Well, I can’t say I expected to write this free agent profile this winter. The consensus was that the Yankees would either re-sign Austin Romine or plug in Kyle Higashioka to the backup catcher position. I did imagine a scenario in which the Yankees carry three catchers next year, though that’s unlikely. Now with Gerrit Cole in tow and Romine out, there’s another option who’s come into play: Martín Maldonado.
The Yankees have interest in C Martin Maldonado, per source. Interesting stats to consider: Maldonado caught Gerrit Cole 10 times in 2019 – and Cole had a 1.57 ERA and .471 opponent OPS in those starts, his lowest numbers with any of Houston’s catchers last season.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 11, 2019
Feinsand’s tweet more or less tells you everything you need to know about why the Yankees are interested. Let’s dig in a little deeper.
He’s well regarded defensively…
The 33 year-old backstop from Puerto Rico does just about everything well defensively. He’s a good receiver, has a strong arm, and has a good rapport with his battery mates (namely, Cole).
Framing is basically the name of the game for catchers nowadays. The Yankees have emphasized it for a while, and the team’s new catching coach Tanner Swanson only reinforces its importance to the organization. Here’s how Maldonado stacks up:
|Year||Fangraphs (FRM)||Baseball Prospectus (Framing Runs)||Statcast (Runs Extra Strikes)|
All of these metrics are scaled to zero being average, so it’s pretty clear that Maldonado is better than your typical backstop even with a couple of sites having him slightly negative this year.
The pretty clear outlier here is 2017. Couldn’t tell you exactly what went right that season, but even so, that’s probably a once in a lifetime defensive year for him. Statcast doesn’t have framing numbers before 2015, but both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus had him right around 10 runs in 2013. So, I think we can assume he’s a very good framer but not in the realm of whatever happened in 2017.
Now, have his framing skills declined? That’s what his ’19 numbers indicate. That said, as the entire league has caught on to the value of a good receiver, the variance in framing ability between teams has shrunk. Perhaps that’s partly why Malonado doesn’t appear quite as good as his counterparts.
Aside from framing, Maldonado is also good at keeping pitches in front of him. He doesn’t allow many passed balls and Baseball Prospectus’s Blocking Runs has had him above average for his career.
Additionally, Maldonado is good at honing in the running game. Per Statcast, his pop time was in the 77th percentile of all catchers in 2019 and his 87.1 MPH average throwing velocity ranked sixth in baseball (Gary Sánchez was fourth).
…but brings little to the lineup
If you didn’t like what Romine brought to the table in the batter’s box, you’d actually be in for worse with Maldonado. Even though Maldo holds a better career triple-slash and wRC+ than Romine, the past two seasons tell a different story. Romine owns a 94 wRC+ since 2018, whereas Maldonado stands at 75.
It doesn’t look like there’s much offensive upside for Maldonado. All of his underlying Statcast numbers — exit velocity, hard hit percentage, expected wOBA, et. al. — are well below average.
Fangraphs pegs Maldonado for two years and $9 million. Jim Bowden nor MLB Trade Rumors have predictions for Maldonado.
After seeing what Romine (and other backstops) have signed for, Fangraphs’ projection seems a little high. Even though Maldonado is excellent defensively, he’s two years older than Romine and a worse hitter. A bunch of other backup-caliber catchers have signed one year deals in the $3 to $4 million range (Romine, Tyler Flowers, Alex Avila, Stephen Vogt). Maldonado will probably receive something similar.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
I’d rather give Higashioka a shot than Maldonado, but that doesn’t mean Maldonado doesn’t make sense. More catcher depth is good, especially with major league experience and stellar defensive chops, which is what Maldonado brings to the table. It also brings over a familiar face for Cole, though I have little doubt about his ability to dominate with or without Maldonado.