By: Brian Mangan
First, what we know about Taylor Teagarden. He’s 30, he’s right-handed, and he’s never stuck in the majors before. The Mets are his third organization. He was a highly regarded prospect with the Texas Rangers who simply never panned out, hitting .205/.264/.392 for a 656 OPS over 165 career games. He’s regarded as a Quad-A player, who can fill in, in a pinch, and not kill ya.
For the last two years, Teagarden was in Baltimore backing up Matt Weiters, hitting .158 and .167 over 117 at bats. Pretty bad. Below, feast your eyes on the statistics of a career minor leaguer/backup.
But here’s the thing about Taylor Teagarden- he might have a little bit to show us.
Teagarden has graded out positively on defense for his career. In his 165 games played in the majors, Teagarden has rated as +11.2 runs defensively.
Because of this, Oliver projects Teagarden to be worth about +12.5 defensively over a full season. For reference, D’Arnaud is projected as a +13.3 by Oliver, and Recker is a +13.8. This kind of defensive work would allow Teagarden to post a positive WAR value even if he doesn’t hit better than the .193 he is projected for.
Teagarden has always been known for his excellent defense — these ratings are not small-sample size or advanced statistic flukes. He was rated the Best Defensive Catcher in the Rangers’ system every year from 2005-2008, and was honored as the Best Defensive Catcher in both the Texas League and Pacific Coast League in 2008.
Teagarden was specifically praised for his defensive abilities when he signed with the Orioles in 2012 and the Mets in 2014.
Which brings us to the dealbreaker with Teagarden- whether or not he can produce anything on offense. As I mentioned, he is a career .205 hitter with a 658 OPS. His 658 OPS would be 24th among 29 catchers this season with 130 plate appearances or more, i.e. not very good (although miles ahead of D’Arnaud).
However, Teagarden appears to have had some bad luck at the major league level. His BABIP was.200 last year, and .219 the year before. Although he had a weak-average batted-ball profile, you’d expect a little more than that. Also, he’s never received regular playing time. Teagarden has not had a season with more than 85 plate appearances in the majors since 2009(!) and he wasn’t playing regularly in Triple-A either. In fact, overall, Teagarden had only 75 plate appearances at any level last year due to injuries, and only 97 plate appearances across all levels while injured in 2012. This year, his healthiest year, he has been playing every day and might be in a bit of a groove.
Also, Teagarden has shown improved plate discipline over his career. Not only has his K% decreased, it has done so while the league average K% has increased:
Finally, while playing regularly in Triple-A Las Vegas, Teagarden posted a line of .279/.402/.548. Although it’s easy to post good offensive numbers in Vegas, I find it useful to compare numbers against players he played with. Teagarden’s OPS of 950 compares favorably with Eric Campbell (967), Wilmer Flores (860), Josh Satin (865) and Matt Den Dekker (753). It pales in comparison to Bobby Abreu’s 1068, but is vastly superior to Juan Centeno’s 663. In fact, I asked at the time why Centeno was being given a shot before Teagarden:
And Centeno was terrible in the Show. Ultimately, though, as a catcher, if Teagarden can hit better than Centeno, 2/3 as well as Abreu, or 3/4 as well as Campbell, we’ll take it.
Campbell lost 170 points of OPS from Vegas to NY, while guys like Quintanilla tend to lose 250 or so between Triple-A and the Show. Even a 250 point drop places Teagarden at 700. I realize this methodology is crude, but we don’t have much to work with. A projection of a batting line around .220/.280/.400 is only slightly more optimistic than Steamer’s projection for Teagarden of .207/.277/.360 for rest of season.
With the move to the “easier” league and a little more playing time, it’s not unreasonable to think that Teagarden could improve his offensive numbers a little bit to go along with his competent defense.
Even if he does not, the rest of the Mets catching corps is more like a corpse than a corps. Only Anthony Recker has delivered a positive WAR value, and the highest OPS among any of the three was Recker’s 583.
I think we’ll see a lot of Teagarden going forward. It won’t be pretty but, considering the alternatives, I don’t mind.