One thing that has generally been synonymous with the Brewers during recent seasons has been solid defense at the catching position.
Brewers fans, for the most part, are used to seeing solid defense behind the plate and 2019 was no exception. With the defensively capable Manny Pina already on the roster, Milwaukee bolstered the position by signing previous All-Star Yasmani Grandal the prior offseason.
Many Brewer fans were nervous about Grandal’s defensive capabilities based on a rough stretch during the 2018 playoffs. However, he proved to be an excellent defensive catcher and lived up to his reputation as one of the better pitch framers in the league.
Unfortunately, Grandal ended up leaving as a free agent this past offseason after just one year in Milwaukee and they ended up replacing him by trading for young Mariners catcher Omar Narvaez. Considered an offensive-minded player with below average backstop skills, it seemed as if the team might take a big step back at the position, defensively, in 2020, even being paired with Pina.
Luckily, that has not been the case so far this season. While Pina has looked just as steady as ever behind the plate and has given potential base stealers reason to think twice, Narvaez has been much better than advertised, particularly when it comes to framing pitches, an area in which he ranked very poorly in 2019.
Run on Brewers catchers at your own risk
In 2019, the one area where Brewers catchers took a small step back was in controlling the basebaths. After tying for third in the league by nabbing 36% of prospective base stealers in 2018, they dropped to a tie for 14th in 2019 with a 27% success rate, still putting them right at league average.
This year, it has become a poor idea to run on Brewers once again. Yes, like many stats it has been a small sample size of 28 games. But the duo of Pina and Narvaez have caught 38% of base stealers this year, the 6th best mark in the league. Just look at what happened when the speedy Luis Robert of the White Sox tried swiping second base.
Robert isn’t the only runner to fall victim to Pina’s cannon. He has thrown out 5 of 9 (56%) base stealers, the highest rate of any catcher who has had at least six runners attempt to steal on him. Narvaez hasn’t been nearly as deadly, throwing out just 3 of 12 potential thieves, or 25%, though that is right above the league average of 24%.
Narvaez and Pina helping Brewers hurlers look picture perfect
If there was one main area where Pina and Narvaez were considered to be polar opposites before this season, it was in quality of pitch framing. While Pina had a reputation of being an excellent pitch framer, Narvaez most certainly did not.
The numbers from last year backed that up completely. While Pina ranked 7th best among qualified MLB catchers by framing 52.2% of borderline pitches for strikes, Narvaez was 15th worst with a frame rate of just 46.6%
Call it small sample size or call it actual improvement but Narvaez has been much better in this department in 2020. He leads all qualified catchers with a 56.7% frame rate so far this season while Pina has been his usual reliable self, ranking 6th at 53.6%.
To see just how Narvaez is framing so much better in 2020, look right at his improvement framing the sides of the strike zone. While he has actually framed well at sides of the strike zone in the past (above league average in 2019 and 2020), he has gone from below average above and below the zone in 2019 (42.8% top, 45.6% bottom) to above average in 2020 (67.2% top, 55.4% bottom).
Whether it has been controlling the basepaths or calling a game behind the plate, Narvaez and Pina have more than held their own in 2020. That’s good, because it is the kind of performance Brewers fans have come to expect from the position.