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Hanging or Impacted: you make the call!

I try to be fair (except to Cubs fans).  But let's face it: Chad Moeller has taken a beating on this site.  Which makes us no better than the pitchers of the National League, who haven't treated Chad Moeller very well either.  They've mistreated him to the tune of a .206 batting average in '05, and perhaps the most ignominious number of all, a .303 SLG in '04.  I would point out that Livan Hernandez's career SLG is better than that, but that wouldn't be fair--to Livan, who's been at .366 and .370 the last two years.

Okay, sorry, I'm being snarky again.  Let's give Chad a fair hearing.  As I say, his two years in Milwaukee have not been stellar--certainly not what we would've been led to expect from ~275/350/445 line in 2002-03.  When he was included in the Richie Sexson trade after the '03 season, nobody mistook him as the savior of the franchise, but it was reasonable to believe he could hold down the seven hole and give us some decent production from a catcher, all inexpensively.  It was just one nice part of what has turned out to be a brilliant trade by Doug Melvin.

But it hasn't worked out that way.  Chad's drastic drop in production was particularly painful in '04: in a platoon with Gary Bennett, Moeller was supposed to be the offensive half.


Doug Melvin reacted to Chad Moeller's 2004 season like any sensible GM with a few bucks to spend would: he signed a starting catcher, giving Damian Miller a three-year deal.  This, of course, makes Chad the backup, though one with a little more responsibility than some: Miller is getting old for a starting catcher--he'll turn 37 when the Brewers are playing the Braves in the NLDS this fall.  Chad started 58 games behind the plate last year, and I think it's safe to assume that he'll catch at least that many for as long as he's Miller's backup.

Here's where we are now: Chad Moeller disappointed us in '04; subsequent moves have changed his role in Milwaukee.  While we might continue to wonder "what might have been," I don't think it's fair to continue judging Chad against his '02-'03 successes, especially when it increasingly looks like those years were either outliers, or a very short peak.  After all, Chad turned 31 on Saturday, so it's unreasonable to expect him to reach a new plateau.

So what is a fair standard for Chad to measure up to?  Let's look at the backup catchers in the NL Central last year and see how Chad stacks up:

player (team) / GS at C / AVG / OBP / SLG
Einar Diaz (STL) / 30 / 208 / 248 / 277
Mike Mahoney (STL) / 21 / 156 / 217 / 219
Raul Chavez (HOU) / 30 / 172 / 210 / 263
Humberto Quintero (HOU) / 15 / 185 / 200 / 259
Henry Blanco (CHI) / 48 / 242 / 287 / 391
Javier Valentin (CIN) / 58 / 281 / 362 / 520
Humberto Cota (PIT) / 77 / 242 / 285 / 387
Ryan Doumit (PIT) / 48 / 255 / 324 / 398
David Ross (PIT) / 31 / 222 / 263 / 380
Chad Moeller (MIL) / 58 / 206 / 257 / 367

If there's anything that makes Chad's numbers look better, it's a quick comparison to the backup situations in St Louis and Houston.  Both of those teams had backups start about 80% as many games as Moeller, and the production there was just abysmal.  Certainly a winning team doesn't need to have a great backup catcher--look at the string of random guys who have served on the Yankees bench in the last decade.  

Oddly enough, the backup situation gets a lot better as you descend further into the NL Central: Henry Blanco is solid, though probably doesn't deserve a starting job.  Javier Valentin is a stud, but his numbers should be taken with a grain of salt: he was platooned with Jason LaRue, so he's not seeing a typical mix of lefties and righties.  Even despite that, the Reds have the best catching tandem in baseball and I'm surprised nobody managed to pry away Valentin this offseason.

What to make of all this?  Moeller isn't a particularly good backup catcher, nor is he a seriously dreadful one.  It isn't unusual for a team's second catcher (or a tandem of second and third catchers) to start fifty to sixty games, so it also isn't fair to hold Moeller to a higher standard because he's "more" than a backup catcher.  

After two years of disappointment, I'm looking at Moeller the way I'm looking at Dan Kolb.  They'll be on the team, but no one is counting on them to do great things--at least not yet.  Kolb, of course, has a higher ceiling in '06 than Moeller does, but if he can come back only halfway, he'll still be a useful middleman, though a pricey one.  It's not the end of the world to pay $800k for a middle-of-the-road backup catcher, especially one who hasn't had much in the way of injury problems lately, and anything beyond that is gravy.  Anything like Chad's 2002 .286/.385/.467 is really good gravy at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I realize I've said nothing about Chad's defense, and I know Brewer fans are of wildly different minds about it.  As you can tell, this has gotten a little long--perhaps I'll take a look tomorrow at some defensive metrics and what we might figure out about Chad's abilities behind the plate.