clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Dodgers Acquire The Best Offensive Catcher In Baseball. Oh, and Jason Schmidt

The Dodgers made a huge acquisition today, picking up Mike Lieberthal to handle the backup catching duty. Sadly, I will always know Lieberthal as "the best offensive catcher in baseball". He earned this nickname due to some commentator calling him this in the late 90s, when Mike Piazza was busy being the best player in baseball. While anything that makes Toby Hall irrelevant is a good thing, Lieberthal isn't quite the upgrade he seems. Lieberthal is much of an upgrade. His entire season last year can be placed under the label of small sample size, it was only 209 at bats, so I'm not all that concerned about his sudden drop in discipline, but similarly, I don't know if he's going to be able to keep up his power numbers. Lieberthal's isolated power hovered in the .150-.170 range from 2001 to 2005, until his largely absent year in 2006. While this appears to be consistent production, the Phillies moved from a pitchers park to a park that's just as home run freindly as Coors Field in 2004. Because of this, I'd expect Lieberthal to hit something in the .260/.325/.400 neighborhood. Certainly good for a backup catcher, just not as great as it seems like it should be.

There's also the question of Lieberthal's durability. If Russell Martin goes down, can Lieberthal handle a full time catching job? the 601 at bats he had in the last two seasons make me think he can't. With the next option after Lieberthal being 26 year old minor league backup A.J. Ellis, we can't afford to lose two catchers. Lieberthal isn't the best safety net.

So long as Liberthal puts up an on base percentage over .300, he'll be better, and hopefully cheaper than Toby Hall. This makes the move a winner in my book.

Then there's the other guy the Dodgers acquired. Jason Schmidt was signed to a three year, 47 million dollar deal. My first reaction to this deal was very positive. Schmidt was the best pitcher available on the market, and he wasn't signed to a Kevin Brown length contract. But will Jason Schmidt be as successful as a Dodger as he was as a hated Giant?

In 2006, Schmidt had his worst strikeout rate since he joined the Giants, a still good 7.59 per nine. His walk rate slightly improved from his previous season, so his strikeout to walk ratio remained at an above average 2.25. His home run rate remained at a similarly strong .89 per nine.

The home run rate is what has me concerned. Like seemingly all of Ned Colletti's acquisitions, Schmidt is an extreme fly ball pitcher, putting up a ground ball ratio over one just once during his tenure with the Giants. While the cavernous grounds of San Francisco kept these hits in the park, Dodger Stadium's dimensions will result in a spike in home runs. If his strikeout rate continues to decline, is Jason Schmidt that much better than Brad Penny or Derek Lowe? I don't think he is, and PECOTA agrees with me.

Moving Schmidt into the rotation also has several consequences. If the Dodgers keep all their pitchers, then Hong-Chih Kuo is forced to the bullpen to keep the inferior Randy Wolf in the rotation, making the Wolf signing pretty much useless, if not harmful. If the Dodgers decide to trade Brad Penny, the rotation sees no real improvement. While having a surplus of pitchers is nice, the likely exchange of Penny for a guy who will put up similar numbers for seven million dollars more doesn't seem like a good one.

You can almost never be upset when you grab the best player in free agency for a reasonable length of time, the thing I like most about Colletti is his willingness to offer more money for less years, but Jason Schmidt is an ace in the same sense that Brad Penny and Derek Lowe are. If the Dodgers hold on to Schmidt, Lowe and Penny, while keeping Billingsley and Kuo in the rotation, then we have something there. If one of them is dealt for a player that will probably be inferior to J.D. Drew, then the Dodgers have pretty much the same team they did in 2006. Keeping the current rotation intact and moving Wolf to the bullpen seems like the best plan, but it's the least likely to happen. The Dodgers are a better team now than they were yesterday, but there is many ways to slip from this position.