Catching woes have plagued the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. In the midst of injuries and struggles, Jacob Stallings has emerged as a promising backup catcher. He deserves a spot in 2020.
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered this season with no reason to believe they had a catching problem. Francisco Cervelli, coming off a career year, was playing better than ever. Elias Diaz was finally coming around on offense. Together the tandem produced the fourth most fWAR in baseball at that position in 2018 at 4.4.
This season, however, has not been anything similar. The Pirates currently rank 26th in the majors with a -0.5 fWAR. Cervelli, in his final year before free agency, produced just a 45 wRC+ in 123 plat appearances before being released after an injury plagued season. Now he’s on the Atlanta Braves.
Diaz, on the other hand, has just been plain awful. His -20 DRS is second worst in the Majors. He has the worst framing in the league (-11.3) and has the fifth lowest wRC+ (64) among catchers in 299 PAs. His overall -1.2 fWAR is the second worst mark in baseball.
Meanwhile, Jacob Stallings is putting together a solid season as the team’s primary backup. The 29 year-old 6 foot 5 catcher, who had never had more than 41 plate appearances in the big leagues, is not only leading the Pirates’ catching in almost every statistical category, he also is putting his name among the best in baseball.
Stallings’ +9 DRS ranks 7th in all of baseball, despite the fact that he’s played nearly half as many innings as the catchers ahead of him (377.1 innings). While he may not be the defensive catchers that Roberto Perez (24 DRS in 881.1 innings) and Austin Hedges (23 DRS in 718 innings) are, defensive magicians Buster Poser (12 DRS in 760 innings) and JT Realmuto (9 DRS in 1043.1 innings) are closer comparisons. When you take into account the lack of innings Stallings has, its possible that he’s better than both of those guys!
While Stallings’ offensive numbers will never reach the level of Realmuto, who has a 107 wRC+, its worthwhile to note that his 79 wRC+ ranks just behind Posey, who has an 87 wRC+ this season. That’s correct, Stallings is just a discount version of Posey.
Obviously, Stallings’ offensive skills won’t win him any awards, but he still holds a respectable .333 OBP and a .44 BB/K. His defense makes up for the fact that he’s not a stellar hitter, which is exactly what you need out of a backup catcher.
All this being said, it is still necessary for the Pirates to bring in catching help this off-season. With a healthy market and no strong option in the minors, it’s foreseeable that GM Neal Huntington will bite and bring in help. It may not be a Russel Martin type of signing (though he is available), but there are plenty of strong options to consider.
Twins’ backup Jason Castro is someone who comes to mind. The 32 year-old catcher has a .214 ISO to go with 12 home runs and a 106 wRC+ in 242 PAs this season. Over the course of his career, Castro has been a 94 wRC+ while posting consistently between 2-3 fWAR. While he has been having a down year on defense, he consistently ranks positively in defensive WAR.
Another strong option for 2020 is Tampa Bay catcher Travis d’Arnaud. the 30 year-old catcher bounced around early this season before being acquired by the Rays. Since then, he has posted a 114 wRC+ with 16 home runs, a .219 ISO, and a 1.8 fWAR in 307 PAs. Over the course of his career, d’Arnaud has a 97 wRC+ and has consistently put up strong framing stats.
Either of these guys, or even a return of fan favorite Cervelli, would be a great pair to go with the defensive minded Stallings. If general manager Neal Huntington is serious about improving this team, he must pair Stallings with a veteran this offseason.