Pittsburgh Pirates: Jacob Stallings Should be the Long-Term Catcher

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jacob Stallings #58 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a two run double in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at PNC Park on April 13, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jacob Stallings #58 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a two run double in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at PNC Park on April 13, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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Catcher Jacob Stallings should be a long-term building piece for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Jacob Stallings almost 10 years ago, selecting him with their 7th round pick in the 2012 draft. Now 31-years-old and the team’s regular catcher, his ability could put him into consideration as one of the team’s long-term roster pieces.

From 2016 to 2018 Stallings was primarily the team’s third catcher behind Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, then eventually by Elias Diaz. He only appeared in 24 games in his first three MLB seasons but eventually got more playing time in 2019 when both Cervelli and Diaz struggled and has since locked down a starting role.

Between 2019 and 2020, Stallings hit for a .256/.326/.380 slash line with a .302 wOBA and 86 wRC+. Now, overall, that is slightly below league average, but compared to the average catcher, it is not as bad. In 2020 the average for MLB catchers was a .303 wOBA and 85 wRC+. The year prior to that the average was a .305 wOBA and 90 wRC+. Stallings essentially falls right in between the two averages.

However, it was his defensive ability behind the dish that gained him regular time. Among all backstops with at least 800 innings caught between 2019 and 2020, he ranks second in Defensive Runs Ssaved (+21), 8th in framing runs (8.3) and has caught 36.2% of runners trying to take an extra base on him. This is only in 808.2 innings. If you average his defensive numbers out across 1000 innings, you get +26 DRS and 10.3 framing runs.

All told, he’s been one of the more under-appreciated value players in baseball. His 2.4 fWAR comes out to a 3.4 mark averaged out across 500 plate appearances. A 3-WAR catcher is a pretty valuable player to have on your team. The best part is that he’s off to a hot start in 2021.

Through his first 10 games and 38 plate appearances, Stallings has collected 10 hits while walking 8 times to oppose 9 strikeouts. He’s also continued his defensive ability, already having +2 DRS and 0.3 framing runs.

The improved plate discipline is very promising. He walked at a solid 10.5% rate in 2020, but could see that increase in 2021. With 0.3 fWAR already, he’s on pace for just under 4 fWAR throughout a 500 plate appearance season.

Now obviously, such a hot start to 2021 may not last. After all, we’re not even looking at 50 trips to the plate. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates should seriously consider keeping Stallings around for the long run, even if they do not see him as the long term starting catcher.

Endy Rodriguez likely is seen as the team’s starting catcher of the future. He was one of the main pieces acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade. He’s an athletic backstop with a plus glove and strong plate discipline at just 20-years-old. He can also make consistently good contact.

But while Rodriguez may have the upper hand as the long-term number one catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, having a player like Stallings around as the backup option would be a good idea. Injuries happen quite often and you don’t want to be scrambling to find a good backup option at such a vital position on the field, especially if you’re looking to compete.

Plus, catchers are catching less and less. From 2015 to 2019, there were only 31 instances where a catcher collected at least 500 plate appearances in one season. Compared to 2004-2009, there were 57 instances where catchers had at least 500 plate appearances in a single campaign. It is a very physically demanding position and rarely do you see any primary backstops play in 150 games year-in-year-out. Even the best, like J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal play 120-140 games a season.

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Stallings top of the line defense and usable offense make him an interesting player that could stick around for the long haul. Though he may not stay as the team’s primary option behind the dish, having a good second backstop is an important part of constructing any roster.

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