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Why were the Pirates so quick to pounce on Rod Barajas?

Nov 10, 2011, 6:25 PM EDT

Rod Barajas Getty Images

This is one of those signings that’s pretty easy to bash. The Pirates announced Thursday that they’re giving journeyman Rod Barajas a cool $4 million to take over as their starting catcher. The deal includes a $3.5 million option for 2013.

It’ll be a career-best payday for the 36-year-old Barajas. He made $3.25 million while hitting .230/.287/.430 in 305 at-bats for the Dodgers last season. In 2010, he signed for a paltry $500,000 just as spring training was starting.

Barajas has simply never been in this kind of demand before. He had been a free agent five times previously; the earliest he had ever signed was Dec. 21.

So, why now? It’s not like Barajas is coming off a particularly big year. His .717 OPS for the Dodgers wasn’t a whole lot better than his career mark of .698.

I imagine it has something to do with the recent work that’s gone into evaluating catcher defense. According to Max Marchi’s work on The Hardball Times presented earlier this year, Barajas is one of the game’s very best pitch framers. Among starting catchers, only Russell Martin and Brian McCann do better in that area, which was pretty much impossible to evaluate before PITCHf/x data came along.

The Pirates probably have their own proprietary data on the subject that also suggests Barajas ranks among the game’s best defensive catchers. There certainly wouldn’t be any other big reason to give him $4 million on Nov. 10. He’ll hit his weight and knock a ball out of the park now and again, but his dreadful OBP hurts his value at the bottom of the lineup. He’ll need to make most of that money with his glove to be an asset for Pittsburgh.

  1. Kyle - Nov 10, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    Barajas is OK defensively and OK offensively and as long as you’re not Jeff Mathis, all you really have to do as a catcher to be worth 4 million dollars is simply play in 75% of the seasons games.

  2. 78mu - Nov 10, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    He may not be Johnny Bench but he does have a cool name. Rod Barajas just rolls off your tongue. That’s a baseball name, not a doctor or lawyer name. That should be worth about .5 WAR all by itself.

    • missthemexpos - Nov 10, 2011 at 8:05 PM

      Kinda reminds me of another catcher with a real baseball name, John Boccabella from the Expos of the 1970’s. The home crowd at Jarry Park loved the way the public announcer guy in his french accent would roll out the last name as John came up to bat.

      • 78mu - Nov 10, 2011 at 11:04 PM

        Too bad Biff Pocoroba never played against the Expos when Boccabella was with them. Games would have lasted another 15 minutes with the announcer drawing out the two names.

  3. randomdigits - Nov 10, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    Good bit of thinking Matthew.

  4. 12strikes - Nov 11, 2011 at 6:59 AM

    They need a measurement for heart. Phillies were stuck with him for 2 years. He is a dog.

  5. heyzeus143 - Nov 11, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    he’s just average enough to be a Bucco

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