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Tigers player preview: Bryan Holaday seeks to step forward in 2015

Bryan Holaday could earn increased playing time, or could be replaced

Bryan Holaday picks off Desmond Jennings on July 6, 2014
Bryan Holaday picks off Desmond Jennings on July 6, 2014
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Holaday is a rare player on the Tigers, never knowing another organization. He has already played parts of three seasons in Detroit. That hardly seems possible, but the first two seasons were only 22 games. Last year he never saw Toledo, and filled the role of backup catcher.

Holaday's first job is to catch. He passed the eye test, with no obvious groans from the fan base when he started a game. Referencing StatCorner he was a below-average pitch framer, losing 1.7 calls per game. James McCann, in limited playing time, was +0.7 calls.

Bryan compensated for the framing with his arm, throwing out 30 percent of would-be base stealers against a league average of 27 percent. He added two pickoffs. Overall, he cost his pitchers a few ball and strike calls, but found three extra outs gunning down runners.

Holaday served better behind the plate than at the plate. In last year's preview, I had this to say:

Bryan needs to be used in situations where he can excel. As a right-handed hitter, he should be giving Avila a day off against southpaws. Holaday hit .290/.342/.435 against lefties in Toledo in 2013, and even better in 2012. Avila has a career .212/.306/.322 line against lefties. Holaday has caught 34 percent of attempted base thieves in the minors, so playing him against a running team is also wise. When Ausmus is looking to rest Avila these are the matchups to consider.

Well, the manager did make an attempt at a platoon, giving Holaday 80 plate appearances against left-handed pitching and 91 against righties. That is not a strict platoon, but more usage against southpaws than would randomly occur. Avila's concussion issues limited Ausmus' flexibility. Ironically, Holaday hit .301/.337/.349 against right-handers. If he could keep that up for a full season against all pitching he would be a starter. But his line against left-handers was atrocious: .151/.188/.379. I do not think a conclusion about Holaday is warranted by the small sample size, only a reminder that forecasting is far from perfect. Overall, his .231/.266/.276 line and 51 OPS+ will need to improve to maintain even a backup catching role.

Contract status

Bryan Holaday has just over one year of major league service time so he only needs to be paid the minimum of $507,500. A quirk of the rules allows the Tigers to option him two more times. He will not be a free agent until 2020. If he can find some pop in his bat, the Tigers have at least a backup catcher for the rest of the decade.

Stats and projections
2014 171 0 14 15 1 .231 .266 .276 .243
Steamer 181 2 16 16 1 .234 .279 .332 .273
ZiPS 278 3 23 25 2 .232 .277 .319 .267

Last year I went with analysis for a forecast, so this year I will shoot from the hip. Every year, a random player starts the season hot and is hitting well over .300 on May 1. Why not Holaday this year? I see him keeping his backup job, with McCann starting the season in Toledo. Holaday will be on a tear, though with limited playing time, and then hit the disabled list in May. The door will open for McCann, who will stay when Avila takes his turn on the disabled list. The season will progress with three players rotating through the position based on health, and Holaday's batting average will drift down to .269. His catching will be very good, so the fans will not worry about his hitting beyond a simple batting average. His early success will increase his appeal.