Reinforcements are forthcoming for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ catching platoon. Fans are chomping at the bit for the call-ups of top overall prospect Endy Rodriguez and 2021 first overall pick Henry Davis, both of whom are exceeding expectations in the minors.
For the moment, however, fans are subjected to the duo of primary backstop Austin Hedges, who signed with the Pirates on a one-year deal in the offseason, and backup Jason Delay, both of whom are producing contrasting numbers.
Hedges has slashed a mere .143/.250/.168 with no home runs and five RBI in 16 games played. Additionally, he has only drawn five walks and struck out 11 times. Defensively, Hedges has yielded two catchers interference calls, a 14 percent caught stealing rate, marking the lowest in his eight year career, and a -0.2 fWAR among all catchers in baseball.
The struggles have also drawn the ire of Pirates fans. One example would be in Tuesday’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Pirates had two runners in scoring position with one out — a sacrifice bunt by Tucupita Marcano — and Hedges, subsequently, struck out in an ugly at-bat.
Austin Hedges appeared to believe that Ryan Thompson balked on this pitch by not coming completely set. Shelton had some words for home plate umpire Adrian Johnson. Hedges ends up striking out. pic.twitter.com/Giz5Klqr4h— Justice delos Santos (@justdelossantos) May 3, 2023
Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was asked about this situation during his Pirates’ Chat on Wednesday and he said he would’ve pinch hit for Hedges following the bunt:
“[I] was discussing this with someone on the way down to the clubhouse last night. I don’t hate it, honestly. But I think what I would have done would be to pinch hit for Hedges... A single there ties it. Even getting a run would’ve helped. Surprised [Derek Shelton] didn’t pinch hit [Miguel] Andujar there and then bring in Delay.”
While the numbers look pitiful, Hedges has a few good traits. He was commended during Spring Training for his connection with not only the younger catchers, but with the pitching staff too.
He also made a highlight reel play in Sunday’s game vs. Washington:
Austin Hedges... Wow. Absolutely ridiculous catch. pic.twitter.com/FuGwTzwiKM— Platinum Ke’Bryan (@PlatinumKey13) April 30, 2023
Meanwhile, Delay is having a strong start to the regular season offensively.
In 14 games, he posted a slash line of .390/.435/.610 with an OPS+ of 184, one home run and eight RBI. Delay is also hitting 11-for-20 (.550) in his last seven games with four extra-base hits.
His defensive metrics aren’t too impressive, as he only nabbed one runner on the base path so far, but he also hasn’t had many opportunities yet. Meanwhile, he caught 20 percent of runners last season, four ticks lower than the 2022 league average. He has, however, put up a 0.7 fWAR, which is eighth among MLB catchers.
JASON DELAY SHOW pic.twitter.com/ZYpAsKX93W— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) April 27, 2023
Seeing Delay’s success really puts into perspective how far he’s come, considering he was a no-name in the farm system a couple years ago.
Going back to Mackey’s chat, he was asked why most starts go towards Hedges despite Delay’s hot streak. He referenced Hedges’ pay and connection with the pitchers, but he wouldn’t be opposed with a rotation:
“I think they view Hedges as the true No. 1 because they’re paying him like one. And I’m not sure they’re wrong. I like Hedges a lot. I think he makes pitchers better, although guys really like throwing to Delay, too. But I agree with you. Having more of a rotation wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
So, who gets the boot when Rodriguez and Davis move up?
In short, they both probably will, but it seems like Hedges would be the lone survivor given his contract with the team. If anything, he would be a third catcher and rarely see the field unless Davis is used more as a right fielder/designated hitter, which is unlikely.
Delay strikes me as a modern-day Chris Stewart... someone who isn’t elite, but could be serviceable for a year or two if he continues to excel.