Dissecting the Diamondbacks: Who Should Start at Catcher?
By Tyler Dunn
When Tuffy Gosewisch took advantage of a hanging Jake Arrieta slider over the weekend for a solo home run, he looked like a man who’d done it before.
And technically that’s true, the Diamondbacks catcher has homered one other time in his major league career. But two home runs in 300+ at bats does not a power hitter make.
A minor league journeyman with a .239/.306/.370 stat line, the 31-year-old has never been known for his offense. This season has been much of the same for Gosewisch, as he hit .223/.275/.298, save for the fact he’s done it as the DBacks’ primary backstop.
But Gosewisch has been great behind the plate, right? Watch a Diamondbacks telecast and you’ll probably hear Steve Berthiaume and Bob Brenly praise the first-year starter’s glove, but advanced metrics tell a much different story.
Data gathered by Baseball Prospectus suggests that while Gosewisch can throw out runners at a decent clip, he has actually been one of the worst pitch-framing catchers in the MLB through 44 games.
Gosewisch ranks 22nd among catchers with at least 1,000 framing chances in “Extra Strikes,” a stat calculating the difference actual and predicted strikes by the catcher. The numbers suggest Gosewisch has actually cost his team half a run so far this season, whereas the Pirates’ Francisco Cervelli, the No. 1 pitch framer according to the metric, has saved his team 5.6 runs.
Courtesy of ESPN/Elias Sports Bureau
The Diamondbacks surely could use a catcher with some thump, but considering their relatively inexperienced pitching staff has given up more earned runs than all but four other teams, a catcher who knows how to get the calls is of even more importance.
Enter Jarrod Saltalamacchia
It’s easy to tell from watching Gosewisch that he’s a player more than willing to give max effort, but given his clear deficiencies, the Snakes’ newest addition, ex-Marlin Jarrod Saltalamacchia, should receive a long look sooner rather than later.
Salty’s far from perfect. The 30-year-old catcher has been around the league for a while, and just three seasons ago put together a 25-home run season, but his production fell off an analytical cliff in 2014. The vet batted .220 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs in his first year in Miami, far from ideal, but was a complete mess defensively. Saltalamacchia committed a position-leading 15 errors, and threw out less than 20 percent of base stealers.
His pitch framing was somehow even worse. Referring back to “Extra Strikes,” Saltalamacchia posted a completely mind-boggling -117.7 – the equivalent of -17.5 runs – far and away the sorriest rate in baseball.
Much like his errors behind the plate, it’s hard to say where those results came from; in the three consecutive seasons prior to last year he had actually saved his pitching staff runs, and in 2011 was an above-average framer.
Salty was again trending toward disaster before the Marlins released him in early May, and has struggled to produce during his brief stint with the DBacks’ Triple-A squad.
Apr 23, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was hitting .069 in 29 at bats this season before being let go by the Marlins. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
But while Gosewisch has been a known commodity, it remains to be seen which Saltalamacchia will show up when the big league team comes calling. Saltalamacchia wouldn’t be the first player to experience a downward spiral as part of the Marlins; maybe a change of scenery will be all that’s needed for him to revive a once-promising career.
And if it’s a failed experiment? Obviously the Diamondbacks are hoping for a resurgence, but at the end of the day, they’re paying him the major league minimum. Saltalamacchia may be a gamble, but he’s nowhere near a costly one.
Even with their limited appeal, Gosewisch and Saltalamacchia should remain the best backstop options the team has going forward. Jordan Pacheco can technically catch, but is seen as even more of a defensive liability. Gerald Laird, at 35 and still recovering from back surgery performed last month, offers even less than the other three at this point.
Peter O’Brien, a top catching prospect sent over from the Yankees in last season’s Martin Prado deal, probably won’t be the answer as he’s since transitioned to the outfield. A move back would be unlikely.
Heading into the year, the Diamondbacks were probably content starting a weak-hitting catcher like Gosewisch, and when Salty became available for essentially nothing, must’ve been happy to scoop him up. But we’re now a quarter-way into the season and Arizona has surprised.
The team sits just two games below .500 at 21-23, and if they remain in the playoff hunt in July despite a true catching option, don’t rule out a trade. The Angels’ Chris Iannetta and the Orioles’ Matt Wieters, for instance, are both scheduled for free agency this offseason and could be had without breaking or bank (or emptying the farm).
Whatever the DBacks opt to do, you can bet general manager and former pitcher Dave Stewart and Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa – known to value a good catcher – are focused on improving the position.