Backstop Jason Delay could give the Pittsburgh Pirates something they haven’t had in a while, and provide an important role player.
The second catcher on the bench is usually not among a team’s top priorities, but it’s something that is consistently overlooked. The last time a guy started 150 or more games behind the plate? Gary Carter in 1982. J.T. Realmuto has consistently been one of the best catchers in the league, both with the leather and with the bat, but he has caught 130+ games just once in seven full seasons. Starting catchers are consistently only starting 100-120 games every year, making secondary backstops more crucial than ever.
The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had a good secondary catcher for a while. Aside from the 2018 season when the Pirates pretty much evenly split time between Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz, the last time the Pirates had a decent secondary backstop was with Chris Stewart. But Jason Delay could give the Pirates this kind of player.
Now by no means is Delay going to impact the Pirates with his bat. As a minor leaguer, he’s hit just .228/.297/.328. That’s an OPS 25 points below .650. At the time of writing this, he is slashing .238/.298/.295 with a .264 wOBA and 66 wRC+. Catching isn’t an offensive position, with the league average backstop hitting for a .665 OPS, .270 wOBA, and 70 wRC+, but Delay’s bat is even below that benchmark.
But where Delay falls behind with the bat, he makes up for it with his defense. He’s only caught 296.2 innings but already has +5 defensive runs saved. His framing has saved +2.7 frame runs as well. Throughout 800 innings, that’s +13 defensive runs saved and 7.3 framing runs. Those are numbers that would be among Gold Glove finalists. He’s also thrown some dots to throw runners out.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have two great catching prospects in Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis. Rodriguez is a good defender behind the dish but can play multiple positions. On the other hand, Davis will likely split his time between first base and designated hitter in the future. Even with Davis and Rodriguez in the system, and at Double-A no less, Delay still has a chance to carve out a spot on the Pirate roster.
Take a look around the league. The Houston Astros have Martin Maldonado, a guy who has a .583 OPS and 66 wRC+ but has played over 90 games because of his ability to handle the Astros’ pitching staff, and that’s for a team on pace to win over 100 games. The Guardians have mostly used Austin Hedges behind the dish, who has a .535 OPS and 56 wRC+. The Mets have started Tomas Nido 72 times this year, and he has a .527 OPS/55 wRC+. You’re talking about division leaders starting guys with an OPS lower than Josh VanMeter semi-regularly to regularly behind the dish for division contenders, and why? Because of their ability to defend, call games, and handle a pitching staff.
Delay is just really good at defending. Any offensive value you get is icing on the cake with a guy like Delay. A .500 OPS and 60 wRC+ would still be good enough to keep on the bench as the backup to Davis and Rodriguez. Delay would be the perfect second catcher, a guy the Pittsburgh Pirates can start every once in a while and one who can provide a good mentor for the pitchers. He provides more than what his glove and his bat can provide, and that’s good game calling and someone the pitchers can feel confident with, even if it’s just a part-time role.