Tampa Bay Rays Confront Ryan Hanigan’s Limitations

By Robbie Knopf

The moment that the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan, he became the best all-around catcher they had possessed in their history. He has already demonstrated why, leading the Rays in RBIs for a time to go along with tremendous defense. But amid all the excitement, there was something that we all forgot: Ryan Hanigan has never been a true starting catcher.

Despite all of his recent injury issues, Ryan Hanigan has appeared in 42 of the Rays’ 52 games and made 113 plate appearances. Here’s a crazy stat: those numbers put him on pace for 126 games played- his previous season-high was 113- and 384 plate appearances, which would also be the most in any season of his career. As recently as May 16th, he was on course for 136 games and 433 PA’s. You have to go back a decade to Hanigan’s 2004 at High-A for the last time he came to the plate that many times. With the Rays using him far more often than he was comfortable, can it really be a surprise that Hanigan wore down?

Yes, Hanigan’s injury had to be expected given the circumstances- but why didn’t the Rays recognize that? They did extensive research on the player they were acquiring and must have known that they were getting the larger portion of a tandem catcher situation, not a player capable of starting 110 or 120 times. On the other hand, did the Rays really have a choice as they tried to win games? It was terrible luck for them that this was the year that Jose Molina stopped hitting and became a nearly automatic out until the last few games. His pitch-framing is still incredible, but he doesn’t even do a good job blocking balls in the dirt anymore. After years of wear and tear, Molina looked to finally be nearing the end. With that in mind, what could the Rays do other than play Molina as little as possible and replace him with Hanigan in every close game?

The easiest way to explain this situation is that the Rays thought that playing Hanigan so often would only be a temporary thing. Either Molina would find himself (as he is beginning to do) or they would resort to another player like maybe Curt Casali. What they didn’t realize is that Hanigan wouldn’t be able to last even if he played extensively for only the first quarter of the season. They thought that they they had more time before they had to start scaling back, but they were wrong. They will have to adjust their usage of Hanigan moving forward to compensate for that.

Ryan Hanigan has the ability to be a valuable catcher for the Rays when he returns, and the same will be true of the next two years that he is under contract. That will only be the case, however, if everyone understands going in that Hanigan can’t be an everyday player and must be paired with a backup the team can rely upon. The only good part of this predicament is that now the Rays and Hanigan himself are fully aware of everything he can and can’t do and will come up with the best plan to keep him healthy and effective moving forward.