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Kevin Plawecki participated in 2019

He’s a backup catcher, what were you really expecting?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2015-18 Cleveland Indians being the exception, nobody really cares about backup catchers. Usually you see them on Sundays and getaway days, giving the starter a chance to rest his knees, usually batting eighth or ninth and typically just sort of being a person that plays baseball. If ever there was a way to succinctly describe Kevin Plawecki, that’s it. For 418 innings this year he spelled starter Roberto Pérez, and was fine.

When the Indians traded for Plawecki last January, he’s what you would call a “known quantity”, which is a good and a bad thing. Teams like to know what they’re getting, and Plawecki quickly fell into the role he was hired for. He was routinely sub-par offensively, ultimately posting a 63 wRC+ while being worth 5.4 defensive runs according to FanGraphs. Tell me that’s not perfect Backup Catcher material. In a game against the Royals in Aug. 3 he had his best day by Win Probability Added when he went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI, though the Indians lost that game when Nick Goody coughed up a homer in the 10th inning. The whole thing kind of tells you of the impact a backup catcher typically has. At times it’s like he’s never even existed.

His greatest feat was probably his pitching performance on May 5, as the Indians were being obliterated 11-0. If you wanted, you could blame the catcher (it was Plawecki) for at least part of that messy pitching performance by the likes of Cody Anderson, Jon Edwards, Tyler Olson, and Dan Otero, but a pizzaiolo is only as good as his toppings. Plawecki pitched the ninth and in what may have been the most efficient inning all season for an Indians pitcher, and put the Mariners down in order on just six pitches. He even threw a couple curveballs! If this isn’t his greatest moment of 2019, it’s hard to identify another candidate.

It’s a bit of a shame that backup catchers don’t get the same kind of cult following that long snappers or third line forwards or backup centers can end up with. Maybe it’s just because, as said before, their impact is so much less obvious. A long snapper getting hurt suddenly in the middle of a game is one of the most sudden havoc-inducing moments a team can go through, while a backup catcher can just kind of be replaced with another soft-hitting brick wall type. Worst case scenario, you just start your starter more for a while.

Baseball is so special that it allows these deeply flawed players to ultimately play a quietly vital role for the team. Lots of great players were catchers in their youth because of how central that position is to everything, but when a player is great at other stuff, they typically get moved off catcher. Bryce Harper is a perfect example — his value at the plate far outstripped the positional impact he could have had behind the plate and the toll that would have taken on his body. So it allows for a place for guys like Plawecki, and seasons like his 2019. It was unimpressive, basically forgettable, but like the middle reliever or the fifth starter, so vital to the overall health of the team.

The marathon is probably the greatest separator of baseball from other sports, that and maybe the lack of clock. You simply need to be able to let guys rest. That was Plawecki’s great contribution, was giving Bebo some time off. More important than the two shutout innings of garbage time pitching or the five multi-hit games, or any of that. It’s what he’s here for. Expect to forget more of the same in 2020.