By Tommy Rancel //
The New York Mets are headed toward the end of another disappointing season. With that in mind, the next month and a half should be more about the future than the present. One player who could benefit from this shift is catcher Josh Thole.
With a successful call-up in 2009 (.321/.356/.396 in 59 plate appearances) under his belt, and Rod Barajas’ injury, the young catcher has been receiving more playing time at the major league level – mostly as R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher. As a fantasy player, he can help your team in batting average, and if your league counts the category, on-base percentage – two boosts you don’t normally expect from the catcher position.
Although he lacks power, Thole has shown the ability to get on base at every level. In six minor league seasons, he owns an on-base percentage of .378. In 48 major league games, he’s been on base more than 39% of the time.
After hitting .321 in his first 17 games last season, he is hitting .324 in 31 games this year. True to his contact-hitting label, the 23-year-old is making contact on 94.3% of the swings he takes. To put that in perspective, only two major leaguers who qualify for the batting title have a contact rate higher than Thole (Marco Scutaro and Juan Pierre).
Of course, when any player hits for a high average in such a small sample size, there is a chance it could be due to luck or random fluctuation. To help us look into that, we can check Thole’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Currently, his BABIP of .362 is well above the MLB average of .298. On the other hand, Thole has always had an above-average BABIP. In his minor league career, his BABIP is .326 – including a .359 mark last season.
Despite the high BABIP, the percentage of line drives hit by Thole is relatively normal. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for a hit, a high LD% would contribute to a flukishly high BABIP. In Thole’s case a 20.7% LD rate could be sustainable. In a bit of a surprise, the catcher has seen a decent number of hits come via the ground ball. Without great speed, this is one area where we might see some regression.
In addition to the average, Thole is walking 13.9% of the time – while striking out just 13.2% of the time. He is swinging at less than one-fifth of pitches out of the strike zone, and has whiffed on just 2% of his swings.
With good plate discipline, and the ability to slap the ball around the yard, Thole is a nice backup plan for any fantasy owner. Although he is only playing two or three times a week now, his playing time could increase as the Mets fall further out of contention. Despite the lack of power, his high OBP and AVG would be a welcomed addition to NL-only or deep mixed league squads.
For more on Josh Thole and other potential rookie pickups check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits