You walked in the house at midnight. It is raining heavily, you just stepped in a puddle, your significant other left and took the dog, and you were denied that promotion at work. One of those Murphy’s Law days, in effect. That was the Cleveland catcher position in 2020. Well, offensively.
Roberto Perez, Austin Hedges, Sandy Leon, and Beau Taylor combined for a 29 wRC+. For those not familiar with the metric, it plots the overall effectiveness of the hitter on a 100 equals average scale, while properly adjusting for extra base hits and walks and incorporating park effects. 71 percent worse than league average. That was the output from the Cleveland catcher brigade.
It cannot get worse. No, seriously. Austin Hedges and Roberto Perez are back and will presumably account for most plate appearances from the position in 2021, barring injury. Say it again: it cannot get worse.
This is not intended to blow smoke that the position will be good offensively. On the contrary, they are poor hitters. The argument is merely that the level of bad that existed in the vacuum of the haywire 2020 sprint cannot be duplicated, or it would be statistically improbable.
Roberto Perez and Austin Hedges each find themselves slotted in the 70 range of most wRC+ projections for 2021, which is somewhat passable given that each are elite framers, blockers, and throwers at the catcher position.
The Cleveland front office, not known for being inept by any means, willingly vested 15 to 20 percent of their payroll in these two offensive woes. This indicates a degree of confidence in their fielding capabilities, which is echoed by any metric you can locate. One theory on shedding over 9 million precious dollars on the pair could be that catcher defense is a more repeatable skillset. With catchers getting inconsistent plate appearances due to the nature of off days, finding grooves offensively can be a challenge. Consistent offensive catchers are rare, and pricy. So, the logic is to nudge bankable fielders into these innings knowing the baseline of handling a pitching staff and preventing excess base traffic is primary.
Last season, 29 teams threw fastballs of at least 98 miles per hour, with many of them throwing dozens or more of this variety. The Cleveland Indians threw exactly zero but rolled out a supremely effective pitching staff. Simply, the pitching staff that will never overwhelm you with heat might need more play from catchers who excel at getting calls around the edges.
The catcher position does not project well, but Roberto Perez and Austin Hedges might compete for a dual golden glove if it existed.
For more in-depth discussion on Cleveland’s catchers and some discussion of what awaits the club in their prospect pipeline, namely Bo Naylor and Bryan Lavastida, check out Everyone Hates Cleveland’s latest podcast:
EHC’s 2021 CLE Catcher Preview Podcast (Available on your favorite podcast sources)