One position that hasn’t really been talked about much throughout the Brewers offseason and more specifically Spring Training is the catcher position.
The Brewers have two guys that they feel relatively comfortable with behind the plate to begin the year in Omar Narvaez and Manny Pina and while last year might’ve been a frustrating one for these two guys, this upcoming season could be a big improvement.
Five of the top six OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) guys from this spring were catchers so it appears the present and future of the position is in good hands. Nick Kahle led the team but had a very limited number of opportunities while highly-touted prospects Mario Feliciano and Payton Henry also enjoyed plenty of success in the limited amount of opportunities given.
But most importantly, the duo of Narvaez and Pina look ready to go. It’s a year with big implications for the 31 year old Manny Pina as he’s slated to be an free agent in 2022. With Kahle, Henry and Feliciano all being right-handed and waiting in the wings, Pina could be playing for a favorable contract elsewhere next year. Narvaez will face arbitration this coming offseason but then is set to become a free agent after 2022.
Pina suffered a torn meniscus last season in late August but recovered quickly enough to get plenty of work in during Spring Training. During Cactus League play, he was one of the better hitters on the team. He hit safely in six out of the ten games he appeared in and slashed .391/.375/.783 with two home runs and five runs batted in.
He did encounter a scare when he got the brunt of a collision with Tommy Pham but the injury was nothing serious and Pina asked to be in the lineup the next day.
After down years from the catching corps last year, the Brewers can look to bounce-back seasons in 2021.
According to Baseball Savant, Pina’s a very good defensive catcher, ranking among the best in pop time on throws to second base. He also has outperformed the league average in caught stealing percentage every year he’s been in the MLB.
Offensively, Pina’s a bit below average over his career with an OPS+ of 90 throughout his career. His first three years in Milwaukee he exceeded a .250 average but the last two years he’s had averages below .235. If Cactus League play is any indication of his season to come, he could look like his old self at the plate.
Omar Narvaez will probably see the majority of the action behind the plate this year with the bulk of his time coming against right-handed pitchers. He’s a career .276 hitters against righties compared to .223 against southpaws.
Narvaez has really looked like his old self (before coming to Milwaukee) during spring slashing .273/.415/.636 with three home runs and seven runs batted in. Last year was an abysmal year offensively for Narvaez, hitting in the bottom 10th percentile in six of the nine major Statcast categories so realistically the only way is up.
When working behind the plate, there was nobody better framing pitches than Omar Narvaez in 2020. In the 966 pitches he caught last year, he was first in ‘Runs Extra Strikes’ (converts strikes to runs saved on a .125 run/strike basis) and ‘Strike Rate’ (shows the cumulative total of strikes in all zones that were deemed balls). His caught stealing percentage is known to be a bit below league average but not by much and he didn’t allow a passed ball last year.
Milwaukee catchers last year had a combined WAR of 0.7 which ranked 14th in the MLB. If Pina and Narvaez can rebound that would take a substantial load off the pitching staff and rest of the position players.
Catcher is a very important position to the Brewers front office, and bounce-back seasons from this group is very important, and also seems quite likely.