Should Jose Lobaton Be The Rays Starting Catcher?

By David Hill

The catcher position has been a black hole offensively for much of this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. Jose Molina, the default starter, has posted a truly awful .189/.247/.296 batting line, with 11 walks and 41 strikeouts in 183 plate appearances. He has posted an OPS+ of 53, far below what would be considered average production.

Meanwhile, Jose Lobaton, while not exactly an offensive juggernaut, has put together a decent season, at least by Rays catching standards. In 151 plate appearances this season, Lobaton is hitting .238/.344/.323, with 19 walks and 31 strikeouts. His OPS+ is hovering around 90, marking Lobaton as someone who is reasonably close to major league average.

The Rays also appear to have noticed the difference in production. Since July 1st, Lobaton has played in 21 games, compared to 15 for Molina. Since his playing time has increased, Lobaton has increased his batting average by 29 points, his on base percentage by 23 points, and his slugging percentage by 39 points. Molina, meanwhile, has watched his numbers decrease, as his batting average has dropped 9 points, his on base percentage has dropped 21 points, and his slugging percentage has decreased by 45 points. Jose Lobaton has simply been getting on base more and making better contact than Jose Molina has over the past six weeks of the season.

Molina was truly not expected to be much of a threat offensively, but was expected to shine behind the plate. Yet, aside from gunning down opposing baserunners, Lobaton has been better defensively than Molina has. Even though they have the same fielding percentage of .992, Lobaton has yet to allow a passed ball, while Molina has five. Lobaton has a range factor of 7.98, above the league average of 7.87. Molina, meanwhile, has a range factor of only 7.22, his lowest since 2007.

For a team that has had the problems scoring runs that the Tampa Bay Rays have had this year, the little extra offense provided by Jose Lobaton could make a difference. At this point, it appears that Jose Lobaton may have taken over as the Rays starting catcher.