Jeff Banister normally is quick to cite analytics in describing a decision or evaluating a player, so when the Texas Rangers manager was asked his favorite metric, he instantly had an answer.
“Wins and losses,” said the reigning American League manager of the year, without reminding the crowd to tip their waitresses.
He also went traditional when talking about the Rangers’ catchers in 2015. They used five of them, though Tomas Telis’ most significant contribution was being attractive enough to Miami for the Marlins to part with Sam Dyson.
Banister has added up the numbers of the four catchers used most — Robinson Chirinos, Carlos Corporan, Chris Gimenez and Bobby Wilson — and likes what they combined to do.
If that were one player, on the back of his baseball card would be 515 at-bats, 19 homers and 73 RBIs.
“That’s an All-Star player,” Banister said.
In a sense, yes, though they combined to hit only .223 and struggled to throw out base runners at 23 percent while the league average was 32 percent.
But Banister’s point is that there’s nothing terribly wrong with the Rangers’ catching ahead of the 2016 season, especially at a position where everyday players are scarce and injuries are common.
Could the Rangers have upgraded? Sure. Jonathan Lucroy has been made available by the trade-happy Milwaukee Brewers, and all they reportedly wanted was a package that started with Joey Gallo.
Other than that, the off-season marketplace was barren, except for those who wanted a reunion with Geovany Soto. If he’s better than Chirinos and Gimenez, it’s not by much and not worth disrupting the leftover continuity from 2015.
So, the Rangers in all likelihood will go to Opening Day with Chirinos and Gimenez splitting time behind the plate, and, in theory, catching more big-league games than they ever have.
That’s the catch, asking two players to stay healthy enough and stay productive enough to create a formidable duo behind the plate.
They believe that have prepared themselves to do so despite some recent injury woes.
“I believe that,” Chirinos said. “I put in the time in the off-season to get my body in shape to catch more than 100 games.”
Chirinos looks sturdier. That’s not too say he was thin in past seasons or is chunky now. He added seven pounds of muscle by concentrating on his legs, core and shoulders during winter workouts.
Chirinos is the better thrower, and he hit 10 homers in 233 at-bats last season after popping 13 in 306 at-bats in 2014.
But his biggest task this spring is getting on the same page with left-hander Cole Hamels and spending as much time as possible with right-hander Yu Darvish as he comes back from Tommy John surgery.
Hamels came to the Rangers on July 31, the same day Gimenez was summoned from Triple A and Wilson was claimed off waivers as Chirinos and Corporan hit the disabled list.
An argument can be made that without Gimenez and Wilson, the Rangers don’t win the American League West. That’s how good they were, or maybe how low expectations were.
Gimenez soon became Hamels’ catcher, right through Game 5 of the division series. But it took until Game 5 before Hamels was throwing all five of his pitches to both sides of the plate in the same game.
Darvish prefers Gimenez so much that he asked the Rangers to recall him from Triple A in August 2014. The move became moot when Darvish was injured.
Banister has said that there won’t be personal catchers this season, after telling Chirinos in October that the Hamels-Gimenez pairing would remain through the postseason.
Chirinos knows what needs to happen, and Hamels is open to it. He wants whoever is catching him to be able to lock into his thinking to keep the tempo up and keep hitters uncomfortable.
“It’s about knowing him and reading his mind to see what he likes to do,” Chirinos said.
Chirinos was sidelined with a left/non-throwing shoulder injury last season and dealt with a concussion while with Tampa Bay. Gimenez needed off-season surgery on his right/throwing shoulder to repair a jammed AC joint, an injury that played a role in him throwing out only 2 of 20 runners.
“I guarantee I’ll be better than 2-for-20 this year,” Gimenez said.
He also expects to hit more than the five homers he collected in 98 at-bats. He has started to let loose more at the plate after having his manhood challenged by then-Triple A hitting coach Justin Mashore, who was promoted to Rangers assistant hitting coach.
Back and forth between the majors and minors more than he cares to remember, Gimenez isn’t taking his incumbent status for granted. There are four other catchers in camp, including Wilson and another with big-league experience, Michael McKenry.
But Gimenez seems to be more confident, confident that he can handle an expanded big-league workload, confident that he will hit consistently, confident that he handle the pitching staff.
“I think there’s some potential there,” Gimenez said.
Rangers catching in 2015