The dugout shot of the Brewers celebrating catcher Martin Maldonado’s go-ahead home run showed no bigger smile than that of fellow catcher George Kottaras.
Tied 3-3 with the Twins, Maldonado was at the plate in the top of the ninth with two outs, two strikes, and the go-ahead run in scoring
position. Just like Brewers fans are growing accustomed to seeing, the rookie backstop deposited a game-winning homer into the home bullpen at Target Field.
If hitting clutch home runs are in style nowadays, then Maldonado must be the corporate owner of H&M. @Machete1224 has twelve RBI in 16 games with the Brewers this season; eight of those have come from homers with runners in scoring position, and each of those round-trippers have given the Brewers a lead they would not relinquish. The other home run came as a solo shot that drew the Brewers within one of the Pirates in the seventh inning.
At first glance, Machete’s numbers aren’t too flashy. His slash stats of .262/.354/.548 hold their own, but the catcher’s power numbers of 4 homers and 12 RBI have been a pleasant surprise from a seeming abyss. His career high in home runs in the minors came last season when he hit 11 between AA and AAA. An unexpectedly perfect blend of power and clutch have been the key to Maldonado’s rookie surge: in Late & Close games (defined by Baseball-Reference as “Plate Appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.”), Maldonado is batting .444 with two homers and three RBI. He is second on the Brewers in Isolated Power (.286) and has eight RBI and has a .667 OBP with 2 outs & RISP.
All of his production has come while starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy in on the DL with a broken hand after an All Star start to his season. Maldonado, straight from AAA Nashville, started immediately with the Brewers in Los Angeles because of tightness in Kottaras’ legs. Brewers fans and manager Ron Roenicke alike both expected Kottaras to assume starting duties, but Maldonado has, thus far, refused to be relinquished to every-fifth-day catcher duties.
While Maldonado has four homers and 10 RBI in June, Kottaras has not gone deep since April 13 in Atlanta and has only one RBI since April ended.
When the time comes for Lucroy to return to the active roster, Roenicke and the Brewers will be left with a tough decision: to keep Machete at the big league level or to not keep Machete at the big league level. Milwaukee values Kottaras’ left-handed pop off the bench as well as his keen eye at the plate (.439 OBP) in late-game situations, but Maldonado has proven to be more valuable both offensively and defensively.
Defensively, Kottaras has thrown out four of 19 would-be base stealers to Maldonado’s two-for-six sample size, but the good ol’ stopwatch shows the rookie has a quicker release and stronger throwing arm. Additionally, Maldonado saved the game in a 6-5 win over San Diego with his prowess for blocking pitch after pitch in the bottom of the ninth with runners on third.
In merely 16 games and 49 plate appearances, Machete has accumulated a WAR of 0.6, good for sixth on the team. His Win Probability Added (WPA) ranks only behind those of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez.
Kottaras has by no means earned himself a demotion to AAA or caused the Brewers to release him, but Martin Maldonado’s clutch play and stellar defense may force the Brewers to send Kottaras and his ear-to-ear smile to Nashville to make room for the Machete.