Breaking Down Elias Diaz And His First Extended Look


Elias Diaz got his first extended playing time in 2017 with Francisco Cervelli going down with a left quad injury, playing just one game past August 13th, where he lasted two innings.  Diaz got a bulk of the starts, starting 27 of the teams final 41 games.

Earlier in the week, it was asked if the Pirates needed to add a catcher this offseason, which the primary concern is Francisco Cervelli’s ability to stay on the field.  There’s a couple of names that come to mind that can help supplement him in Tyler Flowers and Martin Maldonado.  Part of the problem with the Pirates offseason is their catcher depth.  Chris Stewart did not perform anywhere near his low expectations, and will likely get his option declined.  Jacob Stallings is going to be 28 years old next season and is an organizational depth piece.  And Elias Diaz – who the Pirates didn’t want to trade for Mitch Moreland in the offseason entering 2016 – didn’t perform well with his bat or behind the plate in his first real look.

Diaz is going to be 27 years old next season, and time is running out on his time to ever be a regular on the 25 man roster.  Before the season started, I wrote about Diaz and his problems, primarily with the bat, and mentioned that Diaz minor league numbers are similar to those of Chris Stewart.  In the majors this year, Elias Diaz hit .223/.265/.314 with a .253 wOBA and 52 wRC+ in his 200 plate appearances.  His preseason projection from ZiPS was 274 plate appearances with a slash of .246/.293/.357 with a .283 wOBA and 75 wRC+.

Part of his problem is his ground ball rate, which in the minor leagues Diaz hit the ball on the ground 48.19 percent of the time from 2013-17.  Last season with the Pirates, Diaz hit a ground ball 52.3 percent of the time, and the non-pitcher league average was 43.8 percent.  Diaz also only barreled the ball in 1.5 percent of his plate appearances, though he did hit the ball 95+ mph 36.4 percent of the time.  Adjust the launch angle, and perhaps he will become a good enough offensive catcher to be a backup.

It’s his defense, however, that sticks out much more than his offense.  Baseball Prospectus keeps track of catcher data since 1988, using an approach by Max Marchi to quantify the pre PITCHf/x data (1988-2007).  Elias Diaz this past season had 2,980 framing chances, and because of Marchi, who now works for the Cleveland Indians, we can compare how Diaz ranks in catcher statistics over the last 30 seasons, and we can do so given a set amount of framing chances.

In terms of framing, there are two main metrics, framing runs and called strikes above average (CSAA), with the latter being described by Baseball Prospectus as “the effect of the player on strikes being called.”  CSAA is also used to creating how many framing runs a catcher has in a season.  There are other areas of catcher defense that Baseball Prospectus has metrics on, such as blocking and throwing, but framing provides the most value.  It’s why despite the poor blocking from the Pirates in the past, it was not as large as a concern as their framing.  And that is really Elias Diaz’s downfall, his pitch framing is sub-par.

This past season, 62 catchers had 2,000 framing opportunities, essentially all the starters and backups.  I’ve taken the bottom five in framing runs and put them below.  The abbreviations are as followed: FC=Framing Chances, CSAA=Called Strikes Above Average, FR=Framing Runs, and FR/FC=Framing Runs/Framing Chance.

Jonathan Lucroy6,816-0.018-17.7-0.0026
Salvador Perez6,960-0.013-13-0.0019
Andrew Knapp3,429-0.023-11.2-0.0033
Tucker Barnhart6,774-0.011-11-0.0016
Elias Diaz2,980-0.025-10.5-0.0035

Diaz had the lowest CSAA of the five, and the lowest in baseball.  The reasoning for not having the lowest framing runs is the chances, where he ranks by far the lowest of the five.  Dividing the runs by the chances, Diaz is the worst of the five worst in framing runs, along with being the worst among catchers with 2,000 framing chances.

Next: 2017 Positional Breakdown: Second Base

Of the 1,740 catchers to have 2,000 framing chances since 1988, Diaz has the 23rd worst framing runs per framing chances and is tied 22nd worst in called strikes above average.  Diaz had a very sub-par defensive season, and his defense is supposed to be his calling card.

As bad as Chris Stewart was this season, -0.2 BWARP (Baseball Prospectus’ version of WAR), Elias Diaz was worse, providing the Pirates with -1.4 wins above a replacement player.  Combine the nonexistent bats with not being able to frame pitches, the ceiling of even a backup catcher seems far off, and it is definitely time to seek other options at catcher.

*Numbers from Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus