I’ve never tried to hide it; I have a man-crush on Josh Thole. There really hasn’t been a prospect that I’ve wanted to succeed this bad since Heath Bell. Like most people, I like rooting for the underdog which is exactly what limited, underappreciated prospects are. Last July, I wrote a post over at Amazin’ Avenue discussing my excitement for Josh Thole. As I discussed in the post, Josh Thole was not getting mentioned by any fans in prospect discussions. Sure, Thole had his limitations, mainly defense and power; but the numbers just didn’t suggest the terrible defense fans were worried about and the league average catcher hits so poorly that Thole made up for his lack of power. I concluded that, without a power increase, Thole could a useful league average catcher. However, as Thole play in the AFL, spring training and Bingo garnered him more recognition; I almost feel like expectations are too high for Thole. I still think Thole can be a league average catcher one day but I don’t know if fans understand how valuable a “minimum wage,” team-controlled, league average player is. Here are some comments from Adam Rubin’s article, Josh Thole becomes top catching prospect for Mets.
- I’m bowled over with anticipation. We got the next Darrin Fletcher or Scott Bradley waiting in the minors! “The scout projected Thole eventually as the lefty-hitting part of a platoon at catcher, or as a backup in the majors.” Hold me back! When’s his debut–I wanna buy tickets today!
- Just call this kid Lastings because he will be just as good.
- I guess we have another Brian Schneider a singles hitting catcher whoppie doo!
Tough crowd. To try to determine what reasonable expectations for Thole are, let’s review his minor league season. Thole spent the entire season as a 22-year-old in Double-A Binghamton. He finished the year with a triple slash line of .328/.395/.422/.816 with a 9.9 BB%, 8.9 K%, .094 ISO, and a .358 BABIP. Obviously, the BABIP is a bit high but not ridiculously so. Additionally, Thole’s defense has been said to have improved enough to be considered league average. In order to get a better understanding of how Thole season went, let’s use minorleaguesplits.com’s major league equivalent numbers. Thole’s MLE, while accounting for luck and park factors, comes up with a less impressive .254/.307/.315/.622, oddly similar to Thole’s ’08 MLE, which gave him a .603 OPS. Minor League Splits’ MLE gives seems to be a bit hard on Thole in the BABIP giving him a BABIP of .280. This seems a bit low considering that Thole’s BABIP has never had a BABIP below .306. Baseball Prospectus’ MLE for Thole has him at .285/.327/.389 with a BABIP of .305 and an EqA of .253. The EqA for the average major league catchers this year has been .250. Thus, according to the more optimistic MLE, as well as the assertion that Thole’s defense has improved, Thole can be a league-average catcher as soon as next year year. All right, maybe the latter assertion is a bit too sanguine.
Still, I think even if Thole did somehow stay in the majors all year and he hit .285/.327/.389 with average defense, there would be fans disappointed. However, Thole’s EqA of .253 would put him just about at Kurt Suzuki level this year (.254,) who has thus far been worth exactly 2.0 WAR and $9.1 million. For comparison, Omir Santos has been worth 1 WAR and, with his awful August, Schneider has been worth exactly 0 WAR. Now, I should note that using fangraphs.com’s WAR values is faulty due to catcher defense not being fully accounted for; however, I think that the point that even if Thole’s just hit is (optimistic) translated line, he would be at least a league average catcher. However, if the latter still doesn’t get you excited, BPro has another tool that takes a minor leaguer’s batting line, age, and league and calculates the expected peak. Josh Thole’s peak triple slash is listed as .293/.362/.422/.784 or an EqA of .276. While the peak line is still short of stardom, it’s an above average line to complement their stars, which is exactly what the Mets have struggled with these past couple of years.