May 5, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers catcherMartin Maldonado
(12) hits a double in the fourth inning during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Today we will take a look at Martin Maldonado, one of the best backup catchers in the league. Maldonado has also tried his hand as a pitcher and a boxer on the field this year, but we will be focusing on his contributions at and behind the plate.
There are different philosophies about what a backup catcher should bring to the team, with the player frequently being a defensive specialist, like Maldonado or valued more for their offensive contributions, like Brewers alum George Kottaras.
This means that when a defense-first guy produces like Maldy has so far this year, his value skyrockets. After today’s game, Maldonado owns an outstanding 13.6 walk rate, while slashing .268/.379/.429. These are fantastic numbers for any backup player, and especially so for a catcher.
Maldonado had similar success when he was called up in 2012 to replace an injured Jonathan Lucroy, when he slashed .266/.321/.408 over 256 plate appearances. These numbers were a pleasant surprise, as he had never been much of an offensive success in the minor leagues.
Then in 2013, Maldy’s bat disappeared, and he hit .169 over 202 plate appearances. Obviously this was a disappointment, though he was not expected to hit much more in the .220 based on his career numbers in the minors.
Now Maldonado is hot again, which leads to questions about where his true hitting potential lies. While Maldy’s current OPS (.808) will not last, his performances with the Crew have raised the bar of expectations. Maldonado’s career OPS is in the .660 range, and looks to at least remain in that area.
Maldonado has numbers like starter this year, but many backup players are exposed by increased playing time, and Maldy is not likely to ever play every day. It is also important to note that he has seen a majority of his at-bats hitting eighth, meaning that the Brewers likely expect him to regress as well.
Maldy is far from just a hitter, however, and his performances behind the plate as a Brewer have been even more crucial to the team. Maldonado has caught baserunners stealing 31% of the time in his career, and pitchers trust him behind the plate. While he struggled in 2013, Maldonado also caught 25 of longtime teammate Wily Peralta‘s 32 starts. Management credits Maldonado with Peralta’s rapid adjustment in the Bigs and with good reason. While Lucroy has caught Peralta more often this season, Maldonado deserves some recognition for Peralta’s team leading 3.02 ERA.
The combination of Maldonado and Lucroy creates easily the most valuable catching tandem in the Majors today. No team has a higher WAR at catcher than the Brewers, with the combination of their two unheralded backstops, and both look to be a part of the Brewers plans for several years.