Mike Hazen, general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, added his fourth free agent catcher of the offseason, Hank Conger.
Conger, 29, is the fourth
free agent catcher signed by
general manager Mike Hazen this
offseason. On Dec.
6, 2016, the Diamondbacks agreed to a two-year, $4
million deal with Jeff Mathis. On Jan. 14,
Arizona designated catcher Juan Graterol for assignment and signed Chris Iannetta to a
million contract. On Jan. 25, Josh Thole signed a
one-year minor league contract.
Conger, a career
.221 hitter, is
another example of Hazen’s desire to acquire defensive-minded backstops. He made this clear when Welington Castillo was not tendered a contract.
Last season, catcher framing was one reason Diamondbacks’ pitchers recorded the worst
in the majors. Four catchers appeared
major league games and combined for -12.2 runs above
average, according to Stat Corner’s pitch framing
data. Castillo earned his pitchers, from a sample size of
8,367 balls caught,
7.4 extra strikes on balls called outside the
Above Average Framing
During the spring of 2015, with the Astros, Conger talked with MLB.com about his receiving.
"I want to try to give the best presentation to at least see the ball and not try to deceive [the umpires] and not try to trick them,” Conger said. “I’m trying to stay as quiet as possible and just really catch the ball where it’s at. That’s probably the best way I could really describe it as far as my receiving."
Conger, according to
Baseball Prospectus’ framing runs above
average, is an above
average framer. In seven seasons, Conger has saved 42.8 more runs than the
average catcher. His framing numbers declined the past two seasons,
compared with 2014, but the
Washington, has averaged only 53.3 games a season.
Role of Advanced Stats
During the same interview with Astros beat reporter Brian McTaggart, Conger said advanced metrics help him understand where to
set up behind the plate.
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“I think I did a
good job when I was younger receiving the ball, but now seeing all the numbers [analytics] and kind of understanding how your body needs to
set up, whether you get wide or thinner as far as your stance. A lot of things come into play,” Conger said.
Conger struggled to control opposing base stealers
in 2016. He allowed 35 stolen bases and picked off eight runners, with an 18.6 caught-stealing percentage.
In previous seasons, Conger was better
in this department, but this part of his game should concern the Diamondbacks. Castillo, during his time
Arizona, was one of the best
baseball at preventing stolen bases.
In a December interview with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Hazen prioritized a long-term solution behind the dish.
“If we found more of a
long-term replacement for the position it could morph into something
different,” he said. “(If that happens) it’s a better bet that comes via the trade market than the free-
Hazen has used the free agency to add catching depth. A trade for a “franchise catcher” could be
in the works.
One thing is clear: when
spring training workouts begin next week, Mathis, Ianetta, Thole and Conger, along with Chris Herrmann and
will compete for the starting job.