Last week Dave Dombrowski discussed the Tigers plans for the offseason. Like usual, he held his cards close to his chest, and was very noncommittal on the Tigers major issues for this upcoming offseason. He only said a few things were for certain: the club probably won’t be bringing back veterans Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, they would love to have utility man Ramon Santiago back, but he was probably going to find a starting job, and they were going after a right-handed hitting backup catcher, and relegating Victor Martinez to the DH role. For this role, the Tigers probably won’t want to get anyone too expensive, because in reality, they’re only going to play 40 games, and probably only get 150 AB. So, the perfect candidate is someone who is excellent defensively and also hits left handers well, because that’s when Avila will be receiving days off. Well, the Tigers are in luck- there is someone perfect out there for them, Kelly Shoppach.
Shoppach has had a few attempts at starting throughout his career, but unfortunately for him, he’s had trouble keeping his batting average above the Mendoza line. The past three years, Kelly has hit .214, .196, .176. So, then why would the Tigers be interested? Well, to be fair, the seven year veteran has been in the wrong role. He should never be able to allowed to touch a bat with a right handed pitcher on the mound. Shoppach’s line is career .201/.287/.360/.647 vs right handers, and he’s posted OPS’ of .432 and .431 against right handers the past two years. Here’s where it gets fun, though. His career line vs. lefties is .274/.371/.536/.907. He mashes left handed pitching. So, he’s almost like an exaggerated Ryan Raburn or Delmon Young. Against right handers, he’s a pitcher at the plate. But against left handers, he has good enough numbers to hit in the middle of the order.
Next, the ideal backup catcher should be awesome on defense, and handle the pitching staff well. According to beyond the boxscore, Shoppach ranked 4th in catching defense, even though he barely played half the innings of most other catchers. While catching stats probably should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s evident that Shoppach is well above average behind the plate. He also has a very strong throwing arm. This year, Kelly threw out 40.9% (18/44) runners that attempted to go against him. That was the best percentage of anyone who had 40 runners or more attempt to steal.
If the Tigers stick to the plan, and only bat Shoppach against lefties, he could be the perfect option for them. His previous contract paid him 3MM last year, but, after hitting below .200 the past two years, he shouldn’t top that figure as a free agent this offseason. If the Tigers could ink him to a 1 yr 2 MM with an option for another year, or 2/3.5MM type deal, Shoppach would fit right in to the Tigers’ plan for next year’s team.