Lou Marson has been the Indians back-up catcher since 2009 and he is finally starting to deserve all the at bats he has been given through the last four seasons. Although his playing time has been very limited this year (after starting the first two months batting under .200) he is now on pace for career highs in runs scored, hits, triples (already tied for career high), walks and all his rate stats (AVG, OBP, SLG) are already at career highs. This is not coming at an increase in playing time as is usually supposed (he has played less this year than the previous two seasons), but at a change in strategy against right handed pitchers. Over his career, Marson has hit .206 against righties, but this season he has turned things around and is currently hitting .322 on the season.
Recently most of Marson’s starts have come against left handed pitching, although he does get a rare start against a righty every once in a while. In a recent tear, Marson had RBI in 4 consecutive games spanning from June 30th through July 7th. Three of those games featured left-handed starters and the Indians won all four of them, despite having a terrible record against left handed pitching this season (10-18 despite winning four of their last 6). Of the last four wins against left handers, Lou Marson went 1-3 with a double, walk and run scored against the Orioles’ Bruce Chen (6/28), 4-5 with a double, triple, walk and 3 runs scored along with one driven in against the Orioles’ Dana Eveland (6/30), 1-3 with an RBI and a steal against the Orioles’ Brian Matusz and 1-3 with a double and a walk along with a run scored and an RBI. If he could do this every day then he would be an acceptable starter, but we already know he is incapable of that. As it is he deserves to take Casey Kotchman‘s place in the lineup for every game against a left handed starter, which will allow Carlos Santana to play first base. There is no question that Marson has been very instrumental in the Indians recent successes against left handed starters.
An aside for those of you calling for Lou Marson to take the starting job from Carlos Santana, here is a recent history lesson. Before Marson, the Indians had a back-up catcher named Kelly Shoppach, who had a decent season as a back-up in 2007 when he hit 7 home runs and drove in 30. He replaced super star Victor Martinez when he was injurred in 2008 and had a very good season hitting 20 home runs. This gave the Indians the confidence to allow him more at bats in 2009 by playing Martinez at first base almost half the time. Shoppach responded by batting .214 and the Indians were forced to trade him to Tampa Bay for Mitch Talbot. Before that the Indians had another catcher named Josh Bard who tried to cut it as a starter, but couldn’t beat out Martinez either. Bard hit .193 in his final season with the Tribe before being traded for Kelly Shoppach. Skipping Tim Laker, who never tried to be a starter, will show the most offensive example of them all. Following the 2000 season the Indians decided they didn’t need to resign their superstar catcher, current bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr, because they had the future in tow in Einar Diaz. Diaz played very well as a reserve in 1999 hitting .281 and 2000 hitting .272. Even in 2001 he was not terrible as he hit .277 and knocked in 56. Diaz then fell apart in 2002, batting .206 over 102 games with just 21 total extra base hits and only 16 runs knocked in. The best thing that every happened because of Einar Diaz is that the Texas Rangers were so stupid they traded Travis Hafner for him prior to the 2003 season. Alomar went on to play most of the rest of the decade, while Diaz retired after 2006.
The moral to this story is that a back-up catcher should stay a back-up catcher when playing behind a superstar, unless you can trade him for another superstar. No one has every said that Lou Marson could be a multiple time All-Star and possible Hall of Famer, but people have said that about Carlos Santana. Give him some time to recover from his injuries and let him get back to his old self. The Indians aren’t the Browns and Santana isn’t Tim Couch, I mean Kelly Holcomb, Charlie Frye? Brady Quinn? Derek Anderson? I guess it’s Colt McCoy now isn’t it. Feel free to constantly boo the current guy and beg for the next guy with the Browns, but the Indians don’t work that way. When you get a guy like Carlos Santana for a player like Casey Blake, you keep him for as long as he will stay.