It’s nearly been one full year since the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings to the Miami Marlins. So how does the trade look from both sides now?
It’s nearly been one full calendar year since the Pittsburgh Pirates traded then Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings. The backstop was coming off a career year, both with the bat and with the glove. The Pirates decided to capitalize on his peak value, trading him to the Miami Marlins for a three-player package that included Kyle Nicolas, Zach Thompson, and Connor Scott.
Stallings was coming off a season in which he batted .246/.335/.369. Overall, that wasn’t the best slash line ever, but it was decent in the context of a catcher. The league-average catcher in ’21 batted .223/.304/.391. Stalling walked at a healthy 11.5% rate while having a .312 wOBA and 94 wRC+. That comes out to slightly below league-average production but slightly above-average production for a catcher. Along with a poor triple-slash, catchers in 2021 had just a .302 wOBA and 89 wRC+.
The real prize was his fielding prowess. Stallings led Major League Baseball inDefensive Runs Saved at +21. He was also a great framer behind the dish, saving 8.8 runs through pitch framing. His +2.3 defensive WAR helped him secure the National League Gold Glove at his position.
The package the Pittsburgh Pirates received did not include one defined or obvious headliner. You could have argued that Scott, a former first-round pick with a .779 OPS, .348 wOBA, 112 wRC+, and strong second half was the best prospect the Pirates got in the return. Nicolas displayed both good velocity and break on his slider on his way to striking out a ton of batters in 2021, making him a headliner candidate. It could have been Thompson, who posted a 3.24 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP in a surprise rookie season.
Although the trade was met with criticism, including from me at first, it is worth going into a deeper dive to understand it fully. At the time, Stallings was heading into his age-32 campaign at a position with a notoriously harsh aging curve. Although he brought plenty on the defensive side of things, his bat teetered between regular starter and semi-regular platoon/back-up. Now that it’s been nearly an entire year, how has the trade aged?
Well, Stallings certainly didn’t repeat his 2021 season. He posted a meager .223/.292/.292 line through 384 plate appearances. Stallings’ walk rate had taken a massive hit, decreasing to 7.6%. He was never a power hitter, but the backstop’s ISO fell from .123 to just .069. Overall, Stallings had a .265 wOBA and 71 wRC+. Stallings wasn’t the worst-hitting catcher in the league but was in the bottom ten in OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ among peers at his position (min. 300 PAs).
But Stallings was acquired for his defense, so how did he do on that side of the baseball? This was, unfortunately, another area in which the catcher significantly regressed. After leading the league in defensive runs saved with over 20, he went on to post -9 DRS with the Fish. Framing-wise, Stallings was worth -4.3 runs. Stallings certainly wasn’t the catcher the Marlins were expecting when they gave up three players with their fair share of potential, each.
But the Pirates’ end of the deal hasn’t looked great either, at least so far. Zach Thompson also significantly regressed, posting a 5.18 ERA, 4.87 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP in his first season in black and gold. Thompson’s strikeout rate dropped from 21% to 16.6%, and his HR/9 skyrocketed from .72 to 1.41. Thompson displayed some flashes of potential, posting a sub-3.00 ERA in May and June, as well as a strong cutter, but struggled overall.
Connor Scott also didn’t have a great year at Double-A Altoona. He batted just .247/.308/.389 with a .309 wOBA, and 90 wRC+. After having a solid .170 ISO in 2021, he fell to just .142 this season. Neither his walk rate nor his strikeout rate made major improvements or unimprovements, clocking in at 7.8% compared to 7.1% and 21.7% compared to 21.1% in 2021, respectively. He still swiped ten bases and displayed solid outfield defense at all three spots, but it was nothing to write home about for the former first-rounder.
Nicolas had the most successful season out of the trio. The right-hander posted a 3.97 ERA, 4.30 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP in 90.2 innings with Scott at Altoona. Nicolas struck out over a quarter of the batters he faced with a 25.9% strikeout rate with a solid 0.89 HR/9 but had a poor 12.1% walk rate.
But there is some context that needs to be given to Nicolas. In his third start of the year, he surrendered eight earned runs on four home runs in just two innings. Outside of that one outing, he had a 3.25 ERA, .51 HR/9 rate, 26.7% strikeout rate, and 12.5% walk rate. Those are much better numbers and would have gotten him a lot more attention by the greater baseball prospect world had it not been for that terrible outing.
The trade could end up being a wash (because that’s what it looks like right now), but the Pittsburgh Pirates are more likely to come out on top over the Marlins. Stallings posted a -0.6 fWAR (10th worst among all catchers) and -0.7 bWAR. Stallings may have even lost the starting position with Nick Fortes delivering the Marlins a quality season, both with the bat and with the leather. At the very least, both Fortes and Stallings are in a platoon or time-share sort of deal.
Nicolas has a real chance of becoming part of the Pirate major league rotation in 2023. At the very least, he looks like he could be an excellent reliever. Thompson could still end up being a bullpen swingman, and Scott may end up becoming a decent fourth outfielder.
Even if one of the three pans out, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have the better end of the deal. Of course, Stallings could rebound, but he’s another year older and will likely recieve less frequent playing time with Fortes performing decently in his rookie season.