With the likelihood of the Pittsburgh Pirates shopping different pieces that aren’t seen as future building blocks, Jacob Stallings could become an under the radar trade chip.
When we talk about the Pittsburgh Pirates most valuable trade pieces, usually you hear Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, and Keone Kela. They currently hold the most value in a trade. But one guy who could become one of the Pirates’ more underrated trade pieces is catcher Jacob Stallings.
A catcher with his defensive value is not easy to come by. It’s easy to come by good defensive catchers, but it’s hard to come by outstanding defensive catchers, something that Stallings is. The 30-year-old started the 2019 season as a second catcher to Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz. But by the end of the year, he was the Pittsburgh Pirates primary catcher.
Defensively, you would be hard pressed to find a better catcher to be your receiver. Despite playing only 463.1 innings behind the dish, Stallings was worth +14 DRS, tying him with Buster Posey for the 3rd highest mark in baseball. Posey, and the other two leaders, Roberto Perez and Austin Hedges, all had nearly double the amount of innings caught compared to Stallings.
The right handed batter also caught 40% of runners trying to take an extra base on him. If he had enough innings, he would have been a top three catcher in caught stealing percentage. Overall, he was worth +2 stolen base runs saved above average. However, the amount of value Stallings provides with his pitch framing makes him extremely valuable.
Not many players can reach double digits in framing runs above average. In the past three seasons, only in 2017 did we see more than 10 players reach that mark, with 11. Stallings just missed the mark of double digits with 8.7 in 3058 framing chances. He averaged about .003 runs saved per chance. In comparison, Yasmani Grandal, who had 19.4 framing runs saved in 8000 chances, saved about .002 runs per chance. Had Stallings received just 6000 chances, he would have nearly surpassed Grandal at 18 runs.
A run saved is just as valuable as a run earned, and Stallings saves plenty of runs with his defense. He also makes pitching staffs better, seeing as many of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers performed better when he was behind the plate.
Plus, Stallings isn’t an automatic out. Despite still being a fairly weak batter compared to the overall league average, Stallings was pretty good for a catcher with a .262/.325/.382 batting line and 82 wRC+. That’s about what the average catcher in the MLB batted in 2019. During last season, catchers combined to hit .236/.308/.405 with an 85 wRC+. Catchers also averaged a .303 wOBA, which isn’t far off from Stallings’ .297 in 2019.
However, you might see the defensively gifted Stallings actually improve with the bat moving forward. Stallings had a .313 expected wOBA, and a .425 expected slugging percentage. His expected batting average was very close to his actual batting average, sitting at .259. According to Baseball Savant, his batted ball profile is comparable to that of middle infielders Trea Turner, Starlin Castro and Amed Rosario. The former two of which were overall league average bats, and had roughly league average production if you were to combine their numbers, and we all know how good of a batter Turner was. A catcher with a .260/.325/.420 line would put him in the ballpark of a league average bat, and not just compared to the league average catcher. Overall, he could be a 3-4 WAR catcher.
Plus, if you look at other catchers in 2019 who compare to Stallings’ defense, many of them are guys who weren’t much better, if at all to Stallings in the batter’s box like Austin Hedges, Danny Jansen, Buster Posey, Mike Zunino, and Austin Barnes. He also has five years of control left between 2021 and 2025, which further adds to his value.
Sometimes, these kinds of catchers are highly valuable. Take for example Martin Maldonado in 2018. Despite having a .616 OPS and 70 OPS+ and being a rental defensive only catcher with the Los Angeles Angels before being traded, the Houston Astros gave up left handed pitcher Patrick Sandoval. The southpaw had done amazing at A-Ball and High-A with the Astros, and became the team’s 19th best prospect per MLB Pipeline. Currently, Sandoval is the team’s 6th best prospect and is seen as a future rotation building block for the Angles. Imagine what a team could get back for a catcher of even better defensive skill, along with not being an awful batter for a catcher?
Right now, Stallings isn’t worth all that much in terms of trade value, but that doesn’t mean he never will be. At 30-years-old, and turning 31 in in December, Stallings probably won’t be part of the Pittsburgh Pirates future plans. However if he does improve, which is a likely scenario, while keeping up his outstanding defensive numbers, he could actually bring back a pretty nice piece, and one that could be a potential building block for the Pirates.