Pittsburgh Pirates: Austin Hedges Not a Guarantee Upgrade at Catcher

Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Five
Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Five / Elsa/GettyImages

Saturday night the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Austin Hedges, but it's no guarantee he'll be an upgrade at catcher

Since the start of the offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates have needed to address the catcher position. Saturday night, they finally addressed the catcher position by signing Austin Hedges to a one-year deal worth $5 million. However, there is no guarantee that this will be an upgrade at the position.

Last season, Hedges hit for a .163/.241/.248 slash line with a 42 wRC+ and OPS+ in 338 plate appearances. Hedges posted a -0.4 WAR, this came despite Hedges once again being a plus defender at the catcher position.

Earlier in the week, the Pittsburgh Pirates re-signed catcher Tyler Heineman to a minor league deal. The Heineman contract is one that, rightly so, went under the radar. With the hope and belief that the Pirates would add legitimate catching help the thought was that the Heineman may not much matter. Well, Heineman may still be the best catcher that the Pirates have.

Between the Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays, Heineman had 174 plate appearances last season. The switch-hitting Heineman hit for a .217/.276/.268 slash line with a 57 wRC+ and a 56 OPS+. With his defense, Heineman was worth a WAR of 0.2.

All signs point toward the Pirates having a catching duo of Hedges and Heineman when the 2023 season begins. This would most likely see Hedges getting the majorty of the starts. However, it is no guarnatee that Hedges is an upgrade over Heineman.

The calling card for Hedges is his defense, but Heineman is no slouch defensively either. Last season Heineman was responsible for a +5 Defensive Runs Saved, while Hedges posted a DRS of +8. While Hedges may have been slightly better defensively, Heineman was the better hitter of the two.

In 2022 Hedges was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball. Among 277 batters who had at least 300 plate appearances last season, Hedges's 42 wRC+ ranked 276th, So, essentially, among players with at least 300 PAs Hedges was the second-worst hitter in baseball in 2022.

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Did the Pirates need to improve the catcher position outside of Heineman? Absolutely. Is Hedges this upgrade? That is up for debate. Hedges may be a slight defensive upgrade over Heineman, but he is an offensive downgrade.