Opinion: So long Josh Thole

Blue Jays should cut ties with catcher

The Toronto Blue Jays have the option of retaining catcher Josh Thole for $1.75 million, or letting him walk via free agency.

Even though reports indicate General Manager Alex Anthopoulos will have a greater payroll to play with next season, the Jays should not pick up their club option on Thole.

As it stands now, Ryan Goins will likely be Toronto’s second baseman when opening day rolls around, and Anthony Gose will be patrolling centre field. These two are strong defensively, but they can’t hit worth a lick at the big-league level.

Goins is a career .213 hitter while Gose comes in at .234 lifetime. Now add Thole and his .213 batting average from the past two seasons and in games the catcher appears in, there’s a third of a batting order that cannot hit. One poor batter can be masked in a proficient lineup, but Houdini himself could not hide three.

Since coming to the Blue Jays organization, Thole has registered 253 at-bats, picking up 54 hits along the way. If you’re thinking he might have some extra-base pop in his bat, think again. Only nine of those hits have gone for extra bases, allowing opposing outfielders to play shallow.

Additionally, in late-game situations, a manager commonly needs to go to his bench in order to obtain a favourable matchup.

Thole is not a weapon John Gibbons, or any manager for that matter, would use off the bench. The Illinois native is a career .192 batter as a pinch hitter, and that number drops to .166 as a member of the Blue Jays.

Defensively, the 28-year-old is decent, but he is no star.

Over 41 starts, Thole logged just under 357 innings at catcher in 2014. Despite catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Thole only allowed nine passed balls. That may sound like a lot, but keep in mind Dickey’s knuckleball is more lively than a prototypical one.

By comparison, in a similar amount of innings, Doug Mirabelli, Tim Wakefield’s catcher, would frequently post double-digit passed ball statistics.

Throwing out base runners is one of the most important aspects of a catcher’s defensive game. Thole’s arm strength is below average, allowing an 85 per cent success rate on steal attempts. For the year, he threw out four runners, all of them coming at second base.

Putting the statistic in perspective, an average catcher allows a 75 per cent success rate on steal attempts. Thole will not be neutralizing any potent running games in the near future.

Overall, the Blue Jays pitching staff posted a team earned run average of 4.00. Erik Kratz, who was traded to the Kansas City Royals midseason, caught the staff to a 4.80 ERA. With him out of the equation, that left Thole and starter Dioner Navarro with catching duties.

Navarro’s stats in this area were unsurprisingly better than Thole’s. Despite catching Dickey’s 3.71 ERA for the bulk of his playing time, Thole’s pitcher ERA was 3.94 compared to Navarro’s 3.86.

To top it all off, Thole is not able to play a secondary position. He is a one-trick pony in that regard.

But doesn’t Dickey need his personal catcher?

With the New York Mets in 2012, Dickey and Thole were one of the most productive batteries in baseball. That season, the right-hander won 20 games, pitched 233 innings, posted an ERA of 2.72, led the National League in strikeouts and pitched three complete-game shutouts.

Thole was with him every step of the way.

As a member of the Blue Jays, the knuckleballer has had a tough adjustment to the American League East. Despite providing well over 200 innings in both seasons, Dickey has seen his numbers decline significantly.

In 2013, Dickey’s statistics went down across the board. Some of the most noticeable differences were: his ERA ballooning to 4.21, his strikeouts dropping from 230 to 177, and his walks rising from 54 to 71.

This past season, the Tennessee native’s ERA moved below 4.00, but his innings decreased, and his number of walks rose once again. Although age does not play as big a role for a knuckleball pitcher, it is still very much worth noting that Dickey will be 40 years old once opening day rolls around in the spring.

Unfortunately, the 2012 National League Cy Young winner’s performance no longer warrants a personal catcher, let alone one with the deficiencies previously alluded to.Blue

Though $1.75 million does not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things when it comes to professional baseball. Even though the Blue Jays are rumoured to see an increase in payroll moving forward, Thole should not be playing in Toronto next season. His offensive numbers are atrocious, he is not a reliable defensive player, and Dickey’s production no longer justifies keeping a black hole of a personal catcher on the 25-man roster.