We here at Nationals101 are very happy to be getting some quality work from our newest contributor, Matthew Shalbrack. Matt is brand new to the Washington D.C. area and a huge baseball fan. A former MiLB intern for the Tennessee Smokieswhere he wrote, photographed and picked up Chicago Cubs No. 1 prospect Javier Baez up at the airport. Follow him on Twitter: @hamsterjockey
Name: Jose Manuel Lobaton
Nickname(s): Ice Cream Man, Loby
DOB: October 21, 1984
From: Acarigua, Venezuela
Hand: Bats switch and throws right
With the Nats Since: Feb. 13, 2014 (acquired via trade with Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson from Tampa Bay Rays)
Just Who Is This Guy?: Honestly, you may not know anything about Jose Lobaton. Perhaps you heard about him in October when he hit a walk-off home run in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, but that might have been it. Allow me to give you a brief introduction.
Lobaton is a defensive-minded, backup catcher who appeared in 100 games for the Rays last season and batted .249/.320/.394 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs. The Nationals were able to acquire Lobaton because he was an expendable, odd-man out at catcher, with the Rays already having defensive stud Jose Molina and newly-signed Ryan Hanigan.
In essence, we can expect an above-average defensive catcher in Lobaton, who provides a little pop with his bat, but that’s about it. His defensive skills, such as the ability to frame pitches and his ability to command a pitching staff, are some of the main reasons why General Manager Mike Rizzo felt it important to acquire him.
What Happened in 2013: Besides his walk-off home run, Lobaton really didn’t do much on the offensive side of things last season. He had 69 total hits, with 45 of them being singles. He only walked 9.6 percent of the time (30 walks in 277 ABs) and doesn’t steal bases. In fact, according to his Baseball Reference page, he does not have a single stolen base in the Majors. (He did some how managed to leg out two triples in 2013.)
Defensively, Lobaton shines and is considered skilled at calling a game from behind the plate. Helping the pitching staff out will be more pivotal to the team’s success than him producing on offense. One aspect of defense that Lobaton lacks is his ability to throw out would-be base stealers. In his MLB career, which is only 191 total games, he has thrown out only 22 of 114 base stealers. That 16 percent average isn’t very good.
So you’re probably wondering why the Nationals traded away Nate Karns, rated their fifth best prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus? While it is in part due to the other players they recieved in the trade (Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson), they also like how well Lobaton can frame pitches. Ben Lindbergh wrote a fantastic piece about pitch framing. One of the main catchers he highlights is none other than current Rays catcher Jose Molina. Molina is known for his exemplary skills behind the plate, turning balls into strikes and helping his pitchers and team win games. According to Max Marchi, an analyst for Baseball Prospectus who came up with a model to account for many factors involving framing, found that during 2008 to 2013, Molina saved his club 111 runs, or about 11 wins.
From seeing what Lobaton has done so far in his career in terms of framing and calling a game, it’s hopeful that he has learned some valuable lessons during his time with the Rays and backing up Molina. If he keeps honing those skills, throw more runners out, and have a little pop in his bat, the trade for Lobaton will start paying off this season. Plus, Lobaton’s salary is cheap and he is under team control through the 2017 season.
What’s expected in 2014?: A whole lot of the same from 2013. Lobaton will continue to excel on the defense and call some great games with the fantastic pitching staff that the Nats have. He will continue to crush lefty pitchers while still hitting for some power. According to his ZiPS projection, Lobaton is projected to appear in 90 games with a .249 batting average, hitting six home runs, driving in 29 runs and walking 28 times. One can also expect/hope that, because of how much he enjoys ice cream, he will have an ice cream dish named after him at the ballpark.
If It All Goes Right: Jose Lobaton will give you an average about .250, continue to smash lefty pitchers and hit roughly ~12 total home runs, maybe a few clutch dingers in there as well. On defense, he will keep mastering the art of framing pitches in order to help the pitching staff get a few extra called strikes. Oh, and he’ll actually throw out more than 16 percent of guys trying to steal a base on him. That’d be reaaaaal nice.
If It All Goes Wrong: Lobaton’s offensive numbers will slightly decrease, meaning he won’t hit for as much power. He will throw out less than 16 percent of base stealers this season on the basepaths. But he will still manage to get rewarded with ice cream for all of the extra called strikes he frames.