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An Astros ALDS Roster Essay- The Catchers- Why/Why Not Stubbs

On 10/3/21, I laid out what I thought the Astros ALDS should be and what I thought it will be here.

I promised some follow-up articles. The first is why the Astros should add Garrett Stubbs, and why I think they won’t.

I believe that every MLB postseason plate appearance is critical, and a team cannot afford to give up opportunities to score runs. One consequence of this is that the Astros NEED to pinch hit for Maldonado starting in the sixth inning (possibly even the fifth) at RISP opportunities.

The Astros currently have TEN Players with more than 160 PA hitting greater than 0.760 OPS but none is greater than 0.917. Diaz is hitting 0.721 OPS is 11th. The AL league average is 0.728 OPS. This group of strong hitters gives the Astros maximum flexibility to match potential batter's strengths with the starter’s weaknesses.

What does this have to do with Stubbs? Why am I even bringing up an OPS 0.458 backup catcher with a wRC+ of 27? My plan for Stubbs would be for him to never hit but to appear in almost every game that was close or that the Astros were losing.

First, let’s face some hard facts about Martin Maldonado.

On Maldonado

  • 2021 Season there are 224 MLB hitters with more than 350 PA. Maldonado has 426 PA. He ranks

    • 219th in wRC+ 63

    • 220th in wOBA 0.258

    • 221st in OPS 0.573

    • 201st in WAR 0.2

    • 12th in defensive WAR 11.5

  • Since 8/04 (55 games – call it the last third of the season) there are 209 MLB hitters with as many PAs as Maldonado (140 PA). He ranks

    • 205th in wRC+ 51

    • 205th in wOBA 0.241

    • 206th in OPS 0.516

    • 191st in WAR -0.1

    • 11th in defensive WAR 3.8

The Astros insist on playing a player who is a black hole of offense and rally killer. They do this because of his defensive metrics

  • Interesting comparison – 2021 Season OPS

    • Castro 2021 Season – 0.799

    • Ave Batter – 0.728

    • Ave Catcher - 0.696

    • Maldonado

      • 2021 Season - 0.573

      • last 1/3 of season - 0.516

      • since 9/1/21 - 0.469

    • Ave Pitcher - 0.285

Maldonado is a beast defensively and he will likely start every game in this postseason, but his bat is brutal late in close games. Maldonado has batted more like a pitcher for the last month than he does like the other catchers.

On the positive side Jason Castro has been on fire at the plate recently even in limited appearances. Castro was terrible in June, July, and August because I believe he was hurt. Consider these data points

  • In 27 PA since coming off the IL on 9/17, Castro has hit 1.599 OPS and for a 322 wRC+.

  • Also, as a PH in 2021, Castro has hit 1.188 OPS and 226 wRC+.

  • In high Leverage situations, Castro has hit 0.931 OPS and 162 wRC+.

Castro is a PH and late innings batting weapon. Also, here is a data point that very few Astros fans know nor appreciate.

ERA by Catcher

Yes, Maldonado is a great defensive catcher. Clearly, he is better at throwing out runners. How many Astros fans know that the ERA are almost exactly the same when either catcher is behind the plate?

OPS by Pitcher – Castro vs. Maldonado

This data becomes even more interesting when you look at the comparison of each pitcher throwing to Castro or Maldonado. Many of them have a significant difference in OPS depending on the catcher.

In general, the pitchers that will start in the ALDS have not thrown much to Castro. Garcia seems to do even do better with Castro behind the plate. Valdez probably does better with Maldonado.

Overall, the OPS when throwing to Castro for these pitchers has been 0.662. Overall, the OPS when throwing to Maldonado for these pitchers has been 0.676.

The unusual thing is looking at all of the mid to late pitchers. All the pitchers likely to appear in the 6th inning or later with the only exception of Blake Taylor, appear to pitch better to Castro than Maldonado. The OPS of mid to late pitchers throwing to Castro is 0.610 and to Maldonado is 0.679. That is a HUGE difference and not one 99% of Astros fans would expect. The challenge in this data is it statistically significant. For those that arrived at the trade deadline with 26-43 PA throwing to Castro, it is most like not statistically significant for any one pitcher. For the full season pitchers, it becomes more debatable. For the group of the seven pitchers together and given the magnitude of the difference, it is very significant and the Astros pitching coaches probably already know this and why.

What does it all mean?

  • Maldonado has batted more like a pitcher for the last month than he does like the other catchers. His plate appearances need to be managed accordingly.

  • The core pitchers of the mid and late innings pitchers have performed better throwing to Castro

  • Castro has been a PH and high leverage batting weapon who is hot right now.

I think the Astros should manage the catcher role and that spot in the order as if it were a pitcher. Take a pitching mindset to how the Astros catchers are deployed in the ALDS. This means Maldonado can start games, but Castro needs to finish them. Think of Castro as the catching closer. He should come into games starting with the catching spot in the seventh or eighth depending on the game situation.

OK, you may be wondering, wasn’t this supposed to be about Stubbs? If Maldonado is the Astros starter catcher and Castro is the closer catcher, there are games where the Astros may need Stubbs to be the middle catcher.

Let’s project a vision for an ALDS game that describes why I think they need three catchers.

ALDS Game 1

It’s a 3-3 Tie game in the bottom of the sixth

  • You are pulling McCullers before the top of the seventh

  • Carlos Rodon is pitching

  • Maldonado’s spot in the order is up- Maldonado has struck out twice already

  • Meyers is on first

  • There is one out

  • I send Diaz or McCormick to the plate to PH

  • After the inning, I send Stubbs in to catch

It’s now a 4-3 Astros lead in the bottom of the eighth

  • Stubbs is up

  • Craig Kimbrel is pitching

  • Gurriel is on second

  • There are two outs

  • I send Castro to the plate to PH and then go into the game to be the catching closer

I can come up with scores of these scenarios that prove there would be value to having Stubbs on the roster to treat the catching spot in the order in a similar way that the pitching spot in the order is treated in an NL game. In almost all Stubbs would not ever bat just like most NL middle relief pitchers never bat.

Stubbs is considered a good defensive catcher capable of throwing out runners. His Catcher ERA and OPS were even better than Maldonado and Castro.

It’s the postseason. Every PA is critical on offense and on defense. Having Stubbs as the middle inning catcher gives the Astros the best options available for pinch hitting for an AB in the fifth, sixth, or seventh inning and having Castro available as a high leverage bat and closer catcher in the eight and ninth innings.

Therefore, Garrett Stubbs should be on the ALDS roster.

Why the Astros will not add Stubbs to the ALDS Roster

I believe the Astros would rather have Marwin Gonzalez than Garrett Stubbs on the roster. I think they are wrong. We will address case for and against Marwin in the next few days.

I believe the Astros Front office will look at Stubbs’s stats - OPS 0.458, wRC+ of 27- and dismiss the possibility of using Stubbs as I described.

They will also rightly say we can just bring in Castro at any point it makes sense. The problem with that is you lose flexibility to use Castro earlier in the lineup in the 8th or 9th and also PH one of the remaining OFs.

We will see who is right.

If Maldonado bats in the sixth inning because it's too early to substitute in Castro, we will have lost out by not having Stubbs on the roster.

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