Cleveland Indians Catching Tandem of Roberto Perez and Austin Hedges
After acquiring Austin Hedges in this week’s Mike Clevinger blockbuster trade, the Cleveland Indians have a very solid defensive duo behind the dish. Roberto Perez was already a defensive-first catcher. Now, Hedges helps to compliment him in that regard. More on that later.
When it comes to the catching position, some teams favor offense over defense. For example, the Washington Nationals are one of those teams. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki make up the team’s catching tandem. However, both have among the worst strike rates among qualified catchers in baseball. Gomes strike rate sits at 42.9% while Suzuki has baseball’s worst strike rate of 42.0% according to Statcast data. For comparison’s sake, the leader in that category is Omar Narvaez of the Milwaukee Brewers with a 54.4% strike rate.
Now, when it comes to the bat both catchers don’t really struggle that much. Entering play on Thursday, Gomes had a slash line of .283/.338/.483 over 65 plate appearances. Gomes has 17 hits, two home runs, seven RBI, four walks, and ten strikeouts. Furthermore, Suzuki has played in 19 games so far this season and has put up a .721 OPS over a sample of 75 plate appearances.
You could say the same thing about Martin Maldonado of the Houston Astros and Mike Zunino of the Tampa Bay Rays. Maldonado had a 46.1% strike rate entering Thursday. Meanwhile, Zunino’s strike rate sat at 45.0%. From an offensive perspective, Maldonado has a .402 on-base percentage so far this year through 29 games. Although Zunino might be batting .133 on the year, it was only two years ago that he hit 20 home runs and had 44 RBI with the Seattle Mariners. So the offensive potential is there.
As these three examples illustrate, some teams put more value in having an offensive-minded catcher over a defensive-minded one. Catcher framing is so important in the game today and dictates the success of any pitching staff. That has certainly been the case for the Indians.
Deep Dive Into Roberto Perez
The aforementioned Roberto Perez has quietly been one of the most effective catchers in baseball since the start of the 2019 regular season. Dating back to the start of last season, Perez leads all qualified catchers in Defensive Runs Saved with 33. However, the defensive metric through FanGraphs doesn’t necessarily like him all that much. In that category, he has a value of 22.3 which ranks fifth among those on the list. Granted, the list is small with only seven catchers around baseball having enough innings to qualify.
Regardless of that though, Perez accumulated a Caught Stealing Percentage (CS%) of 41% over 993 and two-thirds innings last year. Fast forward to this year and his CS% currently sits at 75% which is way above the American League average of 27%. It’s a very small sample size so far this season (129 innings), but it still gives the illustration of how valuable Perez is to the Indians and their pitching staff.
Those metrics are what contributed to Perez winning his first career Gold Glove Award last season. Now, from an offensive perspective, his overall numbers are down from where they sat last season. In 2019 over 119 games, he hit .239/.321/.452 with 93 hits, 24 home runs, 63 RBI, 45 walks, and 127 strikeouts. So far this season through 56 plate appearances, he is hitting .167/.286/.250 with eight hits, one home run, five RBI, six walks, and 18 strikeouts.
Perez was sidelined for about a three-week period with a sore right shoulder. He has since returned, but it was nagging him enough on Wednesday that he was out of the starting lineup. The 31-year old is expected to be in the starting lineup for Friday’s game though.
Austin Hedges in Focus
Now that we have done a deep dive into Roberto Perez’s defensive and offensive metrics, let’s analyze the Indians newest acquisition in the aforementioned Austin Hedges. Hedges has always had a track record of being a very good, defensive-minded catcher. The only caveat is that he struggles severely at the plate.
Looking at the same defensive metrics as Perez, Hedges ranks second when it comes to Defensive Runs Saved between last year and this season with 22. In addition, he has an overall Framing Rate of 20.7 along with a defensive rating of 30.1 which ranks second behind only J.T. Realmuto of the Philadelphia Phillies.
In terms of CS%, Hedges currently has a 46% value in that category ahead of the National League average of 25%. Looking back at last year, his CS% sat at 33% ahead of the 26% NL average. Hedges was originally drafted by the Padres during the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft. At that time, he was considered by many scouts across baseball as being the best defensive prospect in the class. That has definitely held true during his major league tenure thus far.
Now, where Hedges struggles is when it comes to his overall offensive skills. As San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler told him during Spring Training, he needed to “get on-base more” if he wanted to stay on the team. There’s another instance of a team valuing the offense provided at the catching position. Going into play Thursday, Hedges was batting .155/.254/.328 over 72 plate appearances with nine hits. Hedges also has three home runs, six RBI, six walks, and 19 strikeouts.
Given that he’s with a new team, the offensive skills might start to come around. However, regardless of the bat, he’s going to only provide more defensive value behind the dish for the Indians.
To conclude, a team like the Indians has a successful pitching staff because of the catching aspect of the equation. So far this year entering play on Thursday, the Indians ranked second in all of baseball with a 2.74 ERA over 332 innings of work. Furthermore, the pitching staff has combined for the second-most strikeouts in baseball (377) and the third-lowest Opponent Batting Average Against (.210) over that sample.
With Hedges in the fold now, the Indians may very well have the best defensive catching tandem in all of baseball. That could play to their advantage significantly once October rolls around.
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