Before the season started I complained that I didn’t want the Royals to sign Martín Maldonado. I wanted them to give a chance to one of their guys in AAA. After watching Martín catch entirely too much for the last two weeks I am really glad the Royals did it. Shortly after the Royals signed Maldonado FanGraphs updated their WAR stat to account for pitcher framing. This gave Maldonado a huge value boost in their system while costing Salvador Perez dearly. This was something I had anticipatet - I wrote about it at the time - but I did not have nearly enough of an understanding of how much more fun it would be to watch him catch.
Two weeks in, and now I’m sold.
Baseball Savant recently added the ability to view every pitch in a video clip. So, in order to illustrate the difference between the two catchers here is a video of Perez catching a Brad Keller fastball at the low-away corner. According to the Gameday zone, it should be a strike but it was called a ball:
And here is a video of Maldonado catching a Keller slider in roughly the same spot but a bit further outside. He gets the called strike.
Watching those two pitches it’s pretty easy to see the difference between the two catchers, right? Maldonado, despite catching a pitch that’s moving a lot more, seems to barely move. Salvy jerks that fastball from the corner to the midpoint of the zone. This leads to Martín getting the call while Sal blows it.
By my eye, it’s an economy of motion that sells it. When Salvy jerks it all over the place the ump knows he’s being manipulated. When Sal holds it perfectly still the ump knows he’s being manipulated. Maldonado moves just enough to make it look natural without obscuring the umpire’s view or obviously trying to manipulate the umpire’s eyes. I’ve also seen Maldonado do a little trick where he moves his glove lower than he expects the ball and then naturally moves his glove up to catch it rather than stabbing down at it. It seems likely this can trick the umpire into seeing the ball higher than it actually was.
I’m not saying that the Royals should cut Salvy and keep Maldonado. I am just saying I’m probably going to miss Martín a lot more than any of the other 2019 veterans when he leaves. He’s been extremely fun to watch control the strike zone. Even if I do wish he could get some more days off. I’m sure he’ll be happy to go to another team that has a more reasonable approach to playing their catchers when the season is over.
It’s an extremely small sample size but before Friday night’s game, Martín Maldonado and Cam Gallagher have combined to get Keller twelve strike calls on pitches outside of the zone while costing him only three that were inside. A combination of Salvy, Gallagher, and Drew Butera earned Keller 56 bonus strikes last year while also costing him 55. If you multiply the current rates across 30 starts Keller would end up with 120 extra strikes and only 30 lost strikes. I think you can see how that might make a pretty big difference over the course of the season. And that’s just one starting pitcher.
Also, for what it’s worth, Gallagher seems to be right on board the framing train. Here’s a video of him looking a lot like Maldonado on a Keller slider:
Don’t give up on Hunter Dozier just yet
This argument is probably easier to swallow after his last two games against the Mariners but people were already asking about bringing Cheslor Cuthbert back earlier this week. Dozier is now slashing .194/.268/.472/.741 which isn’t pretty by any means but is definitely serviceable. It comes to a 93 wRC+, according to FanGraphs. His ISO probably won’t remain that high but his average and OBP should both rise.
If you were paying attention you probably saw this coming. Royals Review commenter Grantastica was paying attention. He pointed out in the Rumblings that Hunter Dozier seemed to be killing some baseballs right at people so I checked at FanGraphs and, before Wednesday night’s game, Hunter was murdering baseballs such that he had a measly 9.1% soft contact rate but only a .095 BABIP. Those two things don’t belong together. Sure enough Hunter murdered some more baseballs for the next couple of days for four hits in nine at-bats with two bombs and a double. His soft contact rate is still only 10% and his BABIP is still only .148 so you can expect that he’s still got some positive regression to go.
This, then, is your yearly reminder to keep an eye on all the stats to see where things aren’t adding up and guys might improve or get worse. Brad Boxberger is also catching a lot of heat from Royals fans and it might be that he really is terrible but he’s striking out three times as many guys as he’s walking and facing a BABIP over .400. There’s a fair chance, yet, that he turns out to be a reliable arm in the bullpen.
I was wrong about the Chris Owings signing, too
When the Royals first signed Chris Owings I didn’t really care. Yeah, they probably overpaid but not by some amazing amount. He would be the backup infielder and do it probably better than Alcides Escobar. I thought I’d rather have him sitting on the bench most nights while someone like Nicky Lopez or Humberto Arteaga got daily reps in AAA. That was good enough for me.
Had someone told me that signing Owens (and later Lucas Duda) would mean that Brian Goodwin would get cut and Owings would be in the lineup every single day I would not have been nearly as calm about the move. Nicky Lopez has very little left to prove in the minor leagues. If they were going to be playing someone other than Whit Merrifield at second base every day it might as well have been him. At least if the team had cut Goodwin in order to allow Lopez to start every day that would have made some sense to me. But cutting him to get at-bats for Owings, Duda, and Terrance Gore was just asinine. Goodwin is making sure to rub it in the Royals’ faces, too, as he was carrying a 152 wRC+ for the Angels before Friday night’s action. Owings’ wRC+ was 3. Duda’s was -23.
I feel like I’ve said this a lot and will probably continue needing to say it a lot but this probably doesn’t make a difference in the long term. Brian Goodwin probably isn’t an answer in the outfield for more than a few weeks and by the end of the year no one will miss him. But the sheer stupidity of continuing to choose guys who definitely aren’t answers over guys who probably aren’t answers is galling. It’s one thing to have a bad team because the talent just isn’t there yet. It’s another thing to have a bad team because you keep making inexplicable decisions.