Problems at catcher could prove fatal for Padres

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres have had almost two seasons to figure out the catching situation, and it is no closer to being solved.

When the Padres acquired Francisco Mejia via trade on July 19, 2018, it was assumed he would eventually succeed Austin Hedges as the starting catcher, given his advanced hitting skills. Hedges staved him off with his elite defensive prowess despite his immense shortcomings at the plate.

Now, over two years removed from that trade, the Padres do not seem any closer to solving their issues behind the plate.

First, Austin Hedges has been more or less the starting catcher for San Diego for the better part of four seasons, initially breaking into the big leagues in 2015, catching 318 of the possible 492 games since 2017.

His defensive value is well documented, with his framing skills and ability to handle pitchers getting praised by many in the organization. Statcast had Hedges’ framing in 2019 in the 100th percentile, the best in baseball. Since 2017, no other catcher in the entire league has more Defensive Runs Saved than Hedges’ 52. In other words, the former second-round pick in 2011 plays Gold Glove-caliber defense. However, he is a walking conundrum. His hitting is just as bad or worse than his defense is good.

Since 2017, 238 hitters have collected at least 1,000 plate appearances, including Hedges, and he ranks 233rd in OPS, 234th in wRC+, and 236th in batting average among those hitters.

His bat is bad at historical levels- since the year 2000, 980 hitters have racked up at least 1,000 plate appearances, and his .199 batting average is next-to-last at 979th overall. After almost 1,300 career plate appearances, it’s clear what Austin Hedges is and is not at the plate.

(via baseballsavant.mlb.com)

No matter how good Hedges is defensively, he is not only a liability at the plate but a deterrent to San Diego’s team success. It’s no longer worth it to keep him around for his defense when his offense is among the poorest in baseball in the last 20 years. The Padres have outgrown Austin Hedges.

On the flip side, Francisco Mejia was assumed to be a happy medium. While his defense lacks Hedges’ flair, with precisely 0 Defensive Runs Saved in his 583 innings behind the plate, his bat was projected to be head-and-shoulders better. After the trade, Mejia played 31 games at Triple-A El Paso in 2018 and hit .328 with a .946 OPS. Being a switch hitter was a nice perk as well.

However, after 310 plate appearances thus far in a Padres major league uniform, fans have only seen flashes and snippets of that potential at the plate. Overall, he is batting .245 with a 91 OPS+ during his time in the big leagues in San Diego.

While some argue he has not been given consistent enough at-bats, and that may be true, he has not exactly wowed with his plate discipline. He swings outside of the strike zone, 46.5 percent of the time, which is worse than Hedges’ 37.4 percent career mark. Among the 14 hitters for the Padres who amassed at least 200 plate appearances last year, he produced the third-most soft contact rate and second-lowest walk rate.

Now, in the six games that have been completed ahead of Thursday’s series finale in San Francisco for the 2020 season, Hedges and Mejia are a combined 0-for-19, reaching base just twice on Mejia’s walk and hit by pitch.

It may be unwise to completely pull the plug on Mejia as it would be for Hedges, if the Padres are serious about contending for one of the eight playoff spots available to National League teams in 2020, they may need to look outside of the organization for a solution, even if it’s temporary, at the catcher position. Hedges and Mejia simply are not cutting it right now, and it may cost San Diego their first playoff berth since 2006.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

7 thoughts on “Problems at catcher could prove fatal for Padres

  1. Additionally… just like tonight’s game… I cannot believe how many good pitches Hedges watches for strikes. I like Hedges defense and have stated in the off season that I hoped he got another chance. He’s quickly burning through his final opportunity with the Padres. Mejia is a free swinger so that’s not usually an issue for him. He just chases everything regardless of where it’s thrown.

  2. I always liked Hedges and hoped he’d become some type of hitter… he has not. I’ve never cared for Mejia, he needs too much work on his defense and he won’t change his approach at the plate which is horrible.

    I think Hedges does more behind the plate and saves runs. I think he’s worth more than Mejia since it appears pitchers ERAs are lower with Hedges. Does that somehow equate to or cancel out 50 RBI from him?

    I don’t think Hedges has cost us a game this year yet. I think Mejia has. When we lost the game Wednesday night, the pitcher wasn’t happy. He’d thrown the same pitch three straight times, likely called by Mejia, and the third left the yard.

    I don’t see either getting better offensively. Mejia thinks he’s a home run hitter and thus, will always have a high strike out percentage. I was hoping he’d be traded in the offseason before his stocker dropped even more after last season. Hedges is a great defensive replacement. Why he cannot hit is for a pitching coach to figure out. At this point, neither deserves a spot on a major league roster.

    I thought I saw Mejia cough last night. Put him on the 10 day IL and call someone up!

  3. The Padres could still push for a trade with the Cubs for Contreras, or they could simply bring up Capusano. Throwing him into the fire now may help him get a jump start for being the full timer by next year. Hedges is so stiff at the plate and Mejia will swing at anything after he falls behind in the count. Even Torrens would be a better option right now.

  4. I understand that catchers have responsibilities that limit their offensive attention & potential, but you would figure that they would make up some of the deficiencies with excellent pitch recognition, location & strategy experience. Who else sees as many pitches as a catcher?

    As far as Hedges. He needs to address every pitch as if he has two strikes from the start. Choke up & shorten the swing. He’s currently too stiff and too long. I’d Rod Carew him – Drop his hands to his belt at address, so he’s already in the zone and have him clear his hips. The bat will follow and he can slap the ball in play and help the offense.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.