8-15-2021 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
By now, I am pretty sure that most Pittsburgh Pirates Fans have become intimately familiar with journey of Jacob Stallings; from Designated For Assignment Castoff in May of 2019 to Gold Glove Finalist and Full Time Starter in 2020, and finally Gold Glove Favorite and Walk Off Artist in 2021.
Since he became the personal catcher for the majority of the Pirates starting rotation in 2019 until now, Stallings is number one in all of MLB in Defensive Runs Saved (39), top 10 ten in framing (13.8) and fifth in overall defense (29.4) all according Fangraphs.
With the bat Stallings is not as much a formidable foe, but still sits at 23rd in wRC+ (91) for catchers with at least 500 plate appearances during this time. Over the past three seasons he has posted a batting average .247 and an OPS of .710, while hitting 17 homers. Also his fWAR of 4.3 is 11th among regular starters at the position. This season he is 9th (2.0 fWAR).
For many his defensive stats stand alone, and are more than enough to justify him maintaining his role as the Pirates primary catcher, or at the very least the veteran back-up and mentor, for as long as he is under team control; which would be through 2024 as he has three more years of arbitration. Meanwhile, there are others who seem to be pushing Stallings out the door because the advanced analytics are clearly overrated, or due to the fact that recently acquired Carter Bins and Henry Davis will be ready sooner rather than later to take the helm.
Yes, the same Carter Bins who has 22 games at Double-A under his belt, is batting .154 during that time and has only thrown out 19.2% on the season with 8 errors and 12 passed balls. Or Henry Davis, who has been the designated hitter in exactly one ball game outside of the Florida Complex League.
This is not meant to be a slight on these two young men, or the potential they possess, although it could be interpreted that way. In my estimation it is more about not needing to rush development in any way. Now, if they force the issue, it’s a completely different ballgame. At that point Stalling could be seen as expendable, especially as part of potential trade package if he continues to excel behind the plate, while providing competent at bats in the box.
Nevertheless, until this happens it’s hard to imagine a tandem of Michael Perez (.155/.228/.351 with 7 homers) and Joe Hudson (.196/.276/.308 with 3 homers in AAA) behind the dish for any period longer than a stretch of August and September games, much like the ones the Pirates are in the midst of right now.
So, unless Ben Cherington is completely blown away by an offer in the off-season, Stallings will be back behind the plate in 2022, and 2023 if I am being totally honest.
And for those who say bringing in a veteran back stop would be an easy solution if Stallings were to be traded, you obviously haven’t had to learn the ins and outs of an entire pitching staff in a matter of weeks. It’s not an easy task.