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Guillermo Quiroz and the Least-Played Players in Baseball

The Giants have been carrying three catchers, but sometimes it's been tough to tell.

The face of a player who's thinking, "I haven't played much."
The face of a player who's thinking, "I haven't played much."

There are, as of this morning, two teams that have three players listed under the "Catchers" section of their roster page. One of those teams is the Giants, who have both Hector Sanchez and Guillermo Quiroz backing up Buster Posey. The other is the Athletics, who have Derek Norris, John Jaso, and, for the moment, Luke Montz. But Montz is a recent addition to the roster who’ll stick only until Coco Crisp’s hamstring heals, and he might not even catch in the interim (he started at DH on Wednesday).

So the Giants are the only team that’s been committed to carrying three catchers since the start of the season. Quiroz isn’t on the roster because he’s filling in for anyone. This is just what the Giants want their roster to look like.

I’m fascinated whenever one team does something differently from the other 29. It suggests that that team either A) knows something about baseball that the other teams don’t, B) is working under a unique set of circumstances, or C) is making a mistake. Any of those answers is interesting. Every other team has had the option to carry a third catcher, and they all decided not to do it. The Giants, the team with probably the best starting catcher in baseball, are the one that decided it made sense.

There are conflicting philosophies about the best way to construct a roster. Most teams have decided to load up on relievers. Bill James, on the other hand, believes that teams would be better off stocking up on position players instead of lefty specialists, pursuing the platoon advantage themselves instead of trying to take it away from their opponents. Bill James has been right about baseball matters before.

Whatever the optimal approach is, both sides could probably agree on a few guidelines for what generally constitutes a member of an active roster: a person who will play pretty often, or play at pivotal times, or at least be able to back up an important position where the team would otherwise be exposed in the event of an injury.

It would be a stretch to say that Guillermo Quiroz has satisfied any of those conditions. He’s made 0.9 percent of the Giants’ plate appearances and caught 5.2 percent of their innings, so you could be forgiven for forgetting he’s on the team. This is a list of the least-used players who’ve been on a big-league roster continuously since Opening Day, along with their total plate appearances (or batters faced):





Tony Cruz




Guillermo Quiroz




George Kottaras




Randy Choate




Wil Nieves




Miguel Tejada




Anthony Recker




Leury Garcia




Henry Blanco

Blue Jays



Jarrod Dyson




That’s a pretty complete cross-section of the least important roles on a roster: six backup catchers, two utility guys, a fourth outfielder, and a lefty specialist. Quiroz is saved from last place by Cardinals backup catcher Tony Cruz, who hasn’t played more because one of Yadier Molina’s many talents is never needing a day off. Of course, the Cardinals have to keep Cruz in case Molina gets hurt, which never actually happens (he hasn’t been on the DL since 2007) but conceivably could. Everyone else on the list has a strong claim to a spot for reasons of redundancy or, in Choate’s case, because the importance of each of the outs he records might make up for the fact that there are so few of them.

There’s some sense in the Giants carrying three catchers, too. It’s just harder to see. They don’t need Quiroz to be a backup, since Sanchez fills that slot—and has a hard time getting starts himself, since Posey makes the Giants much better whenever plays. (Sanchez would have been on that list if I’d made it four lines longer.) But with three catchers they can pinch hit Quiroz or pinch hit Sanchez, they can start Posey and Sanchez in AL parks without worrying about losing the DH, and they can call upon a better defensive catcher in a close game. There’s also the oath Bruce Bochy swore as a career backup catcher that if he were he ever made manager, he’d look out for his own.

And it’s not as though the Giants have an obvious hole they’re ignoring in order to carry three catchers. Most teams would take another outfielder over a catcher who never gets into a game, but Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco can play all three outfield positions, and Brandon Belt can play left in a pinch. What the Giants could probably use is a PH/DH who hits better than a backup catcher. PECOTA’s projection for Quiroz—.221/.276/.336—is ugly, and its .243/.277/.347 forecast for Sanchez is almost as bad. Sanchez might hit, or even catch pitches properly, at some point, but catchers take more time to develop than players at other positions.

I don’t know what’s best for the Giants. You’re the ones who watch them every day! I’m just a guy who gets to do a guest post because Grant has fertile loins and questionable taste in substitute authors. The Giants have played well with Guillermo Quiroz, and they’d probably play just as well without him. We’re talking about the 25th roster spot, here, which is not an area where a great number of games are won or lost. Even if a third catcher isn’t the best possible use of a roster spot, there’s a limit to the damage the decision can do.

And now that I’m used to it, I’ll be sad to see it go. Being a backup backup catcher is great work if you can get it, but it’s not clear how much longer Quiroz can. On Wednesday night, Alex Pavlovic wrote this:

[Jeremy] Affeldt will likely be activated Friday when the Giants begin a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park.

The Giants are still carrying three catchers and could send Hector Sanchez or Guillermo Quiroz back to Triple-A Fresno to clear a bullpen logjam.

So in case this is the end, let’s reminisce briefly with a scrapbook of highlights from Quiroz’s season so far. Please put on "Time of Your Life" or that Vitamin C song before proceeding.

The Time He Homered and Flipped the Bat
Quiroz has hit only two homers in nine major-league seasons, and this wasn’t one of them. This one he hit on the last day of spring training. But the bat-flip was in mid-season form.


The Time He Almost Killed Joe Kelly
It took a week for Quiroz to get into a game. The first time he was called upon was to pinch hit for George Kontos with two outs in the ninth inning of a game the Giants were losing 14-2. He singled to make it 14-3. (Clutch!) Kelly survived and got the next guy out, so in a way, everyone won. Except the Giants. They lost, by 11 runs.


The Time Since April 24th
We don’t know much about Quiroz’s movements in the last nine days. All we know is that he hasn’t been playing baseball. And that means we can use our imaginations to decide what Quiroz has been doing ourselves. Imagine what hijinks a catcher can get up to when he knows he’s not going to play! Remember that time he did that thing? Man, classic Quiroz.

The Time He Was a Top Prospect

Okay, so this wasn’t strictly this season. It was more like nine seasons ago. But there was a time when Guillermo Quiroz was, no joke, one of the best prospects in baseball. I just pulled out my Baseball America Prospect Handbook from 2004, when Quiroz was ranked 35th overall. Here are the exciting features that Blue Jays fans at the time thought they had to look forward to:

  • Power bat
  • Power arm
  • Near-flawless English

Not only that, but "his performance at Double-A New Haven vaulted Quiroz past Kevin Cash on the organization depth chart." And anytime you have a chance to keep a catcher who’s better than Kevin Cash, you do it, indefinitely. Even if it means carrying three catchers.

Thanks to Baseball Prospectus research guru Ryan Lind, who "had no idea [Quiroz] was on an active roster" before receiving my request for the least-played players of 2013.