Thursday, May 25, 2006

7 and 7 Is: LeCroy's Blues

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan have made their share of questionable decisions over the last couple seasons, but I have to give them credit for their decision to remove future beer-league softball Hall of Famer Matthew LeCroy from their catching rotation.

After throwing out just four of 18 attempted base-stealers in 22 games behind the plate in 2003 and only one of 16 in 26 games in 2004, LeCroy only managed one single inning at catcher in 2005. He spent his final year in a Twins uniform as a designated hitter and pinch hitter and appeared in 23 games at first base. Watching just one of those games should have been enough to convince any casual baseball fan, much less any MLB executive, that LeCroy's natural position - his only position - is DH.

When the Twins decided to not bring him back this year, I felt for him. After all, if the affable and beloved human potato make it if not here? As the offseason turned, I started worrying about LeCroy. He still hadn't received a major league contract and all of the American League teams - the only teams who would seem to have a spot for him - appeared set.

Finally, just before spring training he signed a contract with the Washington Nationals. I figured his role on the NL team would be strictly pinch-hitting, with the very occasional game at first base when Nick Johnson needed a day off (god forbid another Johnson injury). Suffice to say, it was pretty surprising when the Nats starting using LeCroy as their backup catcher.

When starting catcher Brian Schneider went on the disabled list a couple weeks ago, Wiki Gonzalez was recalled from the minors, presumably to take over the everyday catching chores until Schneider's return. Shockingly, though, it has been LeCroy getting the majority of the playing time in Schneider's absence. Playing with fire...

Well, that all came to a head this afternoon. The Nationals jumped on the struggling Andy Pettitte for a 6-0 lead over the Astros and should've coasted toward victory. They did hold on for a 8-5 win, no thanks to LeCroy. In seven innings of catching, the Astros stole seven bases off LeCroy - the highest single game stolen base total for a major league team in four years. After the seventh steal, manager Frank Robinson pulled LeCroy mid-inning for backup first baseman/outfielder Robert Fick. I don't know how many times that has happened in big league history, but I can't ever remember seeing a catcher pulled mid-inning for his defensive performance.

For the season, LeCroy has now caught 13 games for the Nationals and has thrown out one of 21 attempted base-stealers. That's a 95% success rate for the runners, if you're keeping track.

Schneider is scheduled to return from the disabled list tomorrow. I have a feeling that that will also mark the end of the Nationals experiment with LeCroy as a catcher.


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