The Necessary Evil: Drew Butera

The Twins are unique to just about every other team in baseball in that they us three of the twenty-five roster spots on catchers.  Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, and Drew Butera all will most likely emerge from spring training on the active roster as the Twins prepare for Opening Day against Detroit.  That’s frustrating to many Twins fans, as Butera has proven himself to be one of the worst hitters in baseball over the last three seasons.

Butera, the son of former Twins catcher Sal Butera, currently holds a career batting average of .183, an on base percentage of .232, with a slugging percentage at .265.  Offensive numbers like this normally result in a demotion to AA.  For three years now, Butera has managed to play only 15 games in the minor leagues, all last season.  How could such a liability be so necessary?

Having Butera handy allows Mauer to move around and play 1B or DH about half the time, which is the biggest reason.  Obviously, if Mauer or Doumit were DHing and the other got hurt, Drew becomes vital to keep the pitcher’s slot out of the lineup.  Still, there’s got to be another catcher out there that could fill this role and provide some kind of offensive prowess right?

Butera’s defense makes this question very interesting.  As I write, I noticed that Parker Hageman wrote a cool piece on Butera’s “Pop-to-Pop Time” in relation to Mauer and Doumit.  According to his “inexact study”, Butera provides a significant deterrent to the opposing running game.

Along with that, in 2012 the pitching staff overall was more effective with Butera starting behind the plate than either Mauer or Doumit.  Here are some interesting figures relating team/pitching success from last year depending on who the starting catcher was.

Starting Catcher     Games   Record   Winning %   Runs   Runs/Game

Butera                       32          15-17          .468            138        4.31

Mauer                        72          30-42          .417            377        5.24

Doumit                      56          20-36           .357            309        5.52

It’s so hard to calculate who plays the catcher position better than another, aside from things like SB% (which is many times more on the pitcher), or fielding percentage.  So many coaches and players rave about having Butera behind the plate, that whatever he does he must do well.  Over the course of the season, the team won more often and the pitching staff gave up fewer runs with Butera catching than anyone else.

To me that 4.31 runs per game, nearly a full run less than Mauer, that the staff gives up must have at least something to do with Butera’s ability to play defense.  Ron Coomer often talks on FSN about his body language and the encouraging motions he makes toward the pitchers to help them maintain their confidence through a game.

Maybe, just maybe, Butera really is worth keeping around even though he may never hit over .200.  It’s just a shame he hasn’t been able to produce with the bat, and maybe never will.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.