I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone's expectations.
I'm as guilty as anyone. I typically approach most seasons with extremely low expectations of the backup catcher.
Catch the ball. Throw the ball. Be told by announcers that he "calls a good game" and shrug in acceptance due to lack of proof otherwise. Have the next set of announcers tell us he has a great working relationship with the pitching staff. Get an occasional hit. Maybe even a little hot streak now and then.
That's enough for me. Maybe it's wrong to have such low expectations and be so accepting of mediocrity. But there it is.
Bryan Holaday took the lion's share of the game action in 2014 when Alex Avila was not behind the plate for the Tigers. Holaday had appeared in cameos the previous two seasons but '14 would see him embark on his first full-season in the major leagues.
Holaday was a 6th round draft pick out of Texas Christian University in 2010 who was billed with a decent offensive reputation. Holaday smacked 17 homers in his senior year with the Horned Frogs while posting a slash line of: .355/.434/.631.
Holaday would commence to rising in the Tigers system fairly quickly despite tepid offensive numbers in the minors and he would debut as a Tiger in 2012 after playing in fewer than 200 minor league games. In 1027 minor league at-bats Holaday slashed .243/.313/.372.
Opportunity knocked however prior to the 2014 campaign. The Tigers were not bringing back their prior backup backstop, Brayan Pena. He was off to the Reds in free agency after posting a decent offensive season in '13. With Pena gone and prospect James McCann still developing the job fell into Holaday's lap. He was going to get, as the inimitable Jim Price would say, a steady dose of seeing "those tall buildings".
The 2014 Campaign
Holaday did what every backup who wants to become a fan favorite should do. He got off to a good start while the starting player struggled to get out fast.
With Avila striking out at a prolific pace in April, Holaday hit .292 for the month. "I'd like to see more of Holaday" was common comment in many quarters around that time. Holaday cooled off in the month of May but surged back in June with a eye-popping slash of .393/.400/.464 (albeit in merely 30 plate appearances).
If Holaday's season had ended at the All-Star Break, his season would have looked fairly solid. He was sailing along at .278/.326/.316 (a nifty .361 BABIP helped) at that point and most would accept that from a part-time player at a defensive oriented position.
Unfortunately, the second half did come and Holaday's production failed to return from the break. A summer swoon came about and Holaday just couldn't find grass with too many balls in play in the second half. He slashed a horrific looking .182/.205/.234 after the break.
Probably the biggest weakness that ended up being a true missed opportunity for Holaday was absolute futility against left-handed pitching. If he could have shown even an average ability to hit southpaws, he could have stolen a few more at-bats from Avila bringing at least the loose idea of a platoon into play. But Holaday could only manage 9 base-hits in 80 plate appearances against lefties in 2014 (.151/.188/.192 in total).
Many will say backup catchers aren't really there to hit. Plenty of reserves are counted on to play the position well defensively. "Do no harm" might be another way of putting it.
For Holaday, it was mixed bag defensively. He committed seven errors in his 361 innings behind the plate, many of which were on wild throws into centerfield. He seemed to have a habit of his tosses sailing to the second base side and occasionally out of reach for the man covering the bag. Sometimes that fading action helped when it wasn't overdone by bringing the glove into the runner's path. But overall the habit seemed detrimental.
I wasn't impressed with the looks of his arm strength but, to be fair, it must be noted the numbers weren't awful. In concert with his pitchers holding runners fairly well in 2014, Holaday did actually surpass the league average in Caught Stealing%. He gunned down 14 out of 47 base-stealers for a 29.8 percent clip. (league average was 27 percent) At the end of the day, his throwing was far from a "plus" but he managed to contribute at points.
Holaday had some good moments. The bunt hit to drive in a key run against the White Sox was a memorable effort. There were a few others.
But, on the whole, it was a bit of disappointing season for Holaday. The second half death spiral offensively was very tough to watch as he became, for all intents and purposes, nearly an automatic out after the All Star Break.
Defensively he didn't stand out. Some rather iffy throws at times and a DRS of -2 do nothing to cement a truly positive image of his work behind the dish. He seemed "acceptable" back there and not much more. That might be enough sometimes.
The Tigers were 21-21 in the 42 games started by Holaday. It can't be said his mere presence really hurt the ball club. However his complete lack of power, late summer swoon in general, and his inability to be a realistic option against left-handed pitching are factors that keep his value limited.
Holaday will likely stick around in the Tigers organization for a few more years and there is a solid chance he remains the backup catcher for a year or two. He may also bide his time in Toledo getting to know the best restaurants in the International League as a Mud Hen. For what it's worth, he seemed affable and popular. Max Scherzer went out of his way more than once to complement his work. From a chemistry perspective, "Doc" is a fit.
Certainly there is some chance that Holaday could improve as a big league hitter with further experience. The hunch here however is what we saw in 2014 will be at least close to what we get in coming years.
Holaday's future is more about the destiny of others than about his own abilities however.
Alex Avila's concussion issue is truly worrisome. Avila is spinning the situation in a very positive light and there seems no doubt he intends to play next season. However it is possible the Tigers will decide the risk is not worth it and pass on Avila's option. (I doubt this happens....but it is possible) The outcome here obviously plays into Holaday's whereabouts in 2015. If Avila is jettisoned, then it's anybody's guess what the Tigers will do at the position.
Then there is James McCann. After posting a solid season in Toledo, many feel McCann is ready to assume at least some duty in the major leagues in '15. Given McCann's solid offensive season in Triple A, there is at least some promise that the righty hitting youngster could provide some punch to the lineup against left-handed pitching that neither Holaday or Avila could manage this season.
If there is an Avila/McCann platoon brewing then Holaday will be the emergency guy awaiting the call to take the short trip up the road from northern Ohio. Given Avila's situation, that isn't the worst situation for Holaday's big league prospects. Unfortunately, it's tough to see Avila not having to sit a few times next season. Obviously if the Tigers cut ties with Avila then Holaday is positioned, for now, to be McCann's caddy moving forward.