St. Louis Cardinals: Carson Kelly or Eric Fryer in 2017?

The St. Louis Cardinals have been rumored to have floated their young catcher in rumored deals and have also been rumored to have kicked the tires of a former backup catcher.

The St. Louis Cardinals, despite how it appeared to fans, were apparently very busy during the Winter Meetings.  We have now learned that GM Mozeliak spoke with many, many teams and kicked many, many tires.  We also know Mo is perfectly tight-lipped as is evidenced by the Dexter Fowler deal that was completed on Wednesday but announced on Friday.

Enter then the discussions (some would say rumors) that the St. Louis Cardinals have been asked for and about Carson Kelly in potential deals.  While this doesn’t necessarily surprise me- Kelly is a young up-and-comer in the organization- I worried initially since Yadier Molina definitely needs a backup catcher.

Serving as the backup catcher might not be the best option for Kelly’s advancement and athletic progression.  This in mind, shopping Kelly might make sense.  Sending Kelly to another team where he could be used immediately might make good sense if the return to the Cardinals is good enough.  Right?

Okay then, let’s assume that sending Kelly away is the best option (we will look at this shortly), then what?  Who should the St. Louis Cardinals use to serve as backup to Yadi?

Eric Fryer played for the Cardinals- if only briefly- in 2016 and I, for one, was very disappointed in the decision to release him in the midst of the campaign.  I liked Fryer and found him to be a great backup who provided decent defensive threat from behind the plate and certainly was no push-over at the plate.

Let’s take a look at these two and see if a Kelly departure and a Fryer reunion would make sense.  First up, let’s examine the offensive production of each.  A note: we will not necessarily be comparing apples to apples here since Kelly has such limited MLB experience.  In that regard, we will be comparing Kelly’s minor league stats to Fryer’s major league stats so take the comparison with a grain of salt.

First up, Kelly’s offensive numbers:

Year Age Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2012 17 Rk 56 213 24 48 10 0 9 25 0 0 10 33 .225 .263 .399 .662
2013 18 A-,A 113 417 53 107 22 1 6 45 1 0 33 56 .257 .322 .357 .679
2014 19 A 98 363 41 90 17 4 6 49 1 0 37 54 .248 .326 .366 .692
2015 20 A+ 108 389 30 85 18 1 8 51 0 0 22 64 .219 .263 .332 .594
2016 21 AA,AAA 96 329 43 95 17 0 6 32 0 1 25 63 .289 .343 .395 .738
2016 21 NL 10 13 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 .154 .214 .231 .445
1 Yr 10 13 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 .154 .214 .231 .445
162 Game Avg. 162 211 16 32 16 0 0 16 0 0 0 32 .154 .214 .231 .445
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2016.

Next up, Fryer’s offensive numbers:

Year Age Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 25 PIT 10 26 5 7 0 0 0 0 1 1 3 7 .269 .345 .269 .614
2012 26 PIT 6 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .250 .400 .250 .650
2013 27 MIN 6 13 2 5 1 0 1 4 0 0 3 3 .385 .500 .692 1.192
2014 28 MIN 28 75 11 16 4 0 1 5 1 0 5 15 .213 .272 .307 .578
2015 29 MIN 15 22 2 5 2 0 0 2 0 0 5 11 .227 .370 .318 .689
2016 30 TOT 60 116 19 31 4 1 0 13 0 3 13 25 .267 .336 .319 .655
2016 30 STL 24 38 7 14 2 0 0 5 0 1 3 7 .368 .415 .421 .836
2016 30 PIT 36 78 12 17 2 1 0 8 0 2 10 18 .218 .300 .269 .569
6 Yrs 125 256 39 65 11 1 2 24 2 4 30 62 .254 .332 .328 .660
162 Game Avg. 162 332 51 84 14 1 3 31 3 5 39 80 .254 .332 .328 .660
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2016.

If we pull the 2016 data off both charts, then we are comparing Kelly’s slash line of .289/.343/.395 (AAA) to Fryer’s slash line of .267/.336/.319 (MLB).  In this regard, Kelly presents better.  At this point, I would beg that Mozeliak NOT shop Kelly even though I am a huge Fryer fan.

Let’s look at defense and see if these sentiments from me hold true.  First up, Kelly’s defensive numbers:

Year Age Tm Lev G GS Inn Ch PO A E Fld% RF/9 RF/G PB WP SB CS CS%
2012 17 Johnson City Rk 3B 48 47 412.0 100 23 65 12 .880 1.92 1.83
2013 18 2 Teams A–A 3B 96 95 832.2 219 66 138 15 .932 2.20 2.13
2013 18 State College A- 3B 65 65 578.2 156 47 100 9 .942 2.29 2.26
2013 18 Peoria A 3B 31 30 254.0 63 19 38 6 .905 2.02 1.84
2014 19 Peoria A C 79 79 682.0 706 624 73 9 .987 9.20 8.82 13 75 37 33%
2015 20 Palm Beach A+ C 104 920.1 821 751 67 3 .996 8.00 7.87 6
2016 21 2 Teams AA-AAA C 92 90 784.2 777 717 57 3 .996 8.88 8.41 6 60 27 31%
2016 21 Springfield AA C 60 58 515.1 500 454 43 3 .994 8.68 8.28 5 42 21 33%
2016 21 Memphis AAA C 32 32 269.1 277 263 14 0 1.000 9.26 8.66 1 18 6 25%
2016 21 STL MLB C 10 2 36.0 32 30 2 0 1.000 8.00 3.20 0 0 0
Minors (2 seasons) Minors 3B 144 142 1244.2 319 89 203 27 .915 2.11 2.03
Minors (3 seasons) Minors C 275 169 2387.0 2304 2092 197 15 .993 8.63 8.32 25 135 64 32%
All Levels (2 Seasons) 3B 144 142 1244.2 319 89 203 27 .915 2.11 2.03
All Levels (3 Seasons) C 285 171 2423.0 2336 2122 199 15 .994 8.62 8.14 25 135 64 32%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2016.

And here’s a look at Fryer’s defensive numbers:

Year Age Pos G GS Inn Ch PO A E Fld% RF/9 RF/G PB WP SB CS CS%
2011 25 C 8 7 61.2 48 42 5 1 .979 6.86 5.88 0 2 7 3 30%
2012 26 OF 2 0 1.2 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
2012 26 LF 1 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
2012 26 RF 1 0 0.2 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
2013 27 C 5 4 40.0 30 28 2 0 1.000 6.75 6.00 0 1 3 2 40%
2013 27 DH 1 0
2014 28 C 24 22 190.1 159 152 6 1 .994 7.47 6.58 1 8 16 1 6%
2014 28 DH 3 0
2015 29 C 15 7 69.0 53 52 0 1 .981 6.78 3.47 0 5 2 0 0%
2016 30 C 54 31 306.1 296 274 19 3 .990 8.61 5.43 3 15 21 7 25%
2016 30 C 22 8 85.1 72 63 9 0 1.000 7.59 3.27 0 1 2 4 67%
2016 30 C 32 23 221.0 224 211 10 3 .987 9.00 6.91 3 14 19 3 14%
5 Seasons C 106 71 667.1 586 548 32 6 .990 7.82 5.47 4 31 49 13 21%
2 Seasons DH 4 0
1 Season OF 2 0 1.2 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
1 Season RF 1 0 0.2 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
1 Season LF 1 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
6 Seasons TOT 108 71 669.0 586 548 32 6 .990 7.80 5.37 4 31 49 13 21%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2016.

Okay, I see now that Kelly is a better catcher too.  In his career, Kelly owns a thirty-two percent caught-stealing rate where Fryer owns only a twenty-one percent.  What about Yadi, you ask?  Molina owns a forty-two percent caught-stealing rate.  If we go off this stat alone, then Kelly is the keeper.

Speaking of Molina, 2017 is his final year on his current contract with 2018 being a team option worth $15M and a $2M buyout.  This means that the St. Louis Cardinals are seeking a backup for 2017 and either a backup beyond or for someone to assume the duties should Molina (God forbid) go elsewhere.

In this regard, which of the two- Kelly or Fryer- will serve as the better backup? The data seems to suggest that Kelly is indeed the rising catcher of tomorrow but is a backup role the best option for him?  Is Fryer a better option to backup Yadi?

Here’s what I would LOVE to see happen: I would love to see Mozeliak sign Fryer to serve as backup and allow Kelly to play every day in Memphis for the first half of the season at least.  It isn’t like we haven’t cut Fryer mid-season once before…

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If Mozeliak doesn’t sign Fryer, I don’t think we are out anything.  I see the value, equally, of having Kelly serve the year under Molina’s wing directly.  I believe in Mozeliak and know that he will do the right thing for Kelly and that is what should matter for the future of the Cardinals.

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