Ever since the Milwaukee Brewers jettisoned Jonathan Lucroy to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline in 2016, the club has been in search of a reliable catcher. One that could not only handle a pitching staff, but one that could carry his weight at the plate as well. Over the last two seasons, the Brewers have dished out at least 100 plate appearances to four different catchers, as they attempted to find a full-time Lucroy replacement. Manny Pina was a respectable option in 2017 and 2018, with his defense shining significantly brighter than his offense, but the Brewers coveted and needed more offensively.
When the offseason began, the Milwaukee Brewers had two glaring holes in their lineup that most thought they needed to address in order to repeat the successful season they put together in 2018. Although the Brewers aren’t an organization that necessarily listens to outside noise, general manager David Stearns likely knew he needed to upgrade both the second base and catcher position. As of now the Brewers will head into the season with the trio of Hernan Perez, Tyler Saladino and Cory Spangenberg at the second base, though that’s likely to change before spring training. As far as upgrading at catcher, the Brewers did just that by signing Yasmani Grandal to a one-year, $18,25 million deal.
In a single move, the Brewers grabbed one of the best catchers not only available in free agency, but in Major League Baseball as a whole. And no, that’s not a hyperbole. Grandal is, factually, a top-tier backstop, especially when it comes to the skill of hitting.
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Grandal has been worth 9 WAR over the last three seasons, while Brewers catchers have somehow compiled a measly 4.1 WAR since the Lucroy trade, with Pina accounting for 80 percent of that total. It’s clear that the Brewers needed an upgrade.
Now, you might remember Grandal’s lackluster performance against — and here’s the irony — the Brewers during the National League Championship Series this past fall when it seemed like he couldn’t catch a ball to save his life. Some even gave him the moniker “Yasmani Passed Ball”. And while not necessarily clever, Grandal’s struggles with passed balls have been well-documented. He’s led baseball in past balls three times, and that was on full display in the NLCS. But don’t think his affinity for passed balls necessarily makes him a bad catcher.
Most Defensive Runs Saved by C – Last 3 Seasons
— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) January 10, 2019
According to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Grandal has actually been the best defensive catcher in the league over the last three years. We all know that defensive statistics — particularly those pertaining to catchers — are nowhere near perfect, but this is telling, nonetheless. Even with his passed-ball problem, he more than holds his own behind the plate.. And that’s even more true when talking about pitch framing. Per StatCorner, Grandal was behind only Jeff Mathis in terms of pitch-framing value in 2018. The 30-year-old catcher was worth 13.8 runs saved above average, while meanwhile, Pina — who’s known for his defensive prowess — was way down the list at -4.2 runs saved above average. One could argue that Grandal is upgrade over Pina as a hitter and as a defensive catcher.
The Milwaukee Brewers are a significantly better team with Grandal behind the plate, though FanGraphs still has the team pegged for a crazy-low 79 wins. But we must take that with a grain of salt. Last year the site also predicted Milwaukee would finish with 79 wins, and look what happened. Don’t take projections too seriously. It’ll just make you mad. The fact is the Brewers are better than they were a week ago. Not even FanGraphs can argue that.
Speaking of projections, here’s how RW23 thinks Grandal will perform in 2019:
Even if Grandal can’t meet these high-performance numbers, the shift to left-handed hitter friendly Miller Park should greatly aid the switch-hitting catcher. A career year for Grandal definitely isn’t out of the question.
What’s important is that the Brewers finally have their catcher, and even though their solution only covers a year, it’s clear the organization is looking to build on its 2018 success. Grandal’s addition gives the Brewers another dangerous hitter in a lineup that is already filled with them.