In 2013, Pirates catchers (Martin comprised 72% of plate appearances) compiled a .691 OPS, 16th in the majors, with a .230 batting average, .312 on base percentage, and .378 slugging percentage. Their OPS, adjusted for park and league, was about 5% below average. That's not bad for catcher, which is a glove-first position. In 2014, Pirates catchers (Martin comprised 67%) had a .786 OPS, third best in the majors, batting .290 with a .383 on base percentage (easily the best in the majors) and .403 slugging percentage. Adjusted for park and league, their OPS was 16% above average.
As strong as Martin's contributions with his bat, his glove was arguably more important to the Pirates' success. As Sawchik explained in his book, Martin excels at "pitch framing," the ability to catch a borderline pitch in a manner that makes the umpire more likely to call a strike than a ball. According to Baseball Prospectus, which has been the leader in analyzing pitch framing, Martin added 195 strikes in 2013-2014 through his framing, the seventh most in baseball, saving Pittsburgh pitchers 29 runs. That means that Martin's glovework by itself accounted for about three Pirates victories.
As often happens with Pirates stars, when Martin became a free agent after the 2014 season, he seemed unlikely to re-sign with the Pirates. Those fears were realized when the Ontario native signed a $75 million four-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. He's been a sparkplug for the Jays, batting primarily fifth or sixth, batting .251/.333/.455, a .788 OPS that's 17% above average, adjusted for his home park. And he's been exciting, even with the plays he doesn't make:
So losing Martin left a hole for the Pirates, as he's continued the rejuvenation that began in Pittsburgh...
Point 2: ...but the Pirates catchers are doing even better.
Some were unimpressed when the Pirates again went after another Yankees castoff to catch, trading lefty reliever Justin Wilson to New York for Francisco Cervelli. Martin amassed 961 plate appearances in 258 games in two years in New York; Cervelli had 785 plate appearances in 250 games in seven years in the Bronx. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to 43 games in 2011, three in 2012, 17 in 2013, and 49 in 2014. When the Pirates signed Martin, they at least signed a major league regular catcher. When they traded for Cervelli, they got a catcher who'd never played in more than 93 games in a season and had only once played in more than 49.
So how's it worked out? Here are the teams with the the ten best performance from their catchers, ranked by OPS:
|Los Angeles (NL)||113||378||52||103||18||0||17||51||64||87||.272||.379||.455||.834||121|
|New York (NY)||111||415||56||106||18||2||19||75||36||90||.255||.317||.446||.763||102|
Pirates catchers (Cervelli has 72% of plate appearances, Chris Stewart almost all of the rest) are first in batting, second in on base percentage, and tenth in slugging. Toronto's (75% Martin, 19% Dioner Navarro, 6% Josh Thole) are 12th in batting, eighth in on base percentage, and seventh in slugging. Adjusted for park and league, the Pirates are third in OPS, with an OPS+ of 120, while the Jays are 13th at 96.
But that's not all. According to Baseball Prospectus, Cervelli ranks seventh in the majors in pitch framing, nabbing 56 extra strikes. Martin's eighth with 50. (Stewart's added 10 for the Pirates, while the Navarro/Thole tandem has lost 9). The Pirates catchers are outperforming the Blue Jays, both at the plate and behind it.
Point 3: A saw a Pirates game with a friend, and he asked, after seeing both Cervelli and Stewart in action, "Do the Pirates have the skinniest catchers in the majors?" This is a sufficiently silly question that I'm going to look at just the National League. For each team, I calculated the average height and weight of the catchers, weighted by innings caught. For example, for the Pirates, 6'1", 205-lb. Cervelli has caught 725.2 innings. The 6'4", 210 Stewart has caught 263.2. Tony Sanchez, 5'11, 220 has caught 17.1 innings. You add those together, and you get the average Pirate catcher at six feet, 1.8 inches and 206.6 pounds. Here's a graph of each team.
Now, I'm basing this on the heights and weights listed at baseball-reference.com. There's an element of self-reporting there, and I doubt how accurate all of the figures are. But they're the best we have.
And based on the data, I'd say that my friend was right. The Pirates catchers are the third-lightest in the league and the third-tallest. That makes them the thinnest. What the significance is, I have no idea.