Although this yr’s marketplace for catchers is fairly barren, a lot in order that Pedro Severino was a strong pickup for the Brewers, the 2023 free agent class is way more fertile. A number of notable catchers can be accessible for groups to vie for, together with Max Stassi, Willson Contreras, and Mike Zunino. Quite than wait the additional yr, nonetheless, the Colorado Rockies appear content material with their in-house choices, final week handing veteran backstop Elias Díaz a three-year extension price $14.5 million. The contract covers his remaining yr of arbitration and two seasons of free company.

In so doing, the Rockies have successfully introduced their intent to stay with Díaz fairly than seek for a brand new on a regular basis catcher; Dom Nuñez will possible occupy a backup position, whereas Drew Romo, the group’s No. 3 prospect in accordance with our 2021 rankings, remains to be a few years away from his big-league arrival. All issues thought of, Díaz had himself a strong season. His 1.6 WAR ranked fifteenth amongst 30 catchers with no less than 300 plate appearances, making him nearly a smack-dab common backstop. Assuming Díaz can sustain this stage of manufacturing, an AAV just below $5 million is a inexperienced mild, extra so due to the relative shortage of dependable options.

However after all, it’s extra sophisticated than that. In 2019, his earlier full season, Díaz was one of many worst catchers within the league, with a 61 wRC+ and a unfavourable worth in nearly each defensive metric; he was non-tendered by the Pirates that offseason. His observe file earlier than that isn’t spectacular, both – although Díaz accrued 1.8 WAR in 82 video games in 2018, his ’17 marketing campaign was disastrous, good (?) for -1.2 WAR. The Rockies are betting that this back-and-forth parkour will cease, and that the Díaz of the current can be who Díaz stays sooner or later. It’s a bit dangerous, although. Which model of Díaz is extra more likely to seem subsequent season, and might we make an informed guess utilizing the numbers?

Let’s begin along with his bat. Díaz began the 2021 season on a hard notice; by means of the month of Could, he had a .125/.193/.188 triple slash line with only a single house run and a -8 wRC+. As an alternative of slicing Díaz, although, the Rockies stored the religion. It paid off huge time: Díaz would go on to hit .283/.346/.550 (123 wRC+) the remainder of the best way, fully turning round what in any other case appeared like a doomed yr.

As for what he did in a different way, effectively, supervisor Bud Black has talked about Díaz’s bodily power and sturdiness. And sure, these issues positively mattered. They will’t be simply measured, however maybe they helped forge this easy development. Within the second half of final season, Díaz began hitting the ball within the air far more typically:

His fly ball charge and wOBA go hand in hand, which isn’t too stunning to see. In actual fact, Díaz could be a hitter who can profit from Coors discipline – his batted ball numbers aren’t the flashiest, however he’s proven a modest quantity of pop all through his profession. Furthermore, the skinny Denver air means Díaz doesn’t want top-end exit velocities to supply extra-base hits. If he can proceed elevating the ball with the requisite quantity of drive, which his house area lowers, a 20-homer season doesn’t appear out of attain.

Alternatively, we now know that modifications to a hitter’s launch angles aren’t essentially everlasting. Habits are tough to vary, and elevating isn’t for everybody. Take into account Eric Hosmer, who briefly appeared to faucet into his slugger potential in 2020, solely to revert to his previous kind the next season. Or Christian Yelich, who as soon as served as a poster boy for the launch angle revolution however is now again to his pre-2018 self, although in his case accidents are possible an enormous offender.

Then there’s the matter of how Díaz will carry out behind the plate. As soon as a horrible pitch framer, he’s grow to be respectable in current seasons, elevating his strike charge on borderline pitches from 44.6% in 2019 to 47.1% in ’21. It won’t seem to be a lot, however in accordance with Baseball Savant, the previous charge value Díaz’s group 10 entire runs; now, his receiving no less than isn’t a legal responsibility.

However I stay skeptical of one-hit framing wonders, and right here’s why. As a check, I discovered which catchers improved their strike charges probably the most between 2017 and ’18, then checked out how they fared in ’19. Mainly, how sustainable are enhancements to framing? My outcomes had been blended. On common, the 9 catchers I measured, starting from Alex Avila to Zunino, misplaced roughly 1.9 proportion factors of strike charge in 2019 following an enchancment in ’18.

That doesn’t imply each catcher obtained worse. Jonathan Lucroy, for instance, gained a further 1.2 proportion factors. And an apparent caveat is how restricted my pattern was, as discovering catchers who play often for 3 consecutive seasons is surprisingly tough. However it does appear essential to sprinkle in some “regression” to a catcher’s framing numbers. In Díaz’s case, it’d sign a reversion to his former self, which the Rockies are banking gained’t happen.

Pitch framing isn’t every little thing, although. Díaz additionally managed to throw out 42.1% of would-be base-stealers final season, putting him second behind Salvador Perez (43.9%). And certainly, a portion of his 1.6 WAR will be attributed to Díaz’s marksmanship. However right here’s one curious element. Previous to writing this text, I assumed that he had grow to be sooner at throwing out runners, and due to this fact higher at throwing them out. To my shock, nonetheless, Díaz at all times had a powerful arm – he averaged an exceptionally good pop time of 1.93 seconds in 2019, when he recorded a hit charge of 26%. Huh. One thing didn’t add up.

Besides… the impact of a catcher’s arm on controlling the working recreation isn’t as nice as one may suppose. There’s a fantastic article by Max Weinstein I at all times return to, which demonstrates that pitcher launch occasions are what primarily decide the end result of a stolen base try. Have a sooner supply, and chances are high runners will run out of time earlier than arriving at second base. We additionally know pitch location is an element, too – a fastball up and away is less complicated for a catcher to deal with than a breaking ball down and in. Did the Pirates’ pitching employees, which (in)famously insisted on sinkers in the course of the 2010s, someway masks Díaz’s capability to throw out runners? Who is aware of! Possibly the Rockies have helped him unlock his potential. If there’s purpose to consider this isn’t a coincidence, there’s additionally purpose to consider an extension is justified.

It gained’t value the Rockies an excessive amount of even when Díaz finally ends up a bust; unfold out over three seasons, $14.5 million is pocket change in comparison with what this yr’s marquee free brokers will obtain. Even so, I do suppose there’s a component of threat. If all three elements of Díaz’s recreation – offense, framing, throwing – come collectively, the Rockies may have themselves a discount. Two out of three would nonetheless symbolize a hit. With just one, although, the extension gained’t look as fairly, and what’s even scarier is the actual chance of getting zero. Díaz has been, effectively, not good earlier than, and finds himself on the fallacious facet of 30.

Nonetheless, the stakes right here stay low. The Rockies are presumably assured about what Díaz’s true expertise is. Díaz presumably wished to stay in Colorado. There’s a match right here, one I don’t blame both facet for committing to. Hopefully, its ending is as benign as its starting.

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