Jacob Stallings is arguably the Pittsburgh Pirates most valuable trade piece, but would it be worth moving the backstop this upcoming trade deadline?
The Pittsburgh Pirates will enter the trade deadline as sellers. While Tyler Anderson, Adam Frazier, and Richard Rodriguez will get the most focus in trade talks, don’t be surprised if Jacob Stallings is a name that pops up quite a bit. The backstop has easily been one of the most underrated players in baseball the past few seasons.
Stallings could be one of the most valuable players on the market this trade deadline, but there’s both a strong case to be made that the Pittsburgh Pirates should trade him as the Pirates should hold onto him for now. So let’s look at each and see if we can make a verdict based on what we know.
Making the case to trade Jacob Stallings
Stallings has multiple years of affordable control remaining. He is controllable through the 2024 offseason and this upcoming winter will be his first trip through free agency. Stallings’ defense is where most of his value comes from. He has +10 DRS, 2.2 framing runs above average, and has caught runners trying to take an extra-base on him at an average 26% rate.
Among players with at least 400 innings played in the field this season Stallings is just the second player to reach double digits in defensive runs saved. The other being Seattle Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford who also has 10. However, while Crawford has over 600 innings at shortstop, Stallings has less than 500 innings caught. Stallings is also 9th among catchers this year with at least 300 innings behind the dish in framing runs.
While most of his value comes as a defender, he also isn’t an awful hitter either. He’s put up a .224/.310/.378 line with a respectable .305 wOBA, and 94 wRC+. In the context of a catcher, that isn’t bad. It’s actually above average for your average catcher in terms of offense. The average catcher this year has a .222/.303/.380 line, .683 OPS, .300 wOBA, and 89 wRC+ in 2021.
He’s also been a bit unlucky. Stallings owns a batting average on balls in play is just .265, which is the 31st lowest mark in baseball. Throughout his career, he’s had a .305 BABIP. He also has a .318 xwOBA. His expected line comes out to .234/.321/.397. DRC+, which is a good predictive measurement, has him at 96. That’s a decent step forward from his wRC+.
However, Stallings isn’t young. He’s already 31-years-old, making him a late bloomer in the MLB. If they were to keep him around, he probably would be in a part-time or backup role rather than the regular role he is in now by the end of 2023.
Stallings and the Pittsburgh Pirates also have a corner on the market. There will be almost no other starting-caliber catchers available at the trade deadline that a team will be willing to part with as much as the Pirates will be with Stallings. So if a team wants a good backstop, they have to go to the Pirates.
Stallings has a .006 fWAR/plate appearance this year. That’s higher than Salvado Perez (.005) and on par with Willson Contreras (.006) for comparison. Since 2019, he’s averaged 3.2 fWAR per 500 plate appearances. Catchers who average over 3 fWAR a season aren’t going to come cheap. Especially when the said catcher has over 3 years of control remaining.
Given that Jacob Stallings has a ton of control remaining, is one of the best defenders not just at his position but all throughout baseball, is the only starting caliber catcher on the trade market, and that he’s about average offensively for his position, Stallings could bring back a noteworthy prospect.