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Martin Maldonado and the value of a defense-first catcher?

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How valuable is a catcher’s defensive side of the game?

Cleveland Indians v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Catching is a difficult job. It’s a grind squatting down behind the plate, day after day. Rarely do you see a catch go out they and sit behind the plate for 140+ games per year. Those guys (like Molina, Perez, and Wieters) in recent years have been pretty rare. Even more rare - the catcher who can hit.

2016 Catcher OPS (from Bleacher Report)

Among catchers with 300+ plate appearances in 2017, only 11 out of 26 have a wRC+ greater than 100 and only 8 of them have positive offensive ratings. Where does the Angels own Martin Maldanado fall within this group?

In overall WAR, Martin Maldanado, is 21st out of 26 catchers. Defensively - he’s #6 behind guys like Yadier Molina and Wilson Contreras.

There is no doubt that Maldonado can hold his own when it comes to defense. Maldy has caught 40% of base stealers and trails only Perez (CLE, 42%), Gomes, (CLE 42%), and Castillo (BAL, 48%) among catchers with more than 500 innings when it comes to mowing down runners. In all of baseball, only one catcher (Barnhart .999) has a better fielding percentage than Maldonado (.998).

In advanced catching metrics, Maldonado ranks 5th in +Calls with 67 (1st place is Tyler Flowers with 210) and 3rd in defensive runs saved with 9 (1st place is Tucker Barnhart with 22).

But at the plate, Maldonado has been just plain terrible. Especially since May.

AVG/OBP by month:
April .262/.357
May .263/.314
June .235/.287
July .194/.238
Aug .190/.238
Sept .146/.146

Some of Maldy’s numbers get even worse. He has a .219 AVG overall this year, but against ground ball pitchers or pitchers who are equal on ground ball / fly ball, his AVG is just .188. Maldonado is significantly better against fly ball pitchers (.257 AVG). Also, in high leverage situations (83 ABs), Maldy is hitting only .169.

Part of this problem is that Maldonado just does not hit the all hard. His average exit velocity is 2nd to last on the team at 83.7 MPH, just ahead of Ben Revere at 82.5 MPH. For comparison, CJ Cron is #1 with 89.5 MPH. Another problem is that Maldonado is terrible with breaking pitches. Give him a fastball and he’s pretty good - but anything else??

Source: Brooks Baseball

This is some data I’ve been meaning to look into for a while now and after his failed hit and run and not being pinch hit for late in the game on Thursday, I thought it was time.

Mike Scioscia has Juan Graterol and Carlos Perez on the bench but in the month of September, Graterol has just 6 plate appearances and Perez only 2. Mike Scioscia seems quite content in running Maldonado out there inning after inning despite him already catching almost TWICE as many innings this year than he has at any point in his career.

So I ask the question of you all: At what point does a catcher become enough of a hinderance at the plate that no amount of pitch framing and arm strength is worth the cost you sacrifice in offense? Also - would you resign Maldonado after his contract expires at the end of this year??