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Hanigan quietly among game's best behind plate

Reds backstop doesn't post big numbers, but defensive stats are top-notch

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- His name isn't Buster Posey or Yadier Molina and recognition doesn't always come easily to the minds of the masses. But Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan had individual defensive statistics last season that suggest he has become one of the tops at his position.

Hanigan's catcher's ERA of 3.04 was the lowest in the Majors. His 48.5 caught stealing percentage was tops among big league catchers with at least 110 games played. His .995 fielding percentage was third-best in the National League and he had only three passed balls.

"I was proud of the fact I had a good year defensively," Hanigan said. "Being a catcher, it's one of those positions known for defense. It's work stuff and there's emphasis for that on this team, to use my strengths as an asset."

As far as Hanigan was concerned, the accomplishments of the Reds' staff meant more than any of his individual accomplishments.

"It's such a big part of the game and it directly contributes to wins," Hanigan said. "That's what we're here for. A lot of work goes into having success for pitchers and I'm definitely a part of that."

Cincinnati's staff ranked third in the NL in ERA (3.34), while the bullpen had the lowest ERA in the Majors (2.65). The rotation, which had four 200-innings starters in 2012, had 98 quality starts. Ace Johnny Cueto, who had Hanigan as a regular batterymate, won a career-best 19 games and had a 2.78 ERA.

Hanigan caught 11 of the team's 12 shutouts and six of the nine complete games.

That included Homer Bailey's Sept. 28 no-hitter at Pittsburgh.

"Hanigan has been catching me since we were in Double-A together. There's just a long history," Bailey said. "It's kind of why we know what we're usually trying to do. Usually by the second pitch, I understand what he's trying to do to specific hitters. Typically if I shake, the next pitch he goes to is the one I was thinking. After the inning, he'd be like, 'I was 50-50 on what you shook to and what I called.' We're usually on the same page."

As for the defensive accolades he's achieved, namely the caught stealing rate, Hanigan doesn't take sole credit. He happily shares that with his pitchers.

"I was proud of the fact I had a good year defensively. Being a catcher, it's one of those positions known for defense. It's work stuff and there's emphasis for that on this team, to use my strengths as an asset."
-- Ryan Hanigan

"All the pitchers are conscious of their [delivery] times and giving me a chance," Hanigan said. "That's all I can ask for. They've obviously done that with me having a pretty good percentage. They vary their times and do all the things they need to do to make it a point."

While splitting time last season with rookie Devin Mesoraco, and later veteran Dioner Navarro, the 32-year-old Hanigan usually caught three members of the five-man rotation and finished the year catching four of the five.

Reds manager Dusty Baker declined to reveal his plans for catching this season.

"I don't know, it depends," Baker said. "I haven't really thought about it. I have a whole lot of cuts to make before I think about that."

If Mesoraco makes the team, Hanigan would seemingly return to working behind the plate three out of every five days. If veteran Miguel Olivo wins the No. 2 job, perhaps Hanigan gets more work.

"I always train to be able to catch as many games as they want to put me out there," he said. "I always want to play, but when I'm not playing, I want to help the other guy on our team to have success as well. I look forward to my opportunities."

Hanigan has continually worked to grow as a catcher since his debut in 2007 and three years of working behind Ramon Hernandez from '09-11. Off the field, he bought his first home in Lexington, Ky., so he could tend to his side business of horse breeding.

"I'm really happy about having a place and my first house," Hanigan said. "It's close to Cincinnati and it's definitely a Reds town."

For Hanigan to enter the realm of elite overall catchers, his offensive production would have to rise to another level.

That isn't as important to Baker, however.

"He's my field general. I've never had a good team without a good catcher," Baker said. "They don't have to be offensive as long as I have enough offense throughout my lineup to cover."

As a hitter that mostly batted eighth in 2012, Hanigan batted .274 in 112 games with two home runs and 24 RBIs. He did have a .364 on-base percentage partly from drawing more walks (44) than strikeouts (37) in 371 plate appearances. His best year was 2010, when he batted .300 in 70 games with five homers and 40 RBIs.

Those numbers still keep Hanigan more in the background for league recognition compared to catchers like the Giants' Posey, the 2012 NL Most Valuable Player, or the Cardinals' Molina.

"Yadier Molina and Buster Posey had exceptional offensive years," Baker said. "[Hanigan] is appreciated around baseball when you talk to the guys for a while. He's a tough out. He's not the offensive player, but nobody is the offensive player that Buster Posey is. And Yadier Molina has learned how to hit."

"It's a fair question," Hanigan responded when asked about league-wide respect. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't care. You want to be seen with respect in the eyes of your peers in the league. At the end of the day, it's more about the team and about being respected by the team and representing the city and our fans. Obviously, there's something to be said if you're having success and playing at a decent level. You get some recognition and I've noticed it to an extent."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon
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