2011 Evaluation: Josh Thole

OK, here’s the post where at least half of Mets fans decide they hate me, because they think I hate Josh Thole.

Let’s get one thing straight: I like all catchers, therefore I like Josh Thole. Second, I like Josh Thole as a ballplayer because he works very hard, hustles, and gets as much out of his talent as he possibly can. Despite the fact I like Josh Thole, I can’t let that cloud my evaluation of him as a Major League catcher. That said, in 2011 Josh Thole did not make me believe that he is, or could become, a starting catcher on a championship club.

After drastically improving his defensive skills from 2009 to 2010, maybe I expected too much from Thole in 2011. Specifically, I wanted to see significant progress in his ability to receive pitches with soft hands, in blocking balls in the dirt, taking charge as an on-field defensive leader, and in handling pitchers. But he either regressed or stayed the same in all of those areas. Most disturbing, there was buzz that some members of the pitching staff preferred not to have Thole catching — whether it was due to a personality conflict, difference of opinion in game-calling, or lack of confidence in his abilities. We are not privy to those behind-closed-doors issues, but the fact they leaked out is not a positive sign.

On the bright side, Thole’s throwing technique to second base on attempted steals improved — thanks to improved footwork. His throws to second are now very accurate and he gets rid of the ball much more quickly than a year ago. However, his arm strength is below average and is unlikely to get stronger, so he absolutely must have perfect technique and the benefit of the pitcher preventing a good jump.

Offensively, Josh Thole was somewhat disappointing, especially for the most optimistic Mets fans who envisioned a .300-hitting, .400 OBP on-base machine. Though he had a good spring training — flashing a bit of homerun power — he started the season poorly, hitting only .226 in the first two months. However, he had a spectacular June, hitting .327 with a .450 OBP and .899 OPS. Unfortunately, Thole couldn’t keep up that pace, though he did have a strong August. His final stat line looks good on the back of a baseball card: .268 AVG, .345 OBP, .690 OPS, 3 HR, 40 RBI in 114 games. That’s not bad for a catcher who also brings something significant while wearing the tools of ignorance, but unfortunately, Thole doesn’t — he’s only adequate at best.

For me, Josh Thole either has to contribute a bit more offensively, or drastically improve at least one area of his catching, in order to be more than a back-up catcher. Where his skills stand right now, I wouldn’t consider him even in a platoon role — mainly because as a lefthanded hitter, he’d be handling the bulk of the duty.

2012 Projection

Barring injury, Josh Thole is almost certainly going to catch more often than any other Met in 2012. There are few everyday catchers available as free agents and fewer available in a trade the Mets would make.

It could be a good thing; in a perfect world, Thole will get better and better the more he plays. But I’m concerned that he’s already taken his athleticism as far as possible with the old school receiving techniques that the Mets organization taught him; he might improve using different mechanics, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll have the opportunity to learn them. Further, Thole may not have the typical, strong personality of a backstop. While he works hard, plays hard, can handle the physicality of the position, and isn’t afraid to get dirty, his body language and actions display him more as a “follower” rather than a leader, and he seems to lack confidence; in fact, he’s borderline meek. Catchers usually have a more “type A” personality — one who takes charge and commands respect. That’s generally not something that can be learned — you either have it, or you don’t.


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.
  1. Spring Training Jetstream December 1, 2011 at 8:59 am
    Good Morning, Met Fans…..I’ve had a bit of a guilty conscience of late.

    I just wanted to stop by, to claim responsibility for Josh Thole’s “power” in Port St. Lucie. Sorry to have had any of you gullible fans thinking he’d hit a few HR’s this past year.

    Happy Holidays, and see you in February!

  2. izzy December 1, 2011 at 9:27 am
    By the time Thole becomes a decent player, if that ever happens he will be either a free agent or arbitration 2 or 3 and the Met front office will say he’s too expensive. We are you see the new Pittsburgh Pirates.
  3. NormE December 1, 2011 at 9:51 am
    If we are “the new Pittsburgh Pirates” can we get PNC Park
    instead of Citi Field?
    • izzy December 2, 2011 at 8:21 am
      Tip of the hat Norm.. That was a great post.
  4. Jorge Posada December 1, 2011 at 10:23 am
  5. MikeT December 1, 2011 at 11:09 am
    I always cracks me up with Mets fans set unrealistically high expectations for a player and then turn on him. Yes, he’s not a power hitter, but Thole has shown he is an ideal 8th hitter in a lineup. Takes pitches, walks, and gets on base. Thole has value and use with the bat. Not every player needs to be a star to win. Considering his price he is a valuable piece to the Mets for a few years. Yes his defense should be improved, he is not an ideal choice defensively, but he brings enough to have positive value. Also, we need to keep perspective here. Among catchers where does Thole rank? I’m using National League catchers since the AL has the benefit of the DH that offensive catchers frequent:
    (Over 100 games played)
    Avg- 5th
    OBP- 5th
    OPS- 8th

    Point is Thole is better than average with the bat compared to his peers. I suspect he will improve offensively as last year was essentially his sophomore year and his struggles with the glove that I suspect will level off. Color me optimistic that Thole will have a better year with the bat. He is just entering his “prime years” too.

    • Joe Janish December 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm
      “better than average” offensively is not enough to make up for Thole’s inadequacy behind the plate. The ability to play strong defense, handle a pitching staff, and be an on-field leader is first and foremost for a catcher; offensive contribution is secondary. Thole is worse behind the plate overall than Mike Piazza, and the only reason Piazza stayed back there was because he was other-worldly with his offense and he managed to earn a modicum of respect from his pitchers. Shortstop, catcher, and centerfield are the three positions where you can’t just “stick a bat and hope for the best” (some people would add 2B to that group).

      In my mind, Thole has to improve at least one aspect of his defense dramatically AND provide a .280+ AVG / .380+ OBP / .750 OPS to be considered an everyday catcher.

      Now, I understand there is a dearth of solid catching in MLB these days — and as a result, Thole appears to be a pretty decent option. But if you look at postseason clubs, they all have either a regular catcher or catching platoon that is significantly better overall than Thole — and IMHO Thole won’t ever reach that level.

      • MikeT December 2, 2011 at 11:45 am
        I don’t disagree that he should do better offensively to justify his defense, or that he need to upgrade his defense, but my point is there there does not appear to be a significant upgrade anywhere. I think if the backup is a solid defensive catcher it will help Thole. Paulino does not seem to be the best mentor. Pairing Thole with a veteran defensive whiz would be ideal for 2012.
  6. Steven December 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm
    I appreciate your candid evaluation Joe. To me Josh was the biggest disappointment of all of the Mets players (other than the injuries). I would like to see more improvement in the leadership level and do not care so much for the Hitting level. Frankly, a .210 hitting Nickeas with his leadership and defensive skills would be a better choice if Josh doesn’t improve
    • Joe Janish December 1, 2011 at 11:36 pm
      For me the Mets organization was a disappointment for not doing a better job of providing Thole with mechanics / technique that would make the most of his athletic ability. He’s hit a ceiling defensively as a result.
  7. Paul Festa December 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm
    Nice post. Not only did catching R.A. Dickey inflate his PB numbers, but I think it might have affected his mechanics when catching conventional pitchers as well. I still think he can be a solid defensive player this year. As for his offense, as long as he doesn’t swing for the fences, he should improve at the plate.
  8. argonbunnies December 1, 2011 at 4:17 pm
    What does Thole offer now? Fantastic contact rate, decent eye, almost no power, below-average throwing, poor pitch blocking and receiving, middling leadership.

    If he were 21, I’d be quite excited about his future, assuming he’d improve!

    If he were 28, I’d be looking for an upgrade, figuring he won’t improve.

    As is, he’s 24. So I dunno. Given our rebuilding phase, I’m happy to play him in case he improves. If he doesn’t, it hasn’t cost us much, and we can replace him as we approach contention.

    My one concern is whether he’ll stunt our pitchers’ development. Getting a few strikes called balls is a problem. If Joe’s right about his leadership deficiencies, that could be an even bigger problem. I dunno, though — whenever Burkhardt stuck a microphone in his face, Thole always seemed pretty Type A to me…

    • Joe Janish December 1, 2011 at 11:44 pm
      The Mets don’t have much of a choice – Thole is the guy back there for 2012, and we’ll see what happens.

      As for his personality, his meek response to the 9/11 hat incident spoke volumes.

      • argonbunnies December 2, 2011 at 2:13 am
        I dunno. If giving the finger to your employer and industry is the test of leadership, I doubt many players would pass.

        Isn’t it a sign of leadership that he was the team’s player rep in his 2nd year? (Or does that only show that he drew the short straw? I’ve never been clear how the rep gets picked.)

  9. Clinto December 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm
    Thole = ugliest swing in baseball.
  10. Anthony December 2, 2011 at 12:55 am
    I was wondering if anyone could give me there projected 2012 opening day lineup? Thanks
    • Joe Janish December 2, 2011 at 1:34 am
      I think it’s a little early for that; I’d wait at least until after the winter meetings next week.

      But, if you had to make a lineup based on the CURRENT 40-man roster, it might look like this:

      1. Angel Pagan – CF
      2. Josh Thole – C
      3. David Wright – 3B
      4. Ike Davis – 1B
      5. Jason Bay – LF
      6. Lucas Duda – RF
      7. Justin Turner – 2B
      8. Ruben Tejada – SS
      9. R.A. Dickey – P

      I’m sure there are people who think Dan Murphy would be at 2B, Jordany Valdespin could crack one of the middle infield spots, and/or Kirk Nieuwenhuis would be in CF — and they may be right. But as of this moment, the above lineup is what I see as most probable (and I’m assuming Ike Davis is healthy). Note, that doesn’t mean it’s the lineup that I would recommend.

      • Christopher Soto December 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm
        With Reyes gone, the Mets need some sort of offense. With that said Murphy has to be the starting 2B and will bat 2nd IMO. Thole will bat 7th. Im also think Duda and Bay may be flipped solely based on my lack of confidence in Bay even with the shortened fences.
  11. Jeff December 2, 2011 at 9:28 am
    I agree, Joe. Josh’s bat was a major disappointment to me last year, especially after he hit 3 HR in spring training. He’s got decent size, and as we have occasionally seen, pretty good power. He can really turn on an inside pitch and blast it. So to see him go up to the plate like Luis Castillo, just looking to poke the ball over the shortstop’s head infuriates me. I projected .275 12 HR 60-65 RBI for him last year. Somebody needs to get him out of that ridiculous crouch (except maybe with two strikes) and to drive that ball like he is more than capable of!