Does Andrew Knizner really deserve to be on the Cardinals' roster in 2023?
It was first reported by Derrick Goold on Thursday that Andrew Knizner had beaten out non-roster invitee Tres Barrera for the backup catcher position. This was confusing news to hear as it was obvious to everyone watching the Cardinals that Barrera was outplaying Knizner this Spring. and was giving him a run for his money. In his first 14 spring games, Knizner is only hitting .095 with 0 extra-base hits and 0 RBI. Barrera wasn't hitting for average either but he's recorded a high on-base percentage, drawing 6 walks in 18 plate appearances, and has been impressive defensively in a small sample size.
2022 acted as an open interview for the Cardinals catchers knowing that Yadier Molina was going to retire at the end of the season, and Knizner would get the first crack. With Yadi suffering a knee injury during the season, it turned out that Knizner played more games and caught more innings than Molina, so he got his audition. Sadly for him, he did not impress at the plate, hitting just .215 in 293 plate appearances, over 100 more appearances than in any other season, 25 RBI and 300 SLG, and his hard hit and line drive percentages had a significant drop, both 6/7% below league average.
So Andrew got the playing time and the opportunity last season to show to the Cardinals that he could be the number one catcher, and it's obvious that they weren't sold on him as the team went out this off-season and signed Willson Contreras to be the primary catcher for the next 5 seasons. It now begs the question, you have your everyday catcher, and you have an organizational top-10 prospect in Ivan Herrera who got sparse playing time with the big club last year and is still continuing to develop, why is Knizner still here? One would think there has to be something else he brings to this team.
Catcher is the most important position on the field, they have to call the game, set the defense, and help guide the pitcher through a start or an appearance. They also have to be educated on what their pitchers' strengths and weaknesses are, their personalities and how to motivate them, and what pitches to throw and not to throw in certain situations. There's also the superstition among pitchers how they like throwing to some catchers versus others, there is a lot to it that some people don't understand. Ben Fredrickson of the St.Louis Post Dispatch explains this in detail here
The way I see this is that the Cardinals are valuing familiarity over everything else. He is now the longest-tenured Cardinal catcher on the roster, the front office asked Willson Contreras to not play in the World Baseball Classic this year so that he can work with his new pitching staff. Having that chemistry is more important than people think, and Knizner can be that guy on the bench working with Contreras as well to learn the staff. So does keeping Andrew as the backup make sense from an offensive production standpoint? Definitely not. But where it does make sense is having a catcher on the roster that has worked with most of these pitchers for several seasons and knows their tendencies. You just hope that now he knows his roster spot with the team is secure for the time being, he can work things out at the plate.