The Future of the Pirates Catching Trio

The Pirates have recently been carrying three catchers on their roster this month. Being that Elias Diaz has been hot during his time in Indianapolis and in Pittsburgh, it makes sense to keep him here in order to gain more experience. While in Pittsburgh, he has shown signs of development and is outperforming expectations.

On the other hand, Francisco Cervelli has been his usual self when healthy, posting a .345 on-base percentage, which ranks 5th among catchers (minimum 180 PA) regarding on-base percentage. Cervelli’s ability to work the count and post great on-base numbers is one of the reasons why the Pirates extended his contract last season. The third catcher in this mix is veteran Chris Stewart. Stewart posted adequate numbers in 2015, but since then, he has struggled in many ways. Along with his offensive struggles throughout the past two seasons, he has struggled to stay on the field. Injuries have plagued the catcher’s campaign in Pittsburgh and he has not been particularly valuable to the organization. Being that he is a backup, expectations cannot be sky high, but the Pirates definitely could use more production from him.

Cervelli came to the Pirates in 2015 and was spectacular. Throughout that year, he batted .295 with a .370 on-base percentage during that season. Following that season, he struggled to stay healthy, but posted very serviceable numbers when he was on the field. Cervelli is a very important aspect of the Pirates organization because he is valuable on both sides of the ball. In 2016, Cervelli ranked 12th among catchers regarding pitch framing. According to Sons of Samhorn website, Cervelli stole .77 strikes per game. Upon first glance that does not seem like much, but multiply .77 times four (games) and the number surpasses three (strikes). Meaning that Cervelli made about three balls look like strikes and in baseball, three strikes equals an out. For every four games that Cervelli played, he earned the team an “out” that shouldn’t have been an “out” thanks to his pitch framing abilities. Cervelli is providing hidden value to the club when he is healthy, and should be valued for what he is doing.

Cervelli’s back up, Diaz, has so far shown that he has the ability to be a serviceable hitter at the major league level. To compliment his bat, he is a great defensive catcher. There are no pitch framing metrics available to the public regarding Diaz yet, so only statistics like defensive runs saved (DRS), stolen base runs saved above average (rSB), and passed balls serve to provide any analysis of Diaz’s performance. Regarding DRS, he has zero. Meaning he sits directly in correlation to league average. In regards to rSB, he has saved one run, which is respectable through 110 innings played. Additionally, Diaz only has one passed ball event throughout these 110 innings. These statistics are only useful to a certain extent, but they provide some analytic data to his defensive ability. Many people forget that back in 2015 he won the ‘Captain Catcher’ award in the minors. This award highlights his defensive ability and proves that he is capable of being a great defender.

Two MLB.com videos that display Diaz’s arm power and defensive ability are here and here. The best defensive catcher in the Pirates system is definitely exciting to watch keep runners in check throughout his starts.

The Pirates are in a position where a decision has to be made regarding the future of either Diaz or Stewart. Diaz needs to be playing at least four times a week, and when Cervelli comes back, that most likely will not happen. Stewart does not provide value to the club on either side of the ball and it would not be a bad decision to move on from him with his contract expiring following this season even though he does have a club option for 2018. It is not a bad circumstance to have two good catchers on your major league roster. Next season if Cervelli is healthy, he will obviously be the starter and rightfully so. However, letting Diaz and Cervelli split time behind the plate would not be a problem at all. In the best-case scenario, it would allow Cervelli to maintain his health by staying fresh and it could start to incorporate Diaz into an “everyday” role. This strategy would prepare Diaz better for the future as the Pirates starting catcher.

Watching Diaz flaunt his fantastic arm is something that everyone in Pittsburgh should appreciate. He was in the minors longer than he should have been and has been itching for this opportunity. He plays as if he has something to prove and so far this season he is proving that he deserves more time behind the plate. The way he fires the ball around the field is spectacular and he keeps base runners honest. Diaz brings a special charisma onto the field and it is fun watching him play. There is no reason why he should not continue to get half of the reps behind the plate, even when Cervelli returns from his DL stint.

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