Despite not playing everyday, all three Arizona Diamondbacks backstops are finding ways to contribute.
The Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotation is getting the job done in 2017. The catching trio of Jeff Mathis, Chris Iannetta and Chris Herrmann are a big reason for their succcess.
Pitchers still have to make quality pitches. A catcher can put down the right signs and set the glove in the right spot. It will not matter, however, if the pitcher does not hit the glove. Facing big league hitters, it is hard to get away with a mistake.
Diamondbacks’ starters, including Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray have lived on the edges of the strike zone and have stayed away from the middle of the plate. For the most part, left-hander Patrick Corbin has struggled. Not surprisingly, Corbin has left many fastballs in the middle of the plate, and surrendered 16 home runs in 95.1 innings pitched.
Deceiving the Umpire
The impact the catchers have cannot be overlooked. It goes beyond game calling.
In recent years, the art of pitch framing has become a point of emphasis. A majority of sabermetric stats are not good measurements of reality. Stealing strikes is an obvious benefit. For a pitcher, a 1-2 count is better than a 2-1 count. When a catcher can steal a 1-1 pitch and get a called strike, it can change an at-bat. The hitter has to expand his zone and pitchers do not have to throw strikes.
Last season, the Diamondbacks had one of the worst rotations. The pitchers made plenty of mistakes. Catcher Wellington Castillo was also one of the worst pitch framers in baseball. Pitchers like Greinke had to make to many perfect pitches. According to StatCorner’s catcher report, Castillo had a -24 +Calls. Journeyman Tuffy Gosewisch tallied a -28 +Calls. The stat means that Castillo and Gosewisch struggled to get called strikes on pitches outside the zone.
Some would prefer an automated strike zone.That’s unlikely so for now, the human element is a big part of the game. Umpires cannot get every call right and teams have to realize that.
Making an upgrade
During the offseason, general manager Mike Hazen decided to let Castillo walk. The new front office prioritized defense behind the plate.
Veterans Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta joined Arizona. Coming out of spring training, field manager Torey Lovullo and his staff decided to go with three catchers. In reality, the Diamondbacks have two “true” catchers. The left-handed hitting Herrmann can also play in the outfield and at first base.
The catching rotation has worked. This became apparent early on in spring training that Mathis and Greinke worked well together. For the most part, Iannetta catches Ray. The former Angels backstop and Herrmann seem to split Corbin and Zack Godley starts. In recent weeks, manager Torey Lovullo has switched to Herrmann catching Ray.
To this point, the system the Diamondbacks created has worked. All three catchers are better framers than Castillo. Plus, both Mathis and Iannetta have developed into elite pitch framers.
Offensive production should be an added bonus. With Castillo, it was the other way around. All three 2017 catchers struggled early with the bat. For Mathis, hitting .185 coming into Saturday’s game is a recent increase. In his last nine games, prior to Saturday, Mathis was hitting 321 in that span.
In recent weeks, all three have started to produce. Iannetta has developed a knack for hitting clutch home runs. Entering Friday night, Iannetta, Mathis and Herrmann had hit safely in 13 of their last 15 games since June 20 (.333, nine doubles and nine RBIs). In Friday’s win over the Cincinnati Reds, Mathis drove in a run with a double.
"Arizona Diamondbacks: Great starting pitching usually leads to success"
All in all, general manger Mike Hazen had done a commendable job of upgrading the catching position. The pitching staff has certainly felt the effects.