The Rays offense has been a pleasant surprise this season, particularly as scoring runs has generally been a problem over the last few years. Players such as James Loney and Kelly Johnson have played far above expectations, while Yunel Escobar has begun to hit at the level that was anticipated when he came over from the Marlins. Yet, for all the notice that Loney and Johnson have attracted, there is another area of the offense that has flown under the radar, despite their excellent production.
For years, the catcher position for the Rays has been an offensive sinkhole. Aside from Dioner Navarro making the All-Star team in 2008, the Rays have just not had much production from the catcher spot. However, this season, even Jose Lobaton has been producing above expectations this season.
As it stands presently, Rays catchers rank a surprising seventh in baseball with a .262 batting average, and are in the middle of the pack in on base percentage. Consider that last year, the Rays had a batting average from the catcher position of only .227 and an on base percentage of .300, which ranked 19th and 21st respectively, the catcher spot may no longer the almost automatic out that it had seemingly been in the past.
Much of the improvement stems from the production of Lobaton. Through Thursday, he has produced a .283/.347/.434 batting line, with three home runs and eight doubles. In 72 fewer plate appearances than he had last season, Lobaton has already set career highs in homers and runs, while he has only five fewer hits than he did for all of 2012. He ranks ninth in batting average and on base percentage amongst major league catchers with a minimum of 100 plate appearances this season, and appears to have turned into a player that can actually cause some damage in the lineup. He hasn’t walked as much as last season but has made much more contact and hit for much more power, with his isolated power jumping from .096 to .152. He has 3 home runs in 125 plate appearances in 2013 after just 2 in 195 PA’s last season as he is suddenly hitting the ball with considerably more authority. That was never more noticeable then on Wednesday, when Lobaton delivered a leadoff home run versus Andrew Bailey with the Rays down in the bottom of the 10th.
The resurrections of Loney and Johnson have grabbed a lot of attention, and deservedly so. However, Jose Lobaton is also in the midst of a career year, and may be able to give the Rays legitimate production from the catcher position for the first time in the last five years. Fans expressed outrage when Lobaton was named the Rays’ second catcher behind Jose Molina over Chris Gimenez. But the way things have turned out, it sure looks like the Rays knew what they were doing.