A Tale of Two Lukes

Luke Carlin – or is it? Do you even know what he really looks like? © SD Dirk via Flickr.

You’ve probably never heard of Luke Carlin.

Luke is a now-retired, former catcher who played a total of 56 games in parts of four seasons in the majors between 2008 and 2012 for the Padres, Diamondbacks and Indians. He was born in Maryland, but played minor baseball in Quebec after he moved there with his parents as a child (yay, Canada!).

Luke Carlin finished his career with a slash line of .179/.263/.286, an OPS+ of 52, and a career WAR of 0.5.

There, now you know Luke Carlin.

So, why am I bringing him up?

Well, in 2008, Luke Carlin did something that no other catcher in baseball history has done.

In 2008, while playing exclusively at catcher, he logged more than 100 plate appearances, batted below .150 (.149 to be exact!) and produced a positive WAR. He’s the only player to ever do so.

A Positive Man

Now Carlin still wasn’t great; he only produced 0.1 WAR that season according to Baseball-Reference. But nonetheless, he was still above replacement even though he only managed an OPS of .472.

“Luke Carlin did something that no other catcher in baseball history has done.”

To be honest, I don’t know how he was above replacement level in 2008. His 0.6 dWAR buoyed his -0.3 oWAR, mostly, but his defense wasn’t particularly sharp: he threw out 22% of runners that season, below the league average of 27% that year. He did manage to convert 100% of his balls fielded into outs, including six bunts (note to self, don’t bunt on Luke Carlin).

Maybe it was just a particularly bad year for catcher defense and comparatively Luke Carlin was excellent. I don’t know. Who knows. (Maybe Luke Carlin knows, that’s about it.)

Baseball Prospectus, which measures catcher value differently than Baseball-Reference (and takes pitch framing into account for its catcher metrics) is more skeptical of Carlin. BP has Carlin as -0.6 WARP that year, dragged down by his a negative 1.1 fielding runs above average (FRAA). So maybe he wasn’t really that good after all.

The Other Luke

Luke Maile. Photo © Keith Allison via Flickr.

Anyway, the reason I’m bringing up Luke Carlin at all is that he represents the best case scenario for Toronto Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile, if Maile continues to hit as poorly as he has.

Luke Maile, entering Tuesday June 6th’s game, is slashing .132/.178/.221 in 73 plate appearances. His OPS+ is 6. Both Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus estimate his value at -0.1 WAR.

But that’s not to say that he can’t be a positive WAR player for the Blue Jays.

Carlin might be Maile’s best comp: Carlin never appeared as a DH or first-baseman (because holy shit, why would you play him at first or DH him with a bat like that) and it’s safe to say we won’t ever see Maile at DH or first (unless, you know, the Rapture, or whatever).

A quick comparison between Carlin’s 2008 and Maile’s 2017, from Baseball-Reference:

Player Age G PA AB H HR RBI SB BB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ oWAR dWAR WAR
Carlin

27

36

105

94

14

1

6

0

10

0.149

0.238

0.234

0.472

33

-0.3

0.6

0.1

Maile

26

23

73

68

9

2

4

1

3

0.132

0.178

0.221

0.399

6

-0.2

0.3

-0.1

*Maile’s stats current prior to Tuesday, June 6th’s game.

The seasons look quite similar, except that Carlin walked more than Maile has been (Luke, buddy, you should really walk more), and Maile has, for now, been less valuable defensively than Carlin was that year.

Obviously, Maile’s had fewer plate appearances this season than Carlin did in 2008, and perhaps with as many opportunities, Maile would be as productive as Carlin was. In 100 plate appearances, Maile might even have three home runs.

Luke-ing Forward

(Yeah, really bad pun. Deal with it.)

For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus has Maile’s FRAA this year at 1.0; which is pretty good (and as the name suggests, above average) but not good enough to overcome that anemic bat and push his WARP into the positives.

Yes, it’s plausible that with more catching opportunities, Luke Maile will be able to contribute positively to the Blue Jays entirely through his defense and framing.

It’s possible to not be a burden to your team while still being sooooo underwhelming at the plate. Luke Carlin is proof that you can still contribute a positive WAR as a catcher while hitting below .150.

But Luke (Maile), buddy, if you’re reading this – things would just be so much easier if you could just reach Luke Carlin’s mark of a .149 batting average. Who knows, you know, maybe hitting just isn’t your thing. Maybe try walking a few more times and see if that feels any better?

Or better yet – raise it that average to above .150, and I can just delete this entire post!

Dave

Dave is the Managing Editor of BunttotheGap.com. He lives in Toronto, is staunchly #TeamDog, and has been to 18 of 30 MLB ballparks. You can contact him at dave@bunttothegap.com.