The Winter Meetings are currently ongoing in Las Vegas, and teams are looking at upgrades for their various positions of need. Many may figure that the Milwaukee Brewers will look for an upgrade at the catcher position. After all, a tandem of Erik Kratz and Manny Pina doesn’t sound very impressive. However, catcher may not be as high of a priority as some might assume. Kratz and Pina have combined to form what was actually a very valuable backstop duo.
The Milwaukee Brewers May Not Need an Upgrade at Catcher
Pina and Kratz Are Elite Defenders
This is something that might not be noticed at first glance. However, the fielding metrics at Baseball Prospectus reveal that the tag team of Kratz and Pina was quietly one of the best defensive duos among MLB catchers.
Erik Kratz ranked 8th among all MLB catchers in Adjusted Fielding Runs Above Average at 11.1. That’s impressive in and of itself, but it’s even more noteworthy because Kratz caught only 491 innings. The leader in Adjusted FRAA, Yasmani Grandal, caught 1,037 innings. He finished with 16.3 runs, which is only about five more than Kratz despite the additional 540 innings behind the plate.
Much of Kratz’s defensive value comes from his pitch framing ability; Kratz graded out as one of the game’s elite pitch framers. Kratz saved 9.9 runs through his framing, which ranked 10th among all MLB catchers. Once again, that total becomes more impressive with the realization that Kratz had fewer framing opportunities than many of the other catchers on the leaderboard. Grandal, the league’s top pitch framer, saved 15.7 runs. He had 6,851 framing chances throughout the season. Because he was only a part-time catcher, Kratz had roughly half as many framing opportunities as Grandal did (3,569). He was on pace to accumulate approximately 19 framing runs if he had as many opportunities as Grandal did. That would easily put Kratz ahead of Grandal.
Pina also had a strong season behind the plate. While his defense did not grade out nearly as highly as Kratz’s, Pina finished at 6.3 Adjusted FRAA, including 4.8 framing runs. Like Kratz, being used in more of a part-time capacity likely prevented Pina’s defense from ranking more highly among catchers.
Thanks to the strong defensive performances of Kratz and Pina, Milwaukee’s catching core ranked 6th in all of baseball with 19.5 Adjusted FRAA and 13.4 framing runs. From a defensive standpoint, the Brewers’ catchers were among the league’s best.
Pina and Kratz Are Not Liabilities Offensively
The reason that Erik Kratz and Manny Pina don’t look very impressive is that neither of them is skilled as a hitter. Pina hit for an 85 wRC+, and Kratz’s 70 wRC+ is an eyesore. DRC+ is significantly more bullish on Kratz, likely due to his excellent 46.4% hard contact-rate, but it still rates him as a below-average hitter (93 DRC+). There’s reason to believe that Kratz’s offensive results could improve next season. Pina, meanwhile, finished the 2018 season with a 90 DRC+.
Kratz and Pina are below-average hitters by every metric. However, catchers as a whole struggled this season. All MLB catchers combined for a mere 84 wRC+ and .296 wOBA in 2018. Meanwhile, Kratz and Pina combined for a 79 wRC+ and .292 wOBA. While they were both poor hitters, they were quite close to the offensive production of a typical MLB catcher.
Upgrades Are Available, But Should They Be a Priority?
There are some catchers available on the free agent market. Yasmani Grandal is the cream of the crop. He graded out as baseball’s top defensive catcher by Adjusted FRAA, and he has been one of baseball’s best offensive catchers as well. Grandal has a career 117 wRC+ and 110 DRC+.
Grandal would definitely be an upgrade over Kratz and Pina, and the Brewers should have plenty of interest in him. Teams should always have their focus on any possible upgrades. If the Brewers can comfortably afford Grandal while also having money left to address other areas, they should absolutely try to sign him. However, the Brewers do have other needs to focus on. Second base is currently a wide-open hole, especially after the non-tender of Jonathan Schoop. With Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff both expected to move into starting roles, the team should also look to add a few relievers.
While the Brewers should definitely be monitoring the catching market this offseason, they already have a productive tandem in Erik Kratz and Manny Pina behind the plate. In fact, there’s a plausible scenario in which the Brewers roll with Kratz and Pina once again next season and turn their attention to upgrading other areas of their roster.