Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Wil Nieves Experiment

When the Milwaukee Brewers signed Wil Nieves this offseason, I thought little of it. The Brewers had two catchers who were clearly better than Nieves and he would likely play in the minor leagues, if at all for the Brewers organization.

That was until Jonathan Lucroy fractured his pinkie and had to start the season on the disabled list.

That injury left the Brewers with just one healthy catcher on the roster (George Kottaras) and hoisted Nieves into relevance. Just how relevant he would be was up for debate though. Based on his prior ability to perform in the major leagues, Nieves couldn't have expected much playing time. At age 33, playing Nieves has hardly any upside. So why is he getting at bats over George Kottaras?

Last season, Nieves had an absolutely terrible .244 OBP in 158 at bats for the Washington Nationals. While that may be a small sample size, Nieves has never really been known to have anything other than a strong defensive presence. His wOBA over the past three seasons are .285, .277 and .241. Those kind of numbers don't belong in the major leagues regardless of how good that player is defensively.

What also should come into question is just how good of a defensive catcher Nieves is. Over the past three seasons, base runners have stolen successfully on Nieves 75.9% (104 SB, 33 CS) of the time. Nieves' throw out percentage of 25.1% is right around the league average.

It's understood the Brewers have a problem at catcher until Lucroy returns. The problem with it is how they are handling that problem. Playing Will Nieves over George Kottaras everyday is the wrong decision. Kottaras is a superior hitter over Nieves and should be getting regular playing time. Sure, Kottaras struggles behind the plate defensively, but with Corey Hart and Lucroy out, the Brewers need every offensive option in the lineup. Starting Wil Nieves against right handed pitching just confuses me.

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