What Has Driven The Emergence Of Elias Diaz?

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

Prior to the start of the 2018 season the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to lack catcher depth behind starter Francisco Cervelli. However, Elias Diaz has emerged this season to provide the team with arguably the top catching duo in the National League.

During the 2017 season catcher Elias Diaz got his first real taste of Major League action. After having six plate appearances combined between 2015 and 2016, Diaz recorded 200 plate appearances in 64 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017.

To say Diaz struggled in 2017 would be to put it lightly. He scuffled to the tune of a .223/.265/.314/.579 slash line, a .253 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 52. The power that Diaz was known for flashing in the minor leagues was almost non-existent (.090 ISO, 7.5% extra-base hit rate) and he struggled with handling the Pirate pitching staff.

Following the struggles of Diaz in 2017 it appeared that the Pittsburgh Pirates may not have much catching depth behind oft-injured started Francisco Cervelli. Due to said injuries and Diaz previously being touted as the Pirates’ catcher of the future his struggles in 2017 were concerning.

However, in 2018, Diaz has put those worries to rest. He has emerged as an offensive threat for the Pirates, while his defense continues to improve. So, what has driven the emergence of Diaz’s this season?

First off, Diaz has been making better contact in 2018. His exit velocity, hard contact rate, and barreled ball rate have all increased this season. Each of these results have come at an above league average rate for Diaz this season, too.

Secondly, Diaz’s launch angle has changed for the positive. Diaz’s improved launch angle has contributed to a lower groundball rate in 2018.

Exit VelocityHard Contact RateBarreled Ball RateLaunch AngleGroundball Rate
201786.3 MPH25.8%2.0%6.2 degrees52.3%
201889.8 MPH35.3%7.9%7.9 degrees48.9%

This might be as simple as it gets for baseball, but when a batter barrels the ball up and hits it hard their chance of getting a base hit increase. Diaz has done plenty of that this season and that is a big reason why he is enjoying a breakout offensive season in 2018. His new found launch angle has made an impact as well.

Diaz’s emergence has also given the Pirates one of the best catching duos in the NL. Pirate catchers – so Jacob Stallings included – lead the NL in fWAR (3.5), on-base percentage (.353), slugging percentage (.453), wOBA (.349), and wRC+ (120). The team’s defensive WAR at the catcher position of 9.3 is tied with the Washington Nationals for second in the NL.

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By making better contact, finding an improved launch angle, and hitting fewer groundballs, Elias Diaz has emerged as an offensive threat for the Pirates this season. He has also re-cemented himself as the catcher of the future for the Pirates.