2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: Catchers

Article By: Jim Falbo | @BuccoSharkTank

For my first series of articles I will do a brief position by position analysis of the Pittsburgh Pirates.


The Pirates already have their catching plan in place for 2014. Russell Martin will be the team’s starting backstop, and Chris Stewart was acquired to be the backup.

Russell Martin proved to be a a difference maker in 2014. His occasional power (15 HR) and league average offense (101 wRC+) at the catcher position was a welcome addition to the Pirates lineup (remember the failed Rod Barajas experiment of 2012?). However, Martin’s biggest contributions came from behind the dish. Per Fangraphs.com, Martin’s defensive value was rated the highest of all MLB catchers in 2013 with 22.5 defensive runs saved, and threw out 40% of would be base-stealers. Great strides have been made in evaluating performance, so much so that there are now metrics that quantify a catchers ability to “frame pitches” as called strikes for pitchers. Martin ranked 6th in MLB in pitch framing metrics with 17.5 RAA (runs above average). Altogether, Martin ranked third on the Pirates with 4.3 WAR and 4.1 fWAR behind both 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. Since Martin is entering his age 31 season and not to mention playing for a new contact, he should be expected to play at a similarly high level in 2014.

Chris Stewart owns a career slash line of .211/.293/.272 with 8 home runs in 734 PA and a 59 wRC+. Simply put, Stewart was not acquired for his offensive contributions. While he lacks offensive value, his defensive abilities are top notch. Stewart rated as the 7th most valuable defensive catcher in MLB with 11.9 defensive runs saved, and threw out 31% of would be base-stealers. His pitch framing skill was ranked 2nd in MLB with 22.7 RAA. Having Stewart as the backup ensures that the Pirates pitching staff will not lose any advantages from behind the plate when Russell Martin is off.

Tony Sanchez has always been considered a fine defensive catcher with a strong arm but many wondered if he would ever hit enough to be an everyday catcher. Sanchez answered his critics by posting a strong AAA slash line of .288/.368/.504 and mashing 10 home runs in just 260 AB. Despite Sanchez’s improvements, many viewed the trade for Chris Stewart as a sign that the Pirates soured on Sanchez. The reality is that with Martin’s durability (he’s played in at least 120 games in 7 of his 8 years), Sanchez would play sparingly as a backup and his development could be stunted. With Martin expected to leave as a free agent after 2014, Sanchez is slated to be the Bucco’s everyday catcher in 2015. Sanchez needs to play everyday to continue improving as a hitter and stay sharp defensively, thus he will begin as the starting catcher for the Indianapolis Indians. It should be noted that if Martin were to go down, Sanchez would become the Pirates everyday catcher while Stewart would remain the backup.

2014 depth options: Tony Sanchez, Omir Santos, Carlos Paulino, and Nevin Ashley.

2013 stats:
(click image to view full size)

2013 stats

*The WAR shown in this chart is Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) and is calculated slightly differently than Baseball Reference WAR


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