DFA Austin Hedges, Promote Anyone
2019 was the last time pitchers got the chance to hit without the complete looming threat of the universal designated hitter. During that season, pitchers batted .128/.160/.162. Pitchers have never been threats in the line-up in baseball’s history. The universal designated hitter took over permanently in 2022, but the Pirates are pretty much bringing back having a pitch bat last with Austin Hedges in the line-up on a semi-regular basis.
Now it’s not like the Pirates brought in Hedges thinking he would win a Silver Slugger. From 2020 through 2022, he was statistically the worst hitter in baseball. But he hasn’t even delivered good on that. Through 67 plate appearances, Hedges is batting .138/.210/.172 with a .189 wOBA and wRC+ of 12. Yes, 12, meaning he has been 88% worse than the league-average batter.
Defensively, he’s done what the Pirates have asked. In 180.2 innings, he has +1 defensive run saved, +3.7 framing runs, and has been one of baseball’s best blocking catchers. Of course, defense has never been a question, and the whole reason the Pirates brought him in was because of his ability to call games, frame pitches, and more.
Hedges currently has the worst single-season wRC+ among Pirates catchers who stepped to the plate at least 60 times. It’s getting to a ridiculous degree to how poorly Hedges has done with the bat in his hand. The Pirates have to do something, anything at this point, in order to stop this from happening.
Of course, Endy Rodriguez or Henry Davis would be the most fun solution. Davis has a wRC+ over 200 at Double-A at the time of writing this. Endy Rodriguez is off to a slow start to 2023, though that’s not atypical for him. He’s still one of baseball’s premier prospects. But it doesn’t even have to be either Davis or Rodriguez. We’re talking about out-hitting someone who isn’t doing much better than your average pitcher with the bat in their hands.
With Jason Delay performing well with the bat and glove right now and the ability to be a solid hold-over until Davis or Rodriguez are in the major leagues, you don’t need a potential all-star to replace Hedges. Heck, even Grant Koch is doing respectably at Triple-A, batting .282/.341/.487 with a .359 wOBA and 104 wRC+.
There’s almost nothing Hedges could do with the glove at this point to offset a historically bad bat. While Rodriguez or Davis would be a fun promotion, they don’t have to be the ones to replace Hedges on the Major League roster. A 50 wRC+ would be an acceptable replacement over Hedges right now. This is not an exaggeration: the difference between Austin Hedges and a league average wRC+ is nearly the same difference as a league average wRC+ and Ted Williams’ career wRC+.