In May, the Milwaukee Brewers swung a deal to acquire catcher Erik Kratz. The 38-year-old was playing for the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees with no real path back to the big leagues. Now he finds himself heading straight to the big league roster of a contending team.
Kratz initially served as the backup to Manny Pina, but as the season has progressed, Kratz has been starting more and more often. There’s a simple reason for this: Kratz may be Milwaukee’s best catcher.
How Erik Kratz has Provided Value for the Milwaukee Brewers
A quick glance at how Kratz has played with the Brewers wouldn’t leave anyone impressed. He hasn’t provided much offensively. Kratz currently sports a .664 OPS and 78 wRC+ with five home runs in 188 plate appearances. In fact, Baseball Reference measures him at replacement level with a 0.0 bWAR this year. FanGraphs does not like him much either, valuing him at 0.2 fWAR. However, a deeper look reveals that Kratz has made positive contributions to the team’s quest for the postseason and is the best catcher on the roster.
Handling the Pitching Staff
Kratz has not impressed with the bat, but the veteran backstop has done an excellent job handling the pitching staff. Brewers pitchers have a 3.55 ERA when Kratz is behind the plate. Meanwhile, the staff has a 4.09 ERA when Manny Pina is catching. Based on these numbers, it sure seems like the veteran Kratz does a better job at calling a game and guiding his pitchers.
Pitching has been a strength for the Brewers this season while posting a 3.83 ERA as a staff. Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley are pitching better than anyone anticipated, and it’s logical to assume that Kratz has been a part of that. His veteran presence behind the plate is also valuable to have when younger arms like Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes are on the mound.
One of the reasons that pitchers have performed so well with Kratz behind the plate is because he’s been an excellent pitch framer. According to Baseball Prospectus, Kratz has been worth 7.7 Framing Runs, good for 15th in the league. What makes this even more impressive is that Kratz has had just 2,848 framing chances. Yasmani Grandal, the league leader in Framing Runs, has had over 6,000 framing chances this season. Manny Pina, meanwhile, has been worth 1.7 Framing Runs, which ranks 27th in the league. Despite having over 5,000 framing opportunities, about twice as many as Kratz, Pina has not come close to helping his pitchers via pitch framing as much as Kratz has.
Kratz’s pitch-framing ability is very valuable for a Brewers rotation that includes a number of soft-tossing starters. Chacin, Miley, and Zach Davies all sit around 90 miles per hour with their fastballs, making good control and location an important part of their game. Any extra strike calls they can get with Kratz’s framing goes a long way in helping their performance.
Kratz hasn’t put up flashy overall numbers. In fact, it’s pretty easy to assume that he’s been a poor player this season. However, the 38-year-old catcher has played a role in Milwaukee’s success. He’s done a great job of handling the pitching staff, and that just might make him the team’s best option behind the plate.
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