The Astros completely melted down last night, suffering their worst loss of the season against the Angels. If Houston is serious about putting their best team on the field each night and running down the Rangers, they can no longer hide behind buzzwords like "intangibles" while sending Martín Maldonado out to catch every day.
It is time for Yainer Diaz to be the Astros primary catcher.
Let's remove all opinions from the matter. Let's remove any rookie vs. veteran narratives. Let's remove nicknames like "Machete" and past contributions from the equation. Let us deal only in fact. Men lie, women lie, numbers don't. Here are the numbers.
Yainer Diaz has caught 187.2 innings this season. In those 187.2 innings, Astros pitchers have a 3.45 ERA. Martín Maldonado has caught 605.1 innings this season. Astros pitchers have a 3.84 ERA in those innings.
Now let's add even more context.
Of Yainer's 187.2 innings, 11.2 have come with Rafael Montero, now almost entirely out of the Astros bullpen rotation. In those 11.2 innings, Montero, has given up 10 earned runs.
If you remove the Astros worst reliever, and one of baseball's worst relievers overall, from the equation, the remaining Astros pitchers have a 2.91 ERA when throwing to Yainer. Last year's team had a 2.90 ERA overall, and they're one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled.
When Yainer catches, the staff puts up numbers equal to last season. Yes it's a smaller sample size, but that is not an opinion. They're just the numbers.
Now, Martín Maldonado does have some value as Framber Valdez' personal catcher if there is truly concern Diaz couldn't handle Framber's spin.
Valdez is the AL Cy Young front runner (assuming he doesn't miss time to injury). In his 117.1 innings, Valdez has posted a 2.76 ERA. He's elite.
But what about when Maldy isn't catching the best starter in the AL? How does everybody else perform?
In the 488 innings Maldonado has caught by an Astro not named Valdez, Astros pitchers have a 4.09 ERA. The league average ERA this year is 4.29.
So if Yainer Diaz catches, the Astros pitchers replicate last year's numbers. If Maldy catches, they're barely league average. Again, this isn't opinion. These are facts.
One of the most crushing plays of last night's meltdown was Maldonado's league-leading seventh passed ball. Maldy just whiffed on a fastball up that brought the Angels to within a run. If he simply catches the fastball, ugly outing from Pressly or not, Houston likely hangs on 12-11, doesn't lose a game on the Rangers, and has Phil Maton available today.
Maldy has the most passed balls in the MLB. Yainer Diaz has allowed zero.
Now let's take a more analytical approach.
Statcast just unveiled a new metric called Fielding Run Value. In their words, "Fielding Run Value is Statcast’s metric for capturing a player’s measurable defensive performance by converting all of Statcast’s individual defensive metrics from different scales onto the same run-based scale, which can then be read as a player being worth X runs above or Y runs below average."
Maldonado's Fielding Run Value this season is -8. Only seven players in baseball are worse. Not seven catchers. Seven players. Period. Yainer on the other hand has a Fielding Run Value of 1.
Maldonado's arm strength on throws to second ranks 12th in the MLB. Yainer's ranks third.
Maldy's caught stealing percentage ranks 43rd. Yainer's ranks fourth.
Maldonado has 0 caught stealing above average. Yainer has 5.
Machete? Maybe three years ago. Feel free to run at will on Maldonado.
Enough "intangibles" talk. By every available analytical metric and every counting stat, Yainer Diaz dominates Martín Maldonado. Dominates. It's not close.
And we haven't even talked about offense! Do we really need to?
Maldy is hitting .175 with a .559 OPS and 55 OPS+. Yainer is hitting .268 with a .777 OPS. When Yainer catches, he hits .329 with a .935 OPS. Young hitters can often struggle to stay locked in when at DH, but anytime Yainer plays the field, he rakes.
Maldonado has been worth -0.4bWAR this season. Yainer is worth 1.2bWAR.
There is legitimately nothing left to make a case for Maldy as the primary catcher. How can one set aside all opinion and narratives, read simple facts, and justify Maldy having caught 73% of the innings this season?
He's been an amazing piece of the puzzle all these years. The prep work he does behind the scenes is legendary. He's a clubhouse leader. Heck, make him Dusty's replacement at manager next year. Maldy is a fantastic presence.
But he's no longer a fantastic backstop. In fact, sad as it is to say, he's not really a passable one.
"Intangibles" and "homework" are no longer acceptable buzzwords when the majority of the staff is over one earned run better with Diaz behind the plate and when his offense is some of the worst in the sport. He can catch Framber Valdez every fifth day to keep Yainer's legs fresh. He can sporadically catch Javier as well. If you pinch run for Diaz, he can be a defensive replacement. But that's it.
If Houston is as serious about winning a World Series as they have been the last six seasons, Maldonado has to take a back seat.
It's time for Yainer Diaz to go from catcher of the future to everyday catcher right now.