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Arizona Diamondbacks: Catcher Hank Conger Signed as Free Agent

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May 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Hank Conger (24) sets to throw the ball during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
May 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Hank Conger (24) sets to throw the ball during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mike Hazen, general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, added his fourth free agent catcher of the offseason, Hank Conger.

On Wednesday, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed catcher Hank Conger to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

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

one-year, $1.5

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

team

ERA,

5.09,

in the majors. Four catchers appeared

in

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

strike zone.

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

native of

Federal Way,

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.

More from Venom Strikes

“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

in

Arizona, was one of the best

in

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-

agent market.”

Hazen has used the free agency to add catching depth. A trade for a “franchise catcher” could be

in the works.

Next: Strengths and Weaknesses Behind the Plate

One thing is clear: when

spring training workouts begin next week, Mathis, Ianetta, Thole and Conger, along with Chris Herrmann and

Oscar Hernandez,

will compete for the starting job.

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