With a little over a month before the Major League Baseball regular season ends, here’s a question for Royals fans looking to put 2010 behind them:
Who should be the Royals’ starting catcher in 2010?
Barring a bizarre free-agent signing or some other unusual chain of events, it boils down to two choices: the team’s current starting catcher, veteran Jason Kendall, who is under contract through the end of next season, or his current backup, 28-year-old Brayan Pena, who many believe is ready to take over the helm as the everyday catcher.
In some ways, it’s like choosing between getting kicked in the chest or punched in the teeth.
Pena is largely untested, and a little too old to be considered a “prospect.” However, in flashes of playing time over the past two seasons with the Royals, he has proven to be a capable hitter if not a proficient backstop: last season, over 165 at-bats, he batted .273 and popped a half-dozen homers. He only played 30 games behind the plate, though; 14 times he was the team’s DH. This season, behind Kendall, his playing time has been much more limited, as have his offensive numbers. Over only 70 at-bats, he’s batting well below the Mendoza line, and his power has been non-existent.
Still, though. Pena has a lot of potential.
Now, let’s look at the enigma that is Jason Kendall. Already this season, Kendall has played in 117 games, making 487 plate appearances, among the leaders for catchers across the Majors. Obviously Royals manager Ned Yost, and before him Trey Hillman, remain confident that Kendall calls a good game behind the plate.
And he does. But the question is, how much has it really helped? Or, how much worse could the Royals’ pitching staff have been this year with Pena behind the plate instead?
The downside with Kendall is his offensive production, or lack thereof. While he’s batting a not-terrible .258, Kendall has zero home runs, zero triples and only 37 RBIs for the team this year, oftentimes batting from the No. 2 spot since David DeJesus’ injury.
(Side note: Really, Mr. Yost? Jason Kendall is the team’s best option as the No. 2 hitter? REALLY? Do you realize Mike Aviles is batting waaaaaaay down in the lineup? Even Yuniesky Betancourt would be a better option in the 2-hole.)
Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player strike out on three pitches with greater frequency than Jason Kendall.
Earlier this season, former Kansas City Star columnist and brilliant sports analyst, Joe Posnanski, considered Kendall one of the worst everyday players in the majors.
That being said… let’s have some respect for Jason Kendall. He has had an impressive career, and was once considered one of the best catchers in the game behind only the likes of Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez. He has set some records for durability recently, and that should be honored.
But in 2011, Jason Kendall should be the backup to Brayan Pena.
Let’s give Pena a chance and see how he does as the starter. What do the Royals have to lose? Whoever gets the nod is simply a placeholder for Wil Myers, a minor league stud who many see as a huge bright spot down on the farm.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet the Royals would go against logic, unfortunately, and Kendall will be the starter again next year. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com.