The analytically immaculate defense of the Padres’ Austin Hedges

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Padres

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.

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Nicholas Fichtner
Nicholas Fichtner is a baseball analyst and researcher, and Founder and Editor of The Launch Angle. His previous experience includes working as a Quantitative Analyst with the Northeastern University Huskies baseball program for the 2019 season. While in this role, he worked closely with the coaching staff in developing an analytics department that assisted in impacting overall strategy and player evaluation using advanced data analysis and metrics.

Before Northeastern, Fichtner served in previous roles with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod Baseball League as an Assistant General Manager consulting on in-game strategy, roster management, and quantitative based player development, and as a Student Director of Analytics with his alma mater, Endicott College and their baseball program. His Thesis, entitled "Free Market Navigation in Major League Baseball," details the development of a highly sophisticated model that accurately predicts free agent player salaries based on various quantitative variables. He currently resides in Beverly, Massachusetts.
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George Kay
2 years ago

Matrix haytrixx,the name of the game is rbi,s.hedges is a nice guy ,but he takes to many pitches ,he is a ok catcher,really he has got worse in last two years.give the young guys a chance.when I played a 200 average ,you would have gone to a ball.really move him or release him ,torrens is a better hitter and a good defender.put macias at second base .good bat ,good arm ,but lazy behind the plates.he reaches for everything off the plate. Bring in gen tennace or Benito to work on him defense.

Carlos G.
Carlos G.
2 years ago

Get this loser out of here please. He’s had plenty of chances year in and year out. If he’s so dam good, where are the gold gloves. Where are the all the back door outs. When has he led the league in caught stealing. Get out of here with that framing bull***t. Just hit over 200 please!!

Tony C
Tony C
2 years ago
Reply to  Carlos G.

Do your research. Go look at the defensive matrix that are out there. People were surprised he didn’t win it last year. He’s young so he’s not been around all those years to win a bunch of awards. That doesn’t make him a bad catcher. Yes, he’s an under average hitter. He’s beyond an above average defensive catcher. I’d probably rank him in the top 3 defensively. That’s far more important than him hitting .200. If he hit .220 he’d be highly sought after. That .20 In average equates to about 10 additional hits over 400 at bats.

Tony C
Tony C
2 years ago

I also think Hedges can be really helpful to our pitching staff. I’ll venture a guess that if there was a secret poll of the pitchers, it would be unanimous to have Hedges catching. Who knows what he knew when AJ traded for Mejia, but he had to be under pressure last year while looking over his shoulder knowing what Preller had in mind. Maybe, just maybe, a little less pressure with a more potent offense might raise his offensive numbers. I think he’s invaluable to this staff. Besides his value to that pitching staff, with a couple of catchers… Read more »

Mark Martin
Mark Martin
2 years ago

Considering all the young pitchers the team is developing, it seems obvious that you would want a premier defensive catcher. But I see the other side of it – I cringe when Hedges comes to the plate, too. The question is: what are the benefits to the defense and to the development of the pitching staff compared to the cost in lost offensive production by having a dead spot in the batting order? The positives are hard to quantify, while the negatives are much easier to quantify. I’m rooting for him – I think most of the criticism would fade… Read more »

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