Position Battles: Back-up Catcher

The Cubs roster is mostly set with a few exceptions. Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger are battling it out for the back-up catcher spot. There's been this invented competition for the rotation, which I think is mostly nonsense. You've got Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm who are guaranteed spots in the rotation. Certainly deserving of a spot is Randy Wells and one of Chris Volstad and Travis Wood. I don't believe Jeff Samardzija has a chance, but as long as the Cubs are letting him think he does we may as well act like it. I guess. We've got nothing better to do anyway. Then there's the back-ups in the infield and outfield and some spots in the bullpen. Let's start with the back-up catcher.

Neither catcher has enough playing time at the big league level for that to be of any concern. Castillo has all of 34 plate appearances and Clevenger just 5. As much as I don't like the idea of settling on who will win a position based on the very small sample in spring training, I dislike it just as much that they'd base it on such small samples at the big league level. Then again, this isn't a major position so it's not a big deal what criteria they use, but the two of them have far more playing time in the minors and can be directly compared to one another.

Each has played 6 minor league seasons. Castillo has 1661 plate appearances to Clevenger's 2045. Their batting lines are below:

Castillo: .265/.323/.430
Clevenger: .308/.369/.421

Castillo has performed better at AAA, but last year in limited time Clevenger hit the shit out of the ball. Overall, I think it's tough to make the argument than Castillo is the better catcher. When you factor in Clevenger's higher OBP (and it's significant) I think the offensive value between these two isn't particularly close. Clevenger also offers you the ability to play some infield in a pinch. He bats left handed so will have the platoon advantage in days you might want to rest Geovany Soto.

Their performance this spring is below:

Player PA H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Castillo 15 6 1 0 3 .400 .400 .667 .453
Clevenger 15 5 1 2 4 .417 .467 .667 .466

A measly 15 plate appearances doesn't tell us much, but considering Clevenger's advantage in career stats and slight advantage this spring I think he's only strenghthened his position as the guy who deserves to be the back-up catcher. I have no idea what the Cubs think. Based on playing time it doesn't appear they're leaning in any one direction, but it's something to watch as we move forward.

What about the projections? The two have projections for CAIRO, ZiPS, PECOTA, Oliver, Steamer and Marcel.

Castillo's average batting line is .246/.297/.408 with a wOBA of .307. Clevenger's line is .269/.323/.385 with a wOBA of .315. In each of the 6 projections, Clevenger is projected to be the better hitter. The closest the two are is in Oliver, which likes Castillo for a .316 wOBA and Clevenger for a .318 wOBA. The others are decisive. I don't have any idea who ends up winning the job, but I know which one is the better offensive player.

Defense? I don't have the foggiest damn clue. And I don't think it should matter either because we haven't even looked at their splits projections. Most of the time Clevenger plays will be against a righty. This will maximize Soto's platoon advantage while doing the same for Clevenger. You can't do that with Castillo. The difference in their offensive abilities seems relatively small, but factor in the platoon advantage that can be maximized and it's really not that close. We'd probably end up with a projection based on 80/20 platoon advantage for Clevenger of about a .325 wOBA. If you let Castillo maximize his platoon advantage you minimize Soto's and since he's the superior player that would be kind of dumb.

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