In Defense of Lou Marson

It's been a tough year.

Lou Marson is, undoubtedly, a terrible hitter right now. On what's shaping up to be a historically punchless Indians team, he owns the lowest OPS (.534) of any regular and the second lowest of any player that's appeared for the Indians (hello, Michael Brantley!). Just a few days ago, Tony Lastoria tweeted that it was time to bite the bullet and call Marson a backup for good. I found myself wondering, is that right? Is Marson really Josh Bard already? So, I went sniffing around. 

First place I looked was the place any nerd would look: the numbers. There's nothing defensible about Marson's major league season so far. He's doing every single thing wrong, it appears. Realize that .534 OPS comes with a perfectly reasonable BAbip of .293. What if Lou had been particularly unlucky? Marson's approach has totally cratered from what pushed him through the minors and our handsome young catcher, he of the 361:249 K:BB ratio in the minor leagues (that's a 1.45, if you prefer) now has a 24:7 K:BB (3.43) in 2010. On top of the loss of plate discipline, he hasn't suddenly turned into a power hitter: he popped XBHs at the low, low rate of one per 13.5 ABs in his minor league career. This season, that number has climbed to 20.5. 

So, I'm doing this and thinking, this kid is hopeless. He throws pretty well (35% CS) but that's about it. He doesn't appear to dip tobacco, so maybe he'd be good in some kind of anti-smokeless campaign but other than that and the fact that he's not Mike Redmond, I didn't have a lot to go on. And then, I let my eyes climb to the top of screen and, like I often do, I thought of Jay. And I felt like an idiot when I checked the line that matters most: 

Born: June 26, 1986 in Scottsdale, Arizona

Let me just throw some bullet points at you:

 

  • Lou Marson is two months younger than Carlos Santana.
  • There are 21 catchers that have at least 90 PAs (admittedly cherry-picked) this season. Their average age as of today is 30.45.
  • The oldest of these catchers is Gregg Zaun (39) closely followed by Jorge Posada and Ivan Rodriguez (both 38).
  • The youngest of these catchers are Matt Wieters and Lou Marson, both still 23. Of those two, the younger is Lou Marson. Lou Marson is the youngest regular catcher in the majors.
  • Since integration, only 58 catchers have ever debuted in their age 24 season or younger and had ">90 PAs of an OPS+ over 70. Granted, Marson's OPS+ is barely over 50 but it's still remarkable exactly how rare it is for a young catcher to debut and hit even a little bit. 
I know we all realized how young Marson was at some point; it was discussed quite a bit during the offseason. But, it seems to me, at some point his performance became so putrid that everyone, myself included, got selective amnesia. As if age didn't matter when you were this bad, as if we'd expect Lonnie Chisenhall to put up some decent numbers if he was in Cleveland.

Marson is incredibly young and has been significantly rushed, notching only 91 games in AAA at a position that is famously demanding of young players. If Marson were on nearly any other team, he wouldn't be forced through the humiliation of struggling to this extent in the major leagues  when his play in Columbus last year indicated he needed to spend more time there. However, Marson isn't on another team, he's on the Indians and the Indians have to deal with Carlos Santana and his clock.

This is Marson's fate for three months: to scuffle significantly at a level he hasn't exactly forced his way into, to bide his time and play good defense until he's allowed to go back down and actually figure out how to hit again. In other words, ease up on Lou. He's still got a pretty bright future. 

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