Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Debunking the Myth and Legend Of Maldonado's Value to the Astros
This article will be a work in progress where I debunk the "Maldonado is so valuable he can't sit on the bench" narrative. As new excuses roll out, I will add them to this list, and I will debunk them as well.
It has almost become a religious devotion for some with Maldonado. I call them Maldonadoiacs and they practice the religion of Maldonadoism. This article is an intervention. You have joined a cult and I am here to help you get out of that cult.
I like Maldonado too. I love that he is a leader and much younger players love him and that he works hard and seems to be a role model for others. That's great. That does not guarantee him nor anyone a lifetime access to starting for the Astros. I asked this on Twitter and I ask you now to define your answer BEFORE continuing.
WHEN would you be willing to have Maldonado as the backup catcher?
If not now, WHEN?
What would it take?
Answer that now. Then continue.
Here are the active objections I get to my belief that the time is now to bench Maldonado as the primary catcher and to bring in a starting catcher.
Maldonado is good enough offensively given everything else he brings
Maldonado is a GREAT defensive catcher
Maldonado is an EXCELLENT game caller and is the best pitching staff manager
The players almost universally love Maldonado and some have been extremely vocal about his value
A trade now will destroy the chemistry
Let's work through these items one by one.
Before I continue, let me make something CLEAR.
I am NOT saying Maldonado should be traded, cut, or leave the team in 2022. Maldy should be moved to the Marisnick defensive replacement mode IF the catching upgrade they get is not as good as Maldy defensively. Otherwise, Maldy should be used as a spot starter at catcher vs. LHSP. Then, hire him as a pitching coach next year.
Most of the data will be coming from Fangrapghs.com except where described.
Let's go through the objections one-by-one.
1. Maldonado is good enough offensively given everything else he brings
This was largely covered in detail already in the catcher trade article last week.
Here are the Cliff Notes:
Martin Maldonado is 35.8 years old and Jason Castro is 35.0 years old.
In general, batters lose 5-10 wRC+ per season at age 35.
Maldonado's only decent hitting season was in the COVID shortened 2020 when he drew 16.4% walks. Thats down to 7.1% BB% now. The 2020 season for Maldonado was an anomaly offensively.
His last four full seasons he has a wRC+ of 71 (2017-2021)
Which means one SHOULD expect a wRC+ of 45-55 for Maldy in 2022
His 2022 Season so far is 44 wRC+
How bad is this?
Astros Catchers are
28th in WAR (-1.0)
21st in DEFENSIVE WAR (2.1)
30th in wOBA (0.207)
30th in wRC+ (33)
Their batting is horrible. No, it's worse than horrible. They are likely to be doing better offensively with waiver wire catching retreads or just letting Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz catch. Of course, that is not going to happen-yet.
Maldy's offense is epically bad and I DO NOT believe it will be much better due to his age and the high level defensive metric says he is below average (more on that later). It IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. It is a crisis offensively given some of the other holes.
Objection #1 Debunked
2. Maldonado is a GREAT defensive catcher
People insist Maldonado is this defensive God as a catcher. He isn't ANYMORE. Maybe he WAS in 2017-2018. Here is a snapshot of actual defensive data. I'll have more.
Look at all of the blue on the 2022 line which reflects that Maldonado's skills are dropping with age too.
A projected defensive WAR of 9.1 in 2022
Maldy is only at 2.0 defensive WAR through 61 games (0.033 WAR/g)- this is 22nd among catchers who have had 100 PA (39)
They project 7.1 defensive WAR through the remaining 101 games. (0.070 WAR/g) Is this realistic? I don't think so.
One week ago one could argue Maldy was still throwing out runners well. NINE straight SBs later and he is failing at that also now.
Baseball Prospectus provides the best summary of defensive advanced statistics. I filtered the population to only catchers with over 2000 pitches received (59 total). For reference Maldonado has 6044 pitches and Castro has 2501 pitches. I then also filtered to only catchers with 4000 pitches received to ONLY get the starting catchers (31 total). For some players in each category a few of each are blank this causes the relative rankings population to shift with each metric.
FRAA- Fielding Runs Above Average- -1.6 - 35th of 45, 22nd of 28
CDA- Catcher Defensive Adjustment- -1.3 - 41st of 58, 22nd of 31
FrmR- Framing Runs- -1.3 - 40th of 59, 21st of 31
BlkR- Blocking Runs- 0.0- every player is 0.1 to -0.1
ThrR- Throwing Runs- 0.0- tied for 28th of 58, tied for 19th of 31
Folks, so far this season Maldonado has been a BELOW AVERAGE DEFENSIVE CATCHER. If you don't believe that you are just practicing Maldonadoism. Stop.
3. Maldonado is an EXCELLENT game caller and is the best pitching staff manager
People push some combination of Maldonado is
1. a great game caller
2. a great pitching staff manager
3. a great game prep/ execution catcher
4. a great leader
I have asked people that tell me this how do they KNOW this and how is it measured. Ultimately, they say the players say so (we will discuss this later) and that they can see it.
In addition, I believe there are several people really surprised to know that Maldonado is doing something that they do daily and that is in THEIR job description. The analytical and coaching staff are putting together the scouting report not Maldonado. He might add something and question something. That would be excellent prep for his job next year.
Here is the problem I have with this. Measure it. Prove it. All of the previous points have data that one can review to show how bad Maldonado has been this year.
I came up with a system last year. Here is my theory. IF Maldonado is such a great game caller one should see that in the pitching performance when he is calling games vs. when others are calling games. The way the Maldonadoiacs speak about him and the players say Maldy excells here, THIS should be a no brainer obvious huge gap. The good thing is the Astros have a second catcher who gets about 26-28% of the PA. This theory should be easy to test.
One way some do this is by catcher ERA which is easiest to find on Baseball Reference
Wow, that is really not good right? Maldonadoists are quick to point out that a greater percentage of Castro's innings are Verlander innings so it skews the data they say. If you show them the same data for 2021.
The excuse that year is that most of Greinke's innings were with Maldonado and that hurt him. The excuse is really flimsy for 2021 but lets play along to be nice.
So how can one study this same dynamic for EACH pitcher to each catcher. Well we can pull the data by pitcher but the statistics look like this.
Remember, we are just trying to prove how Maldonado is the excellent game caller and pitching staff manager and how this makes him so valuable that we should overlook his worse than horrible offense and mediocre at best defense.
So given the data above I pick to compare the opponents OPS vs. Maldonado and each pitcher and compare them to the same pitcher pitching to Castro. to make sure we have a statistically significant sample size (preferably ~150 to 200 PA but I will take 100 PA for this analysis) I included both the 2021 and 2022 data.
What I specifically hear in this is that Maldy is GREAT at guiding the young pitchers.
OK here is the data. I have lightened the font for several of pitchers for whom there simply is not a significant enough sample of data.
Don't get lost in all of the numbers. Focus on the last column. That would be the OPS pitching to Castro vs. pitching to Maldonado. If Maldonado was GREAT in this is should be measurable here with large gaps (more than 0.050- RED in that column) with Castro having the much higher OPS. If the young pitcher thing is true he should be helping everyone of those young pitchers right?
There are TWO pitchers that one could make the case that Maldonado helps- Odorizzi and Urquidy. What?
Odorizzi? The guy Castro knows better than Maldy who was Odorizzi's personal catcher most of last season? ALL of this gap is in 2021 because in limited data Odorizzi has actually been better to Castro in 2022. Clearly that personal catcher thing in 2021 didn't work. Maybe Castro was allowing Odorizzi to pitch his way and Maldy was forcing him to pitch the Astros way last year.
Urquidy? The 119 PA for Uquidy make it hard to have confidence statistically there. Something to monitor.
There TWO pitchers that pitch better to Castro and both have a good sample size to each- Garcia and Javier. The data strongly favors Castro here. Funny the two pitchers you would think would be the most visible sign of help and the least helped by Maldy in PERFORMANCE.
- Maybe Castro exudes more trust and confidence in them
- Maybe they think less and pitch more
- Maybe Maldy is overthinking too much
Everyone else is too small a sample size to be very definitive. Pressly and Stanek may favor Castro too.
So what is the devotees excuse this time with this analysis?
I have received two
The games Castro catches are against "easier" opponents- FALSE. in 2021 the winning percentage of teams of Castro caught games was 0.473 and Maldonado 0.464.
A convoluted usually angry argument which essentially says that Maldy gets worn down by the additional work load and really they just refuse to deal with the fact that the sample size for the starting pitchers is big enough to do this analysis.
This is supposed to be the BEST argument for Maldy. Its just another fake sports media narrative.
Objection #3 Debunked
4. The players almost universally love Maldonado and some have been extremely vocal about his value
My summary response to this is simply this
If the results do not support what is being said, I will go with the results
Now please consider.
The excuses just get less and less fact based. For this one i have applied some things I have learned about organizational psychology from 34 years in the industrial workplace.
Specifically, my experience is in the chemical industry. One devotee felt the need to point out that had no idea how a team works. Anyone that has worked in a chemical plant knows how stupid that is. If you work in a plant long enough you will hear about the guy that the team thinks is great. Everyone loves him. The reality that guy is often taking shortcuts and is talking so much he doesn't get his work done.
What is the point? Opinions are not always the best measure of performance. In the world of baseball, unlike most of life, we have a huge advantage. Performance and impact CAN be easily measured. There is a real report card. Performance does not have to rest upon the opinions of the group.
Another data point- has anyone ever noticed certain players go to the MLB All-Star game long after they are really All-Stars? Why? Because players keep voting them in.
In the world of psychology some of these issues are in what is described as tribalism. As I began to consider this section I wanted to get some help describing my theories here. I got some help from a PhD in Industrial/Organizational psychology in the content of this section.
The conundrum is this.
Why would a team be so adamant about protecting and pushing the value of a player who is clearly failing daily before their eyes?
1. He is the demigod of all things that cannot be measured in baseball and the team thinks they would implode without him
If these team REALLY thinks that then tear it all down. Trade them all. They have no chance of winning anything this year or any time going forward.
I will tell you a little secret. I was told many times in my job we could not measure something. Guess what? I developed measurements for many of those things too. Similarly to the last section, often times the measurement showed the conventional wisdom was wrong. Believe me, I am used to being unpopular on this front.
2, They are too close to admit to what they see.
I did a search trying to find something that would help you understand my perspective here. In this article,
In research conducted by British psychologists at the University of Lincoln, players on the BBC game show "The Weakest Link" were statistically far less likely to vote against the person standing to either side of them compared to players positioned across the stage. The study lends support to a proximity theory of human relations that suggests we're hardwired to support those closest to us -- literally.
We protect the ones we are closest to. We want to deny that there is anything wrong. You have likely seen this in your own family and with friends. We make excuses and defend situations even when they’re wrong. (Hat tip to ClintTheScout for that one.)
Here is how my new friend the PhD in Industrial/Organizational psychology stated this.
"There is a social perception theory of Warmth and Competence. We typically classify people as either being Warm (socially cooperative) and/or Competent (highly skilled). We can attribute both characteristics equally or unequally, but Warmth is most salient because it is easier to get along with someone you like even though they are a low performer as opposed to a highly skilled jackass. Using these two attributions, we can make a matrix of possible behavioral responses.
I would argue that the players defending Maldonado are engaging in Active Facilitation because they have a good relationship with one another. These types of behavioral responses are universal in psychology, we defend our tribe. Like a lot of things in life, it comes down to tribalism.
Active facilitation explicitly aims to assist the individual who is not performing for the benefit of the group. I think they want to help him and defend him as much as they can but hitting a baseball is an individual act."
The challenge with the things Maldonado is reportedly excellent at are that they are enablers to help others to perform. Clearly, the "others" appreciate that enablement and reciprocate in the active facilitation model, but that enablement does not seem to only be isolated to when he is on the field. I would argue he might be even better at enablement of others when he is not having to pick up a bat and failing four times a night.
Objection #4 Debated
5. A trade now will destroy the chemistry
Remember how letting Cole leave was going to destroy the team?
Remember how letting Springer leave was going to destroy the team chemistry?
Remember how letting Correa leave was going to destroy the team chemistry? Well maybe it finally did.
If the team can allow three All-Stars to leave, you want to tell me that the team can't handle Maldonado moving to the bench? You cannot be serious. Again if that IS true, trade them all.
Yes, Maldonado will be the key person in making this all good. I can see a McCullers not being happy but he can pitch to Maldy to get on track as needed.
He is what LarryTheGm would do
Invite Castro to my office today
"Jason, you have been with us for a long time. We don't want that to end. You have talked about retiring at the end of the season. Frankly, you look miserable out there right now. We want to offer you a roaming coach and special assistant role and start it as soon as we execute a trade to update our catching situation. We would need you to retire to do this. Task one would be to go to AAA to help Lee get ready for a September call up. Jason we want you with us long term. Can we do this together? Can you help the Clubhouse know that you are good with this plan?"
Invite Martin to my office today
"Martin, this is a 10 year contract that will pay you what we paid Strom. What we need you to do is be gracious and help a catcher we trade for come in and take the lead catcher role for the rest of this year. We want you in the clubhouse to do all the great things you do and also occasionally start to stay ready just in case for the post season. We are going to call up Lee in September too. The other thing we want you to do is prepare Lee for life in the MLB. We do this together and we want to you to be with us for the next decade. Are we together? Can you help the Clubhouse know that you are good with this plan?"
I think these two men are professionals and would graciously accept these roles. If they are good the Clubhouse will be good.
Objection #5 Debated
That is my case for why Maldonado can and should go to the bench. This is your best chance to leave the cult that is Maldonadoism. Tweet a link to this article to let people know you are free.
Now go reread the article last week on what catching move I would make here.
HELP! We need you now
I have been assured by people with much better connections than I have that no Maldonado will not be moved to the bench. That the players would revolt. The team would rather keep everyone happy and lose than actually try to win. I want to win and if you read this far so do you.
I honestly don't care that they don't like the truth. There are reasons that the players DO NOT run the team. If they want to lose this way let them lose. Some of them will reap the consequences of their stupidity.
You come here for this because this is what makes this website special.
Here is the truth. I am doing the job that the press should be doing in this town. They are too lazy and too worried about their access. Many others you trust for info are in the same boat. This article is so direct that many of them are going to want no part of it. I have accepted that. If you follow me you need to understand it is your job to link to and retweet this article so that the truth will be out there and the Astros WILL deal with the reality of their situation. Without you nothing will happen.
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