Pittsburgh Pirates: The Rise and Fall of Ronny Paulino
By Marty Leap
At one point Ronny Paulino appeared to be on his way to becoming the Pittsburgh Pirates long term answer at catcher. Unfortunately, things would flame out after a strong two year start to his MLB career.
During the 2006 season, catcher Ronny Paulino grabbed the Pittsburgh Pirates catching duties by the horns. This came after he played in two games while making his MLB debut in 2005. Following his 2006 season, Paulino appeared to be on his way to emerging as the team’s long term answer at catcher.
While his offense dipped some, Paulino put together another strong season in 2007. This just furthered the belief that he would have the catcher position locked down for the foreseeable future with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Paulino signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of the Dominican Republic in 1997. After spending five years in the Pirate minor league system, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the rule 5 Draft in 2002. However, he was returned to the Pirates at the end of spring training after he failed to make the Royals’ roster.
After playing in two games in 2005, Paulino’s breakout came in 2006. In 129 games he hit for a .310/.360/.394 slash line to go with a wRC+ of 97. He walked 7.1% of the time, and struck out just 16.0% of the time. Paulino became just the second rookie catcher since 1969 to bat at least .310 while also playing in at least 100 games.
Where he really made his money in 2006, however, was defensively. Paulino was responsible for +10 defensive runs saved and posted an 11.0 dWAR. This was huge improvement over what they received from the likes of Humberto Cota and Ryan Doumit the year prior. He was also praised for his work handling the Pirate pitching staff.
Paulino experienced a dip in his batting line in 2007 as it dropped to .263/.314/.389, and his walk rate fell slightly to 6.7%. However, he also experienced a slight dip in strikeouts (16.0%) and an increase in power as his isolated slugging rose from .084 to .127.
2007 was another strong defensive season for Paulino as he posted an 8.3 dWAR in a career high 133 games. All of this led to him posting a 1.1 fWAR in 2007. So, while his production fell slightly in 2007, he still had a strong season and appeared to have solidified himself as the team’s top catcher.
In 2008, however, Paulino’s future started to become murky. As Doumit put together an offensive season that was too good to keep him off the field, and the other two positions he could play (right field and first base) locked down by Xavier Nady and ADam LaRoche, he started to find himself in the lineup over Paulino.
Paulino did himself no favors, either. In just 40 games played, his slash line dipped to .212/.277/.305. His wRC+ fell to a woeful 52 and his ISO was just .093. He also took a step backward defensively, as his DRS dropped to just +2 and his dWAR 6.9.
Following the 2008 season, his tenure in Pittsburgh ended. Paulino would spend the next two seasons with the then Florida Marlins, before playing 2011 with the New York Mets. His MLB career came to an end with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012.
Paulino averaged just 67 games per season during these final four years of his career and he never played more than 91 games in a season. He then spent the 2013 season in the Orioles and Texas Rangers minor league system.
After spending 2015 and 2016 in the Mexican League, Paulino’s professional career came to an end. After a promising start to his professional career that made it appear he would be the Pittsburgh Pirates long term answer at catcher. However, after two strong seasons to start his MLB career he would flame out.