It’s a subject that’s come up a few times this offseason as incidental to the broader conversation about Kyle Schwarber’s positional role in 2015: could the way he works into the catching rotation simply be by way of becoming a personal catcher for one, set starting pitcher?
Well, today, Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told The Score that it’s still under consideration.
The benefits of such a strategy are many: (1) it guarantees regular work behind the plate for Schwarber, where he’ll need practice if he’s going to contribute there long-term, (2) it guarantees that once every five games his very valuable bat will be relatively more valuable behind the plate, (3) it helps ensure other outfielders get regular starts (most notably, Jorge Soler), (4) it helps provide extra rest for Miguel Montero and David Ross, (5) it could plausibly help that starting pitcher by creating consistency, (6) it keeps Schwarber fresh behind the plate in case he’s needed to step in for a period of regular starts there, and, perhaps most importantly, (7) it would allow Schwarber to be the most comfortable, getting consistent (but limited) work, and set him up for success behind the plate.
Number one is really the big one, as we saw last year with Jon Lester and David Ross – having a personal catcher is sometimes more valuable to the team than the alternative, but it also restricts a manager’s ability to optimize match-ups on any given day.
For example, if Schwarber’s day came up when the Cubs were facing an especially tough righty, you’d probably rather have both Schwarber’s and Montero’s bats in there … but you wouldn’t be able to do that. Or, perhaps the Cubs are facing a particularly tough lefty that day, and it’s about time to give Schwarber a day off anyway … but you wouldn’t be able to do that.
The point there being, it’s just nice to have the flexibility not to have to do any particular thing on any particular day. To be sure, these are relatively minor problems, but they have to be considered when making a decision on when Schwarber would catch.
That said, I really don’t hate the idea of him becoming a personal catcher – or something close to it – for one of the Cubs’ starters for all the reasons laid out in the “benefits” paragraph. On the balance, it seems to outweigh the downside.
The options for Schwarber would be limited to John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel (Lester pairs with Ross, and Maddon last year showed a reluctance to have Schwarber handle Jake Arrieta’s peculiarly nasty stuff and velocity), and he did work a fair bit with Hendricks and Hammel last year.
If this is going to happen, by the way, my guess is you’ll see Schwarber work with the same pitcher for the final two – at least two – starts of the spring. Schwarber started at catcher for the first time earlier this week, and he caught Hammel’s first spring outing.