Barajas And Blanco…The Perfect Catch

In a recent Metszilla post (20/20 hindsight ) Jay looked into this past off-season and some of the free agents that general manager Omar Minaya decided to pass on.  He went on to make the following statement about the non-signing of  Bengie Molina, who was seeking a 3-yr deal worth roughly $20 million:

As quick as we are to look at guys like Perez and loathe Minaya for making that deal is as quick as we should be ready to praise him for passing on Molina”

Jay was right and although it may not happen often, we  should give Minaya the credit he deserves. If it wasn’t for Omar standing his ground and not giving in to Bengie’s absurd contract demands, we would not have been blessed with the catching combo of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco.  The duo has far exceeded everyone’s expectations, bringing leadership, offense, and most importantly, a terrific handling of this roller coaster we call a  pitching staff.  With regard to Mike Pelfrey‘s success, Brian Costa of the Star Ledger had this to say about Blanco:

Blanco’s knowledge of hitters and ability to recognize their tendencies has also helped him. For example, against the Rockies on April 15, Pelfrey started by pitching inside to Jason Giambi, then struck him out with an outside splitter.

The next time Giambi came up, Pelfrey wanted pitch him inside again, but Blanco called for only outside pitches. The reason? Blanco noticed Giambi open his stance a bit, putting himself in better position to hit an inside pitch. Something that subtle helped Pelfrey strike out Giambi for a second time.”

 “He sees things like that,” Pelfrey said.

It is instances like this that have gained the duo confidence from their pitching staff, in the process helping to lead them to their best ERA in the last 3 seasons (3.87). It speaks volumes to the character of the two when staff ace, Johan Santana , and closer, Francisco Rodriguez , both named Barajas and Blanco as the catchers they would like to see fill the void behind the plate this past off-season.  Defensively, Blanco has  thrown out 78% (5 of 7) of attempted base stealer’s thus far. Both Henry and Rod have held opponents to a paltry 19 stolen bases, good for second best in the National League.  After years and years of Mike Piazza and Paul Lo Duca behind the plate, it’s almost hard for me, as a Met’s fan, wrap my head around those number’s.

Over their respective careers the two have built a reputation as defensive specialists, with strong arms, and a great ability for game calling.  Unbeknownst to the Mets, this would not be all they would bring to the table.  Barajas currently leads all NL catchers in home runs (11) and runs batted in (30-tied with Miguel Olivo), numbers that have “Hot Rod”, like the Red Dragon, bordering on being street legal .   His .484 SLG is good for third best among the team.  He proved early in the season that he can thrive in the “big spot”,  hitting two game winning home runs in the same week (one against the Reds May 4th and the other in walk-off fashion against the Giants May 7th).  In fact, of the three Mets walk-off home runs this season the catching duo is responsible for two.  In Piazza-esque fashion, Barajas has been a source of clutch hitting for the team throughout 2010 (.316 BA with runners on base, .298 BA with RISP, and .321 BA in late-inning pressure situations), earning him adoration among the fans who proudly boast “In Rod We Trust”.  In 61 plate appearances, Blanco is hitting .279 with 2 home runs, numbers which compare more than favorably to other back up catchers in the NL East, Phi. Brian Schneider (.268 0 hr), Wash. Will Nieves (.175 1 hr), Atl. David Ross (.293 0 hr), Fla. Brett Hayes (.200 0 hr).

It was no secret that in their quest to sign Benjie Molina the Mets were expecting to bring leadership and guidance to their young staff.  The team certainly succeeded in doing so, but without the help of baseball’s slowest base-runner (it’s funny to hear S.F. fans mock him as soon as he hits a grounder in this clip) and a player who, according to FoxSports Radio’s Sean Farnham, said this is likely to be his last year in the majors.  Given his poor performance (Molina is currently ‘earning’ $4.5 million with S.F. while batting .255 with 3 HR and 16 RBI) and the looming presence of Buster Posey, such a move would not surprise anyone but is a bit of a change in direction for a player that wanted to squeeze 3-years out of Omar an the boys just a few months ago.  Instead, at a basement bargain price of a combined $1.25m guaranteed, they are receiving everything they hoped for and much much more in Barajas and Blanco, making fans happy to forget Molina was ever in the conversation and giving the front office something to smirk about.

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