. Defensively alone he supposedly cost the Cubs 3 runs last year. That’s not good for a “defensive” backup catcher. Offensively, he was embarrassingly terrible with an OPS of .552 and RAR of -16.1.

Can we expect Koyie to improve this year? Well, considering how poor he plaed in 2010, one could expect him to be somewhat better, but those 2010 numbers were so bad that even if he was marginally better, he probably would still be worth less than a replacement player. We cannot expect Koyie to return to his 2009 level where he had a WAR of 0.6.

Koyie isn’t a young guy either. He’ll be 32 this season. That would indicate that his “best” days are probably behind him. As a true backup, Koyie has only had one season where his worth was above a replacement player and that was (if you were paying attention) 2009. Even in 2007, the year I said the Hill helped rescue the team, he was statistically worthless.
I did an image search for Koyie Hill, and this is picture came up.

Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry appeared to absolutely love Koyie Hill. They pretty much handed him the job as backup catcher once Hendry Blanco left a couple years back. They this this all based on his performance during the stretch in the middle of the 2007 season when the Cubs turned everything around with him behind the plate. For a couple of years, Koyie was able to hang his hat on the fact that when he caught, the Cubs not only won much more frequently, but the pitchers’ ERAs were significantly lower. Not so any more. While the team’s ERA with Hill was still better behind the plate than it was with Geovany Soto last year…it was only slightly better. The team’s record with Hill starting behind the plate was 24-36 for a .400 winning percentage. They were a .500 team when Hill wasn’t catching (51-51).

So I bring this whole subject up because the last two roster transactions the Cubs have made have included catchers. In the Garza trade, the Cubs sent Robinson Chirinos to Tampa Bay, a player who had an outstanding year last year in AA and AAA. He’s relatively young as well (27 going into this season). A number of bloggers sighed at the idea the Chirinos was sent to the Rays as many people had hoped that he could give Koyie Hill a run for his money in competing for that backup catcher position.

The Cubs have now replaced Chirinos with a waiver claim. Max Ramirez was picked up by the Cubs yesterday…a player who was placed on waivers by the Boston Red Sox. Ramirez has only seen limited time at the Major League level to this point in his career, and his minor league numbers are nothing to get excited about. He also appears to struggle throwing out base runners.

At the same time, I have to think that Ramirez is at least as good as a replacement player and I hope he can beat out Koyie Hill for that backup position on the 25 man roster.

It’s time for Koyie to go and hopefully Mike Quade and Jim Hendry can realize that before too much longer.