Cincinnati Reds Ryan  Haniganreacts after home plate umpire CB Bucknor calls Los Angeles Angels' Albert  Pujols safe at home during their interleague MLB game in Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Reds made a solid little pickup today, signing Brayan Pena to be their backup catcher, playing behind Devin Mesoraco. Pena is big and sort of okay as far as defensive catchers go.

The addition of Pena all but signals the end of Ryan Hanigan ‘s time in the Queen City, as he’s nearing an arbitration reward close to the price of Brayan Pena for two years. Hanigan is well-regarded for his catching prowess though he is no great shakes with the stick.

Obscuring Hangian’s shortcomings at the plate is an inflated walk rate from hitting before the pitcher for so long. It isn’t that Hanigan is bad player, but the instance that good teams should form a line to acquire the 33-year old career backup is seriously misguided.


There are many things Ryan Hanigan does well. He frames pitches with aplomb and works great with a pitching staff, we’re told. He caught two Homer Bailey no-hitters in a matter of months, which isn’t a tangible skill but it is testament to his ability to read his pitcher and the way hitters react to their game plan in real time.

What Ryan Hanigan does not do, at all any more, is hit. He can’t hit! He never really could but it’s especially bad now. He has no power of which to speak and his average plummeted thanks to a low in-play average last season. But he can walk. He has walked. He draws walks.

Drawing walks is a skill and Hanigan’s knowledge of the strike zone is not up for debate. But Hanigan’s plate discipline is not enough to overcome his inability to put the bat on the ball with positive results. Even the walks he draws are not the same walks as those issued to Hangian’s erstwhile teammate Joey Votto.

Last year, Ryan Hanigan put up a .198/.306/.261 slash line. Not a typo, .261 slugging percentage. Batting average on balls in play have a big impact on extra base hits? Because Ryan Hanigan only mustered 10 – total – in 260 plate appearances.

Then we get to the walk. 29 walks in 260 plate appearances is good for 11.4% rate, well above average. But nine of those walks were issued intentionally. 20 unintentional walks in 251 plate appearances is less good. 7.9% walk rate is less above average. It’s actually right on league average. Not all walks are created equal. Not all on base percentages tell the same story.

Many worse hitters got playing time in the National League as defense-first, “catch and throw” backstops. That’s fine. Ryan Hanigan is good at that. Let him do that. But to insist that Hanigan is anything more is fool-hardy. Misguided. A waste of everyone’s time. He is not a better option as an everyday catcher in the big leagues than Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Not in a vacuum which ignores the not-insignificant “every day” part of that equation.

Many teams would be well-served with Hanigan in their ranks – in the proper role. It says here that no team sees Hangian as another more than he is – a great mentor and defensive receiver who also creates world-beating gifs by the bushelful.

Comments (5)

  1. I was surprised by Cameron today.

  2. I beg to disagree. Sure, Hanigan isn’t amazing- but he’s a guy who is projected to provide roughly-average offensive production for his position while being one of the best defensive catchers in the game. In addition, we’ve learned over the past few years how important pitch-framing is, and he’s one of the very best. That’s an average starting catcher, all told.

    Regarding his intentional walks – in that respect he’s absolutely benefited from hitting 8th in Cincinnati, but let’s not overestimate that effect. Stripping out his intentional walks, he’s still walked about 10% of the time for his career; and he’s actually been less productive hitting 8th than in other slots in the order overall. If we are planning on carrying Thole as the backup again this coming season, as a right-handed hitter he gives us the ability to get some platoon advantage if we’re willing to have him catch Dickey.

  3. Hanigan was also injured last year. He had a 216 BABIP (career 283). There’s a pretty good reason why he hit as poorly as he did.

    The past 3 seasons he’s hit:

    2010 – 300/405/429
    2011 – 267/356/357
    2012 – 274/365/338

    He’s obviously not a powerful guy but with his walk rate (ignoring the IBB) plus the D makes him a very valuable C. And for the record, Salty’s success this year was thanks to that 372 BABIP. He wasn’t walking significantly more or hitting for more power than usual. It was just BA driven. Unless you expect that to continue, he’s a 95-96 wRC+ C. So better than Hanigan when you factor in the IBB, but Hanigan is clearly the better player when you remember they have to play D.

    • Yeah no. BABIP explain the total lack of extra base hit power? You think an aging player is going to post better numbers in a tougher environment after seeing his playing time increase? No. Not so much. Hollow OBP is as useless as hollow batting average, perhaps more so.

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