Although the Pittsburgh Pirates brought in Austin Hedges for his defense, his bat, which was already considered the worst in the league, has somehow managed to underperform those expectations
The Pittsburgh Pirates brought in Austin Hedges to provide defense behind the plate, and some much needed veteran guidance for the young pitching staff. Almost no one expected him to do anything with the bat.
Hedges was quite literally been the worst semi-regular hitter in baseball in 2020-2022. He was dead last in every single rate statistic, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and weighted on-base average, by at least 15 points (min. 700 PAs). His 41 wRC+ made him 20% worse than the second worst batter in baseball.
Hedges was not good at the plate, to put it lightly. However, his batting numbers so far this year have even fallen below these expectations. It’s only been 62 plate appearances, but Hedges is batting .151/.237/.189, compared to his 2020-2022 slashline of .168/.231/.279. Hedges has a 23 wRC+, meaning he is a whole 77% worse than the league average batter, and 18% worse than in 2020-2022. His 8.1% walk rate and 22.3% strikeout rate are above average, but are the only silver lining he currently has with the bat.
What’s odd with Hedges is that he wasn’t considered all that bad of a hitting catcher in the early stages of his career. In 2017-2018, Hedges batted .222/.271/.412 with a .288 wOBA, and 78 wRC+. Now there’s not a single person who would see this as good hitting numbers. He was never considered to be the next Mike Piazza. But take this into consideration: Hedges hit 32 home runs in 733 plate appearances and had a .190 isolated slugging percentage. He averaged 21 home runs in 500 plate appearances. Now consider he also had +31 Defensive Runs Saved and +25.5 framing runs, and you can see how he could have been an extremely valuable catcher.
Now, Hedges’s terrible numbers in semi-regular playing time aren’t a one-of-a-kind thing, especially for a catcher. A very similar player-comp is Jeff Mathis. Mathis appeared in every Major League Baseball season from 2005 through 2021, despite a career 45 wRC+, mainly because of his ability to defend, frame, and handle a pitching staff.
Mathis has become somewhat a cult hero in the wider baseball community because of popular baseball YouTuber Foolish Baseball who made a video on the long-time back-up catcher, and is likely the first thing most baseball fans think of when you see his name. Mathis most infamous season was in 2019, when he batted .158/.209/.224 with a wRC+ of 2. You read that correctly, Mathis posted a single-digit wRC+ in over 200 plate appearances. Somehow, that is only the 6th lowest single-season mark in baseball history (min. 200 PAs).
Still, Hedges has found a way to underperform even the lowest expectations. He’s still been great behind the plate, but his bat has been nothing short of atrocious. Although I’m not saying that he’ll turn things around, hopefully he can at least match his 2020-2022 numbers. As odd as it may sound, his 2020-2022 numbers would be a marketable improvement over what he is currently doing.