Whatever woes the 2021 Pirates had—and there were many of them—one they did not have was at the catcher position.
When Francisco Cervelli departed in the summer of 2019 (pauses, wipes tear, that’s amore), Bucs fans expressed a lot of doubt as to whether his backup, Jacob Stallings, was ready for prime time. That autumn, I speculated on who the Pirates might obtain to upgrade behind the plate.
That proved to be unnecessary.
Stallings moved into the number-one position in 2020, and since then he’s risen to the challenge. Although his nickname, the Cheetah, is satirical, it’s prompted a favorite BD game thread GIF:
Offensively, he was middle of the pack among National League catchers, with a slash line of .246/.335/.369, with eight homers and 53 RBI. Per Baseball Reference, he was ninth overall defensively among catchers who started 100 games or more. He had a .995 fielding percentage with a 21% caught stealing percentage (he was stolen on 45 times and threw out 12). He had no passed balls, the only MLB catcher this year to do that, but he did allow 35 wild pitches. I know he’s got all sorts of strange but positive sabermetrics numbers, which is why he’s in the mix for a Gold Glove finalist spot.
At the doddering age of nearly 32, though, Stallings is the Bucs’ elder statesman, and it became obvious as the season went on that he’d stepped up as the team’s quiet leader. He has a nice touch at calming down young pitchers, and it’s generally agreed that he calls a good game. For a guy that was DFA’d five years ago, he’s bounced back nicely.
Michael Perez, however, didn’t exactly inspire confidence as the Cheetah’s backup. As a hitter, he bordered on putrid, with a .143/.221/.290 slash line, seven homers and 21 ribbies. He did have a .994 fielding percentage and a 26% caught stealing percentage, but he only played a third of the games that Stallings did. DFAing Perez would be somewhat on the stupid side at this point—like it or not, you need a backup catcher. I’m not seeing a long-term future for him in the Burgh, though.
Then there is Henry Davis, the overall number-one draft pick, who ascended quickly to high-A Greensboro before an oblique injury ended his season. Coming out of the University of Louisville, his development is expected to go faster than a high school pick, and that starts the clock running on Stallings’s tenure—and Stallings knows it.
But it’s his job for the foreseeable future, and the Pirates can do a lot worse than having the Cheetah manning the dish.