Sucre or Norris? | The Process Report

Sucre or Norris?

With the return of Wilson Ramos inching closer and closer, it’s time to start debating who should stick between Jesus Sucre and Derek Norris.

Anyone might’ve thought that this wouldn’t have been much of a discussion when camp broke. Derek Norris was the guy that would backup Ramos come late summer. But things have changed just a tad.

While the Rays have had a long history of light hitting catchers, Norris was supposed to bring a type of thump to the lineup that we have not seen from the position since Kelly Shoppach, and that’s saying something. The late spring acquisition of Derek Norris wasn’t anything to laugh at. It’s not tough to see why this was a very solid low-risk, high-reward buy for the Rays. Between 2013-2015, Norris put up a .256/.333/.405 triple slash, and he knocked 33 out of the park. Throw in an All-Star appearance in 2014, and you’ve got a pretty solid backstop. Not to mention that he was throwing guys out quite a bit, and his framing skills were solid to say the least and that’s a huge deal for the analytically-driven Rays. However, 2016 happened and everything went to hell. He still managed to have a pretty Norris like season in the HR department, but outside of that everything was an absolute mess. His K% flew up to 30.3%, well surpassing his career┬ánorms up to that point if you set aside a smaller 60 game sample size in 2012 where he struck out 28.4% of the time. The average crashed down to .186, and he only slugged .328. Not to mention that his wOBA rested at a paltry .252 and that came along with a wRC+ of 55. Of course, playing in Petco Park plays a role in suppressing offense quite often, but ouch.

The Nationals got their hands on him, but then the signing of Matt Wieters changed that situation a bit. The Rays swooped in and just a couple of days later he was receiving the first pitch of the season.

Tampa Bay also began the season with another interesting, and understandably yet unfairly less intriguing product behind the plate. Jesus Sucre was acquired from the Mariners during the offseason with the idea that he would provide some AAA depth at worst. Rave reviews, and a solid spring showing helped him crack the Opening Day roster. Sucre pretty much fit the Rays defense-first, offense-second mold that has been around for some time now. You’re not going to find many back-up catchers that can do both well, let alone a starter. Small 9 game 2016 sample size aside, Sucre managed to put together a .178/.206/.229 line. Rays fans are all too familiar with numbers like that, given the fact that they were well accustomed to Jose Molina.

However, Sucre has been a very cool surprise as we now head into June. The numbers, while somewhat underwhelming in an objective manner, are actually pretty good. His wOBA sits at .299, and his wRC+ is almost at league average and it rests at 89 right now. The Rays aren’t really looking for much offense from Sucre, but what he’s providing at the moment is quite solid in itself. However, yes, it’s a very small sample size. 62 PA, and 19 games played to be exact.

Norris on the other hand, as the primary catcher has seen action in 40 games and taken 148 PA. The power is down again, as he’s slugging only .326, his wOBA is right at .262 and he’s just not getting on base enough, which he did quite often when he played in Oakland. Both Norris and Sucre haven’t had much luck throwing runners out as Sucre has only thrown out 1 of 5 base runners, and Norris has gone 6 for 29 at this point.

These guys bring their value through framing, but it’s the unheralded one who’s doing a masterful job.

Sucre does a fantastic job at getting strikes on the inside and outside portion of the plate on RHB. This works well for the Rays staff because guys like Cobb and Odorizzi rely more on their command and pitch movement than anything, and Sucre is stealing plenty of strikes.

Norris on the other hand is able to get his strikes on the outer reaches of the strike zone. While this isn’t a knock on Norris, his framing skills against LHB are quite lackluster as opposed to Sucre. Sucre is also able to get inside strikes on LHB, and again, this appeals to the guys on the staff who rely on everything but velocity to get by. Getting help on both sides of the plate adds that extra tick of value to Sucre, and in my mind, he’s the guy who should get the back up spot once the Rays deem Ramos healthy enough to catch again.

Maybe the Rays feel like Ramos is only ready for DH duty, and they happen to keep three natural catchers on the roster for the time being, but I feel like they wouldn’t bring him back if he wasn’t 100% ready. Carrying three catchers would obviously limit their flexibility, so that seems out of the question. With the Rays sitting at 28-27 heading into the final day of May, they’re right in the thick of things. The return of Wilson Ramos this summer will provide them with plenty of pop and a bit of a welcomed contact approach that’ll help even out the extreme strikeout and home run offense that we’ve come to know through the nearly 60 games the Rays have now played in 2017.

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