Blame the Catchers

The blame game played by Jerry Manuel extends to his coaching staff and into the offseason. Because now the word from Dan Warthen is that the Mets catchers are to blame for the terrible pitching exhibited by the Flushing Futiles.

According to Bart Hubbach:

Omar Minaya’s shopping spree at catcher — a campaign that remains unfinished — is not just the general manager’s doing, but also the result of complaints from manager Jerry Manuel and Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen.

Manuel and especially Warthen were not happy with the ability of Omir Santos and, to a lesser extent, Brian Schneider to call a game and handle the Mets’ pitching staff last season.

Asked by The Post late in the year how he felt about the catchers’ defense and handling of the pitchers, Warthen pursed his lips and said: “Next question.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. Jerry Manuel has been leading his troops behind a teflon shield since spring training 2009, and the players followed suit. It was only a matter of time before the coaching staff joined in the fun.

So now we know why the Mets are signing every catcher they can find.

For the record, I cannot say I was impressed with Omir Santos behind the plate. But at the same time, he wasn’t supposed to play enough to qualify for the Topps All-Rookie team. He is an average backup catcher who shouldn’t embarrass himself at the MLB level, and wouldn’t be a detriment playing once a week. As an everyday player, his deficiencies were exposed.

As a pure receiver, Santos had a few issues. First, he leans forward a bit, with a slightly curved back, when he sets up behind the plate. This limits his lateral movement — both in catching strikes and blocking balls in the dirt. It also slows down his footwork on throws to second. I also don’t like the way he sets the target before the pitcher begins his motion — it gives away location. He tends to stab at the ball, rather than receive it with soft hands, and has a lot of jerky movement in the process (which can affect the umpire’s line of sight). But, that stabbing was also much the fault of the horrendous control of most of the Mets’ pitchers. Check any game from ’09 and you’ll constantly see Santos setting up inside, and the pitch thrown outside (and vice-versa). In Santos’ defense, he looked more like a hockey goalie than a catcher who knew what was coming.

And further to that point, Santos (and Brian Schneider) had to deal with a pitching staff that was in constant flux. It’s not easy to catch someone you’re familiar with throwing 90-95 MPH, and it’s twice as difficult when working with someone you’ve never caught before. Speaking from experience, it can take a while to see all the different ways a hurler’s offerings move. Add unfamiliarity to not having any idea where the ball is going, and you can understand the Mets catchers’ issues in looking less than smooth behind the plate. Schneider dealt with this when he first joined the Mets, and we touched on the subject when Josh Thole made his debut.

But while I don’t believe Omir Santos is especially gifted, I also don’t think you can blame him too much for the pitching problems. We don’t really know how well he works with pitchers, but it looked to me like he was ineffectual — not much of a leader or a strong personality. So he likely didn’t help anyone when they were struggling, which does become a problem with all the head cases the Mets send to the mound. As for his pitch calling, you can’t give him much blame at all. From the games I saw, he was looking into the dugout before every pitch — which means the pitches were being called from there.

As for Brian Schneider, he remains a polished receiver with a balanced, quiet receiving technique and soft hands. He calls games and shows some leadership skills, though again, he doesn’t appear to be a “Type A” personality. However it looked like he did somewhat help Mike Pelfrey and some of the other young pitchers. But he only appeared in 59 games, so not too much blame can be passed to him.

But even if the catchers WERE terrible, you can’t as an MLB coach blame them for awful pitching — some or most of the responsibility has to be taken by the men on the mound. Mets pitchers consistently missed spots by a foot or more, and when your target is only 17 inches wide … well, that’s a problem.

Bringing in veteran catchers such as Henry Blanco and Bengie Molina MIGHT help some of the pitchers mentally, but it won’t stop John Maine’s fastball from riding up and away to LH hitters.

Bottom line is this: it’s good that the Mets understand the value of strong defense behind the plate. It’s bad that this regime publicly identifies scapegoats, passes the blame, and assumes the role of victim. Winning organizations have leaders who take responsibility.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.