Who is the most valuable player on the Tampa Bay Rays at the moment? Evan Longoria you say? No, try again. Will Myers? Ben Zobrist? Sorry, better luck next time. No idea? Well, the answer is Ryan Hanigan. That’s right, the new starting catcher is going to be vital to the Rays’ success this season. Why? Injuries to their starting staff have added a level of uncertainty for the Rays. The Rays dreams of World Series glory may rest on inexperienced pitchers carrying them until Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson come back from injury. Hanigan will need to inspire confidence and lead whoever it is toeing the pitching rubber through this period if they are to compete in October.
Pitchers are an odd lot. You could hit 40 home runs and drive in a 100 runs as a catcher but, if the pitcher isn’t comfortable throwing to you, it’s a guarantee you won’t find your name in the day’s starting lineup too often. There were a lot of things Javy Lopez could do the day Greg Maddux was pitching for the Braves just as long as he wasn’t behind the plate. David Ross, now with Boston, made a living out of just catching Maddux. Javy Lopez was ten times more gifted offensively than Ross could ever dream of being but Maddux was not comfortable throwing to Lopez. Luckily for the Rays, that problem doesn’t exist. Both Hanigan and Jose Molina are very good receivers.
The Rays went out and got Hanigan from the Cincinnati Reds. He was a longtime target of the team and the Rays were able to turn Jose Lobaton, the other catcher on their roster with major league experience, into starting pitching depth, something they bad need at the moment. As David Laurila described him, “[He] knows the game, and he can break down the nuances of his craft – and his pitching staff – with the best of them.” Coming to one of the best pitching staffs in baseball cannot have been easy for Hanigan. Not only did he have to learn the staff, he had to gain their respect and he did just that. Alex Cobb remarked that, after talking with Hanigan for the first time, he knew his repertoire better than Cobb did himself.
From 2009-2014, Fangraphs rates Hanigan seventh among catchers with a 50.2 overall defensive rating (0 being league average for all stats mentioned in the next three paragraphs). He is sixth in RSB, stolen base runs saved, which measures how many runs a catcher contributes to their team by throwing out runners and preventing runners from attempting steals in the first place. He is also sixth in RPP (Passed Pitch Runs), which calculates the number of runs above/below average a catcher is at blocking pitches. Overall, he was 13th among catchers in defensive runs saved. Hanigan doesn’t have Yadier Molina’s flash but he is consistent.
Ryan Hanigan will have his hands full this season with several inexperienced pitchers. Hanigan has a reputation for success both for his work with pitchers and his defense behind the plate. The Rays will need every ounce of that this year until the starting staff regains a level of stability.