Jacob Stallings, one of the most underrated players in baseball, could be the Pittsburgh Pirates best catcher since Russell Martin was behind the plate.
In a recent article I wrote, I went over why the catching position is in good hands for now with Stallings behind the dish, but how does he compare to arguably one of the bet Pittsburgh Pirates players of the 2010 decade? While most know that he’s an outstanding defensive catcher, many overlook his potential to be a solid batter. Stallings has the potential to be the Pirates’ best catcher since Russell Martin in 2013 and 2014.
Before I continue, this is no knock on Francisco Cervelli. He was a very solid batter who’s key strength was getting on base with a .368 on-base percentage from 2015 to 2018. While he wasn’t awful defensively, and a pretty good pitch framer, compared to Martin and Stallings, the two ladders are by far well ahead of Cervelli in terms of their ability behind the dish.
So how can Stallings be the Pirates’ best catcher since Martin was the team’s backstop? Well, first, look at just how good defensively Stallings was last year. In just 463.1 innings behind the plate, Stallings had +14 DRS, caught 40% of the runners trying to steal on him, and was worth 8.7 framing runs above average. Across an entire season where he catches 6500 chances, he would average about +30 DRS, and +18.7 framing runs. All told, he was worth 1.4 defensive WAR, but averaged nearly 3.0 dWAR across most of a season.
Now let’s compare those numbers to Martin’s 2014 season. Through 940.2 innings behind the dish, and receiving 6487 framing chances, Martin had +21 DRS, caught 39% of the runners trying to steal on him, and had +15.3 framing runs above average. In total, having a 2.2 dWAR. All told, that’s really good. But compared to Stallings’ 2019 numbers averaged to about the same of 6500 chances, Stallings has a very large advantage.
Now, obviously, Martin was outstanding offensively in 2014. He batted .290/.402/.430 with a 135 OPS+ and 140 wRC+. But his 2013 numbers weren’t quite as good. During his first year with the Pirates, he batted .226/.327/.377 and averaged an extra base hit every .08 plate appearance. Now, for a catcher, those numbers aren’t too shabby, especially considering his defensive profile. But let’s compare that to Stallings’s 2019 season.
Stallings had a .262/.325/.382 line, overall having a better batting average, and near identical OBP and slugging percentage, but still just outdoing Martin. Stallings also had a better extra base hit rate of one every .05 plate appearance. While Martin did have a better OPS+ and wRC+, sitting at average, Stallings fell well below the average. But consider that in 2013, the average batter was hitting .253/.318/.396 and the MLB hit 4661 home runs, in comparison to 2019 when the average batter hit .252/.323/.435 and the MLB hit over 2000 more home runs at 6776.
Still, Martin’s slashline in 2013 was very similar to Stallings’s slash in 2019. While Martin walked more, Stallings stuck out less, made hard contact more often, and hit more fly balls. Both Martin and Stallings were also very close in deserved runs created plus, with Martin having 99 and Stallings having 96.
There’s a good possibility Stallings could be just as good as Martin offensively in 2013, and better than him defensively in 2014. That’s a pretty good combination to have behind the plate. A good catcher and a bad catcher defensively could be the difference between a confident pitcher or an uncertain pitcher. Stallings has the skill to be a Martin level defender and a solid offensive force in the line up.