There have been lots of things contributing to the 13-9 start by the New York Mets. There’s been David Wright, playing at an otherworldly level. Ruben Tejada’s been great, and Daniel Murphy’s been very good. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been spectacular. They’ve outperformed their pythagorean expected record. They’ve only made six errors in a game once. So, lots of things.
But probably as much as any other factor, Josh Thole’s hot start has sure helped this team.
Thole, through 20 games and 70 plate appearances, has a season line of .322/.412/.441. That’s good for an OPS+ of 144, which is extremely high for a catcher. In 2011, a full season mark of 144 would have placed Thole second among all catchers, behind only Mike Napoli’s 172. This season, interestingly, it is only good for sixth so far, thanks to hot starts from Buster Posey (190), Yadier Molina (166), Matt Wieters (153), Napoli (149) and Carlos Santana (145). When did catching become the place for all the hits we used to see from Albert Pujols?
And with the Mets in desperate need of Thole to grab hold of the full-time job- with Mike Nickeas’ bat woefully under-prepared for taking on part of a platoon- he has, in a very small sample, hit lefties. He’s at .429/.467/.714 so far in 15 plate appearances against lefties, including a home run off of Jamie Moyer on Sunday.
Still, it is hard to make the case for Thole as an All Star just yet, since he’d be behind Posey and Molina in his own league.
But that’s irrelevant to how Thole will help the Mets going forward. If he performs at anything approaching his overall level to date, he’ll be a massive asset to this team.
There’s not a lot of reason to think he will, however.
Thole’s batting average on balls in play this season is .375, which is way up from his career mark of .312. Alas, this is not due to some improvement in his distribution of balls in play. His line drive percentage is actually down significantly from his career mark, at 18.6% vs. 24.3% career. And that’s led to more ground balls, which over the long run, won’t help the speed-challenged Thole. He’s walking slightly more, but not enough to matter, and he’s striking out slightly more, though again, not enough to matter.
In other words, his process is that of a guy who is going to provide the same production he has in the past, which is about league average offense at catcher. That’s fine, especially at his low price tag, but it suggests significant regression from here.
This start should probably be placed in the Ray Knight 1986 file. Knight, remember, hit six home runs in his first nine games. In one of my earliest baseball lessons, my father pointed out that such production was out of context with the rest of Knight’s career, and that he wasn’t likely to stay atop the National League home run leaderboard. Knight, as you probably remember, finished with 11 home runs, total.
Unfortunately, Thole doesn’t look like he’s ready to actually join the company of catchers he’s currently keeping. This doesn’t spell doom for the Mets, who can expect better offense from Ike Davis, for instance, to help make up some of that difference. But it does mean assuming that Josh Thole has arrived as a star is probably a premature conclusion.