When the Rays acquired Kelly Shoppach, it looked like they were acquiring a left-handed pitching masher willing to squat behind the plate. Last season, Shoppach drew ire from the fan base despite hitting lefties fairly well. So far in 2011, Shoppach is doing a nice job of making those who defended his talents (including me) look a little silly. Through 81 plate appearances Shoppach is hitting .167/.247/.250 and his numbers versus lefties aren’t much better despite a .292 batting average on balls in play (.211/.286/.289).
A Shoppach without the ability to club lefties is a Shoppach not worth the roster space. You can say Shopach has become James Shields personal catcher (and ostensibly that is the case), but if he were so valuable—either physically or mentally—to Shields success, then why limit him to one starter? Why not make him the permanent catcher?
I would not be concerned if Shoppach were simply hitting for a poor average, but the power isn’t there. His ISO is .083, almost half of last year’s total and his home run per contacted ball is down too (from a home run on 5.7 percent of hit balls in 2010 to 4.5 percent—his career rate is 7.1 percent). It could be a fluctuation over a small sample, but it could be an indication that Shoppach is toasty too.
I took to Excel and looked at 10-game stretches of ISO for Shoppach since 2008. Here is what it looks like:
That appears dire, as Shoppach had a stretch top the .200 ISO mark in each of the last few seasons, but not this season. The data looks a lot better than viewed through the prism of 28-game spans (yes, the graphic says 29 games, but it really is 28):
Shoppach has been around this ISO in three of his last four seasons now. One of the questions is now whether he shoots up quickly (like in 2008) or if he goes even lower before the dead cat bounce sets in (like in 2010). Here is another question: what if he takes the scenic route, how long do you give him?
Last season it took 100 at-bats before his first stretch over 100. Shoppach has received about 10 at-bats a week this season, so that means three more weeks. If nothing is sparking by then, an interesting scenario for the Rays arises, either: A) dump Shoppach on another team for whatever and call up Robinson Chirinos (since the Super Two date should have passed by then); or, B) keep Shoppach and give him just a little longer to get things right.
Chirinos is the great independent variable in the formula. After a poor April (.176/.253/.191), Chirinos has stepped it up in May (.333/.373/.438). The league-average catcher is hitting .242/.315/.383, so the Rays don’t have to feel Chirinos’ level of expected performance is in the top echelon in order to justify flipping the switch.
Either way, better catching performances may be on the way sooner than later.