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What Maldonado’s assassination of lefties might mean for the Angels

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“Machete” is silently blasting left-handed pitchers, but what about the other 60-70% of plate appearances he has?

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the young season, the Angels have faced off against left-handed starters twelve times and have come out of those contests 7-5. The team hasn’t been terribly overpowering as a whole against southpaws, as Mike Trout is “only” slashing .310/.429/.517 against them, resulting in a “measly” 154 wRC+ and .398 wOBA. Ahead of him in sabermetric offensive statistics but not OPS is Yunel Escobar who is about 60% better than average against lefties — basically, he barely edged the Fish out.

If you change the minimum number of plate appearances to 30 on the split though (hardly a drop at all since Trout is considered a qualified batter and only has 35 PA against lefties), you’ll find an outlier at the top of the Angels’ splits leaderboard. Martin Maldonado stands tall at 32 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers with an absolutely bonkers triple-slash of .458/.581/.667 and a wOBA of .534 and wRC+ of 255. He has been the second most productive batter against lefties among all batters with at least 30 PA in the majors (which is the approximate baseline for most starters against lefties) by wRC+ and has the fourth best wOBA, seventh best OPS (1.247), and top OBP (thanks, in no small part, to a strangely high number of HBPs). His traditional numbers across the board look eerily similar to Bryce Harper’s.

In short, he has taken LHPs over his knee and spanked them. But if he’s performed that out-of-his-mind against lefties and is only batting about 10% better than league average, then his numbers against the majority of pitchers must be pretty poor.

To be exact, he is batting .225/.262/.300 against RHPs in a much larger sample size. That’s “good” for a 57 wRC+ and .249 wOBA. In those 87 PAs, he hasn’t been very unlucky either as he’s riding a .309 batting average on balls in play to acquire that slash line. His strikeout rate against righties is nearing Espinosa levels at 27.6% while he was only striking out near Trout levels against lefties at 18.8%. His walk rate against the right-handed pitchers sits at an abysmal 3.4%. If we’re being blunt, he’s very, very bad against most people who take the mound.

Maldonado, regardless of the extreme splits so far this year, has been an immensely pleasant surprise. I’ll take this level of production all year from him if I have to. Considering that he has always been a part-time player, it seems probable that the consistent at-bats he has been gifted this year by a struggling Carlos Perez have really helped him to find his swing...at least against lefties.


But what if Angels fans want more? What if we convinced ourselves that we could continue to see this level of production out of Maldonado (or any production) if he was put into a platoon role with a player who could mash righties? Who would we look at to make this position the biggest asset since Bengie was an Angel?

These are questions that may not be able to be answered with the resources that the team has available. In the minor leagues, the Angels have a plethora of backstops, but most of the near-major-league-ready ones don’t hit so well against right-handed pitchers. Perez only saw righties before getting sent down, and it didn’t work out too well for him.

The Angels could look to pick up a piece that bats well against RHPs, but most options will either be extremely pricey or come at the expense of the defense that not just Maldonado brings, but that even an average catcher brings. It would probably also have to be a pickup from a non-contender. Tyler Flowers of the Braves has been dominant against RHPs, but he hasn’t exactly flown under the radar thanks to an awesome .347 batting average and absurd .473 OBP. Alex Avila, Buster Posey, Salvador Perez, Yasmani Grandal, and Gary Sanchez are all pretty much out. Tony Wolters is out of Colorado, so probably no and Chris Herrmann of the DBacks has awful splits away from the hitter-philic park.

A little further down the list, however, there are a couple non-sexy but interesting names with strong righty splits.

Austin Hedges looks like a smart choice with pretty extreme splits (57 wRC+ to 105 wRC+) and is a decent but not stellar prospect of the Padres. He also really is terrible offensively at Petco Park (Aren’t we all?), so he might even have a breakout season and not require a platoon in a slightly less Padres-y situation. He’s a good defender and a 70-grade arm. He is also second in pitch framing according to StatCorner, ahead of elite framer Martin Maldonado who sits at sixth.

Christian Vazquez has seen almost no playing time against lefties which has boosted his aesthetics. He is a part of the Red Sox, but they have several other catching options in Leon and Swihart and more. He is better against righties (130 wRC+) than Hedges, but worse on defense and at framing (which speaks more to Hedges’ skills behind the plate than Vazquez’s lack thereof as he is also an elite framer).

More remote and less defensively gifted possibilities include Andrew Knapp of the Phillies and Rene Rivera of the Mets among a few others.


Martin Maldonado could just continue the season alone and perform a million times better than many Angels fans anticipated, just by torching lefties as he has done over the past month and a half. If we lean on his insane offense that comes about 30% of the time and his constant elite arm, framing, and defense, we may see arguably the best production out of the position since the Iannetta-Conger platoon.

But if Eppler messes with it, just the tiniest bit, and adds a righty slayer....could we get something even greater?

Poll

Should we risk Maldonado’s progress for one of the best catching platoons that we’ve ever had?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Austin Hedges looks like he’d be worth the investment.
    (50 votes)
  • 5%
    Christian Vazquez could come at a decent price.
    (11 votes)
  • 68%
    If it ain’t broke...
    (136 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (Comment)
    (1 vote)
198 votes total Vote Now

*All unattributed statistics were pulled from Fangraphs