Astros: Despite age, Martin Maldonado continues defensive mastery
When Martin Maldonado’s name jumps into a conversation, we can all agree it is in regard to his defensive contributions. While only hitting to a .179/.284/.320 tune this season, the right-hander’s .603 OPS is not his major contribution to the Houston Astros.
The catcher is now 35-years-old with an extension through the 2022 season (vesting option for 2023), which would make you think he could be hanging on by a thread in the major-leagues come his free agency. Well, with his most recent defensive resurgence, Maldonado could easily play three more seasons with his caught stealing percentage climbing to what it once was.
Martin Maldonado might be pushing into his late 30s, but his arm is bolstering the Astros’ defense mightily.
While the Astros didn’t address the catching position with any two-way stars this past offseason or at the deadline, they leaned back on their veteran Maldonado and a reunion with former All-Star Jason Castro.
Over the past season, Maldonado has started 90 of the 127 games played, as Jason Castro has totaled 32 starts while Garrett Stubbs has five. Maldonado and Castro only have one start each not at catcher this season, as they were only in the lineup due to a short bench affected by injury or COVID-19, not because of their bats.
Through the ’21 season, Maldonado has remained among the top catchers in defensive categories, expect in framing. We know the leadership and guidance that Maldonado has provided to the young pitchers on staff, but his framing is in the 67th percentile among catchers this season. In relation to the other catchers that that the Astros have started, Castro sits in the 51st, while Stubbs doesn’t have the resume to be ranked.
It is obvious that Maldonado has been the better catcher defensively, while he is now tied (13) with Christian Vazquez and Salvador Perez atop the AL in runners caught stealing this season, after the Astros’ contest on Wednesday. The caught stealing percentage is what stands out the most, as Maldonado ranks second (38%) behind Perez, who is four years younger.
Age can play a part in how a catcher performs, as knees and arms will weaken over time. For Maldonado, his caught stealing percentage dropped heavily in the past three years, after leading baseball with a 49% clip in 2018 with the Astros and Los Angeles Angels.
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Since his league leading year, Maldonado has posted a 26 CS% in 2019 and a 32 CS% in a small sample size of 2020. These numbers stick out in the right-hander’s career, as his arm is one of his best attributes. This jump back up to normalcy in 2021 has added to Maldonado’s defensive efficiency.
Entering Wednesday, Maldonado ranked 10th among all MLB catchers in defensive WAR (0.8) with every player in front of him being younger by four years or more excluding Yadier Molina. While fielding percentage hasn’t been a reliable statistic for catchers, Maldonado still ranks sixth in all of baseball at the position.
From FanGraphs, Maldonado is the fourth best catcher in baseball in relation to Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) with an 8.9 rating. Maldonado’s bat might not improve to the league average at this rate in the season, but his reliability behind the plate has saved the Astros immensely in many defensive categories.