With Elias Diaz experiencing elbow issues, how will the unfortunate injury impact the development of the Pittsburgh Pirates elite pitching prospects?
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this piece went to press, Pirates Prospects reported that Elias Diaz was throwing again today at Pirate City after several days of rest. Additionally, he will hit as well as throw, albeit all in practice scenarios.
Pirates Breakdown felt it best to leave the rest of this piece unedited, to allow for discussion on the effects any prolonged absence for Diaz might bring about.
Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow , they’re just the first wave folks. Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Wilfredo Boscan, and Nick Kingham are going to be right behind them within the next year for either the Pirates or another organization should the need arise to use any as a trade chip.
At the major league level, the Pirates pitchers have had the pleasure of working with some elite pitch framers over the last three years between the likes of Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli, and Chris Stewart. At the minor league level, the prospects have had the privilege of working with Elias Diaz and Reese McGuire, two superb defensive catchers in their own right.
This spring, Elias Diaz was shut down with right lateral elbow discomfort. Initially, the prognosis indicated Diaz was suffering from a chronic problem and would miss only a brief period of time, but later tests revealed the options Diaz was faced with were playing through the pain or accepting season ending surgery, pending a second opinion.
In his absence, the battery mates for the highly touted pitching rotation will be Jacob Stallings, who was originally expected to backup McGuire at Altoona for much of the season, and Ed Easley, a career minor leaguer who finally made it to the show, briefly, with the Cardinals at the age of 29.
What can be expected from them behind the plate, and how will it impact the development of some of the Pirates most highly touted prospects?
Diaz is known for having a cannon for an arm. Only time will tell if that reputation will stand after his elbow issues, but according to Baseball Prospectus, Diaz posted a CSAA (caught stealing above average) of .003 with Triple-A Indianapolis in 2015.
Minor league stats should be compared against the averages for that level and not above or below, so any comparison to major league players would be completely irrelevant.
For that reason, Easley’s stats can be compared head-to-head against Diaz, but Stallings’ cannot be compared, for better or worse, due to them coming at a lower level. It’s also important to note these stats deal in minor fluctuations and never eclipse more than a few hundredths. For perspective, Stallings posted a -.002 CSAA in 2015 with Double-A Altoona. Easley posted a CSAA of .002 at Triple-A Memphis in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
With regards to throwing out would be base stealers, it’s also important to look at SRAA (swipe rate above average) and TRAA (takeoff rate above average).
Diaz had a TRAA of -.001 with Easley just behind at league average of .000. Stallings posted a TRAA of -.002. Diaz had a SRAA of -.002. Easley posted a SRAA significantly below league average for Triple-A at .028, and Stallings posted a -.023 SRAA.
Stallings falls slightly below league average at Double-A for CSAA, and he posted a slightly above average TRAA and significantly above average SRAA. Since he had a slightly below average arm, Stallings was certainly supported by quality pitchers like Kuhl, Brault, and Glasnow at Altoona to produce such above average stats in the other related categories.
The fact that the Pirates pitchers are making their catchers look so good in regards to stolen bases bodes well for their continued development in the minor leagues in that regard, but what about in regards to the manner in which a catcher can pick up a pitcher statistically?
In the last decade or so, the emphasis has exponentially grown on pitch framing and blocking. In 2015, Cervelli finished second in runs saved through pitch framing at 19.0, according to Baseball Prospectus. Martin finished tenth at 11.6, and Stewart finished 16th at 6.8.
Keeping emphasis on minor league stat transparency, Diaz finished with 2.0. Easley finished with 1.2, and Stallings came in at -1.9. In blocking runs, Diaz had 0.6. Easley came out even at -0.4, and Stallings finished with 1.3 in Double-A. All three came in equal to or just below average on errant pitches (wild pitches or passed balls) compared with league averages.
FRAA (fielding runs above average) is Baseball Prospectus’ way of evaluating a player’s ability to make plays at a given position against the league average accounting for the pitcher, park, and base-out states. Diaz had an adjusted FRAA of 2.6 in 2015. Stallings posted an adjusted FRAA of 0.5, and Easley came up short with adjusted FRAA of 0.2 in 2015.
What does all of this mean for Glasnow and Taillon and the timeline for their almost inevitable promotion? Issues with Super 2 status aside, Taillon needs experience after being out of competitive baseball for two years. Glasnow has control issues, especially with his changeup to work on before being able to be called up.
However, the absence of Diaz complicates that picture. Neither Easley nor Stallings even approaches the quality of Diaz defensively overall. Stallings cost the Curve last year with his framing ability, and for a top pitching prospect trying to find control in Glasnow and another that lives on the black in Taillon, a catcher who struggles to frame pitches could seriously hamper their statistical performance. While Easley is an improvement over Stallings, at least in regards to how Stallings compared to Double-A competition, with pitch framing, Stallings is an improvement over Easley in regards to blocking.
Hopefully, Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle look past what could be some uncharacteristic box score results because if they don’t, Taillon and Glasnow could be spending time down in the minor league unnecessarily due to the defensive shortcomings of two replacement level catchers.
Featured image photo credit: MLB