San Diego Padres’ catcher Austin Hedges is impressive with the glove.
Entering his sixth season with the San Diego Padres, Austin Hedges has been highly underwhelming offensively.
Posting an Offensive Efficiency Rating (OER) of 5.8 in 2019, and an equally unproductive OPS of 0.563 paired with a BABIP of 0.228 in 102 games played, Hedges has not been an offensive focal point of the Padres in the last half-decade.
In his time with the franchise, he has been an inconsistent offensive player, as shown in his year-by-year OPS totals in the graph below:
However, he is elite in one critical category, which has become a highly valued skill amongst Major League Baseball organizations.
In 2019, the best defensive catcher in the game resided in San Diego in Austin Hedges. While simply watching his play behind the dish may draw one to that conclusion, the advanced analytics strongly support this hypothesis.
Last season, Hedges catch framing ability went unparalleled, as he ranked first in Runs Extra Strikes (20) and Strike Rate (54.1%). Runs Extra Strikes converts strikes to runs saved and adjusts for park and pitcher factors. Strike Rate is an accumulation of eight zones around the strike zone and displays the called strike percentage of all non-swings in that zone. Having caught 2,680 pitches in 2019, his effectiveness in framing was mostly shown in the bottom portion of the strike zone. In Zone 17 (lower-left corner), he ranked fourth in Strike Rate at 44.1%, fourth in Zone 18 (lower-middle) at 61.1%, and third in Zone 19 (lower-right corner) at 39.6%. While his offense is not a viable component to have on a roster, the pitch-framing of Austin Hedges benefits his starting pitchers significantly and is an invaluable asset for any roster.
Aside from framing, Hedges is also elite in picking off stolen base attempts to both second and third base. While only throwing at 83.2 mph on average, which ranks as the sixteenth strongest arm behind the plate in the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Hedges tied for third in pop time to pickoff baserunners stealing second base at 1.92 seconds on average. In picking off baserunners attempting to steal third base, he tied for seventh at 1.55 seconds on average.
While some catchers may be highly productive offensively, they may be subpar defensively, resulting in negative outcomes for the pitchers in the other half of the battery. While some in San Diego questions the lack of balance of offense to defense behind home plate, Francisco Mejia will be the answer to close this disparity, as he enters his fourth season in the league. Having posted an OPS of 0.754 in 79 games played in 2019, the Padres are hoping he takes a quantum leap in his development and be a great complement to a lockdown defender in Hedges.
In looking towards the 2020 season, Austin Hedges is set to make $3,000,000 in salary, which, based on the factors above, is somewhat of a bargain. As the Padres look to make a push towards the postseason, Hedges will be a vital component in that, as he will benefit San Diego pitchers in getting crucial outs and in preventing runs from scoring.