Catcher is one of the most demanding positions in professional sports. They play a pivotal role in all three phases of the game (Hitting, Pitching, Defense). A few players such as Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters are notably talented in all three aspects. These players are obviously not the norm, as many catchers simply are not above-average or even average in all three aspects.

The interesting thing about Molina and Wieters is that they have different skill-sets. The one thing they do have in common is durability. Both have been near the top in innings caught the past few years. Both would generally be considered “durable” by most.

The real question is how do these players stay productive the entire season? How is a player so durable and able to withstand literally thousands of innings behind the plate. Keep in mind, these guys are crouched, wearing gear and often in some fairly scorching weather during the summer (especially here in Baltimore).

I have been curious about this for a long time now, so I thought it was about time to dig up some research and information on the topic.

I thought this first quote from Jim Callis of Baseball America
was a great summation of how difficult it is to catch an entire season.

Figuring how much to rest a catcher is tricky for a manager. Most teams are going to have a significant dropoff from their starting catcher to their backup, but the catcher also faces more physical demands day-in and day-out of any player on the team. A worn-down catcher isn’t going to hit, throw or receive as well as he might otherwise, which is why you see few players catch even 120 games in a season.

In fact, just looking at the qualifying catchers list from 2012 shows how difficult it is to find a catcher that you can peg in to start more than 120 games at the position.

Catchers Qualified 2012

You can see how difficult it is for teams to find a catcher whom is durable enough to even qualify. Now take a look at the list after I take out only players whom actually CAUGHT 120+ games. The list is cut in half.

Catchers 120+ innings

Of course, this is 2013 now. To start the year, these are your top five catchers in terms of innings and games (through the first week of April):

Catchers 2013As you can see, so far the same three players from last season round out the top. I think it is safe to say that Molina, Wieters and Montero are three of the most durable catchers in the game at this time. Arencibia is a newcomer to this list, and Posey is surprising considering the Giants have experimented with resting him at first in the past. Of course, they could still do that. I suspect that Arencibia or Posey fall from the top five by years end, although that is just me going out on a whim.

I show the amount of games and innings caught to display how durability and production could possibly correlate. But in reality, this tells us nothing and is rather subjective. Truth be told, this entire theory is extremely subjective and it is tough to really place an objective approach on it. Instead of showing the hitting numbers of each player, I thought it would be more beneficial to ask some scouts their thoughts on the subject. These are some of the questions I asked scouts and people within the industry:

Is there a correlation between catcher performance and the amount of rest they receive?
How does rest affect all three phases of the game (hitting, defense, receiving)?
How do players like Matt Wieters manage such high durability?
How truly important is rest for a catcher?
Why are some players more durable than others?

The following quotes are thoughts from around the industry. The scouts have asked to remain anonymous.

Undisclosed Scout – Boston Red Sox

 I don’t believe that rest and catchers’ offensive performance have any direct correlation, per se. I think it is all individual based. By that I mean athleticism, what kind of shape they are in, age and preparation.

I am sure by the end of the season there are a few guys that are just cooked but that could go for any position. If you look at the breakdown of what each “full time” player gets AB and games played wise, starting catchers are usually closer to 125-130 games caught (elite guys and not DHing). Also would venture to say that a catcher (again not DHing) would not even be in the top 50 AB wise. They have to have some days off because of the grind of the position but the team needs them behind the plate for 2 reasons. One because they handle the staff and know the ins and outs of each individual pitcher and when they tire etc…Two because if you start giving them too much rest you end up in a platoon situation and when that happens it is hard for the pitching staff to get comfortable with one guy or the other.

There are usually built in off days as well for the catchers. Solid backups help in those situations as do “personal catchers” for some guys. Also the interleague stuff for the NL teams will give the better offensive guys a chance to DH.

How does rest affect all three phases of the game (hitting, defense, receiving)? These guys all work their tails off every day on blocking and other defensive aspects and only get swings after they have done that. (Exception was Pudge Rodgriguez – he just hit and was really gifted back there). Hitting wise most of these guys are used to that grind of catching and getting their 3-4-5 ABs in a game. The built in off days do help

How do players like Matt Wieters manage such high durability? Size and strength coupled with athleticism. You have to be some kind of strong and while some do not look like it, very athletic.
How truly important is rest for a catcher?Later in the season for sure. Like I said there are built in off days for all of the front line guys. SO it is important but again if you give them too much it is like a platoon or semi-platoon type of situation that makes it difficult on the actual catching side of things and can get the pitchers out of rhythm.

Why are some players more durable than others? Size, strength, work ethic, athleticism, genes God, If you get a definitive answer let me know. Same as pitching injuries. Who knows for sure

Undisclosed Scout

I don’t necessarily think their performance is entirely correlated with rest and their overall durability. But it certainly plays a role. If Catcher A gets three days of rest in a two month span, he is obviously going to be more fresh than a catcher getting no days of rest in that same span (excluding team offdays, which are already factored within schedules).

Athleticism. Such an important aspect of the game. Oddly enough, Wieters is not considered highly athletic by some because he is big and slow. Do not overlook his ability behind the plate from being big and slow. He is a different breed behind the dish, with quicker movements and agility. It’s a different type of athleticism that many catchers have over other players. Take a look at the Molina brothers. They are some of the slower players in the game, but they can catch.

Catching is tough, especially finding a player that can perform in all three phases of the game. You can surely see why a great catcher is such a sought after asset.

That last line really hits home for me. Sometimes I see fans complain about Matt Wieters not hitting the ball well, being inconsistent at the plate and being slower than a turtle. He absolutely does all that at times. However, him playing so much each year has a giant effect on the Orioles as a whole. Pitchers gain comfort and control in their game, along with some great defense that is finally starting to be transcribed into statistics thanks to sites such as FanGraphs. If I am a pitcher on the Orioles, I feel so much more comfortable knowing that I have one of the most durable catchers behind the plate for me. Durability is not only a physical aspect, but mental as well. At the end of the day, you can truly see the value of a player like Matt Wieters.

While I do not think we can truly map the correlation between catcher performance and rest, we can certainly look at the various reasons why they may be connected. Do you think there is any correlation? Feel free to open discussion on the message board.

Tucker Blair
Tucker Blair

Tucker Blair was born and raised in the Baltimore area and currently lives in Elkridge, Maryland. He graduated from York College of Pennsylvania with a B.S in Entrepreneurial Studies and is currently a Project Analyst for a Management Consulting Firm in Federal Hill, Baltimore. Tucker was previously the Managing Editor at Orioles Nation, where he worked on prospect lists, reports, and analysis on the Orioles minor league system. He also previously wrote his personal blog, The EntreprenOriole.