Chris Stewart or Elias Diaz, that is the question
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Pirates activated catcher Chris Stewart from the disabled list. They also spent catcher Jacob Stallings to Triple-A Indianapolis. This leaves the Pirates still carrying three catchers on their Major League roster.
Along with starting catcher Francisco Cervelli, the third catcher is rookie Elias Diaz. This season Diaz is the healthiest he has been since 2014, and it is showing. In his first extended Major League time, the Pirates’ top catching prospect has not disappointed.
Prior to Sunday’s loss against the Chicago Cubs manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates felt they could not option Elias Diaz back to Triple-A right now. This is due to the hot bat he has been swinging since he was promoted to the Major Leagues in May.
After going 1-for-3 on Sunday afternoon, Diaz now owns a .368 wOBA and a 130 wRC+ in 52 plate appearances this season. He owns a 9.6 percent walk rate, 15.4 percent strikeout rate, and a .385 on-base percentage.
Obviously, 52 plate appearances is a small sample size. But in these 52 plate appearances he has done enough in the eye’s of the Pirate brass to keep his spot in the Major Leagues.
Elias Diaz’s offensive performance this season has been much better than what Chris Stewart has done during his time with the Pirates. Stewart has always been a defensive minded catcher, who owns a .331 on-base percentage, .292 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 84 during his career in Pittsburgh.
However, as a member of the Pirates, Chris Stewart has been a plus defender. During his time in the black and gold he owns a dWAR of 10.2. He has also been one of the best pitch framing catchers in the Major Leagues during this time.
Throughout them minor leagues Diaz was never known for his bat. Which raises concerns over how sustainable his recent offensive output is. However, he has always been highly touted for his defense. His 1.9 dWAR at the Major League level shows that this season. In fact, I have always thought Diaz’s ceiling in the Major Leagues was Chris Stewart with more power.
Although, one area Diaz does struggle defensively is pitch framing. And the Pirates, rightfully so, greatly value pitch framing from their catchers.
Since the start of the 2014 season Chris Stewart has been not just a great veteran presence in the clubhouse for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he has also been a very good backup catcher. However, the Pirates now find themselves facing a tough decision with Stewart. He still has the rest of this season and a club option for 2018 on his contract, however, Elias Diaz, it appears, is becoming the better option to be the backup catcher.
Chris Stewart is now 35-years old and has spent time on the disabled list each of the past four seasons. As for Elias Diaz, he is 26-years old and could be a part of the Pirates’ future. Either as the backup catcher or eventual replacement for Francisco Cervelli. These factors need to be taken into consideration as well.
The Pittsburgh Pirates can not carry three catchers forever. So they must decide, and soon, is it time to move on from Chris Stewart?