clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Austin Hedges: baseball’s best defender

Veteran catcher flattered by defensive catching measures in 2019

San Diego Padres v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

For regular readers of this blog, it is quite obvious that I’ve been one of the more vocal Francisco Mejia stans on the web.

I love Mejia, largely, because of his hitting prowess.

I’ll also admit that I may—may—also love Mejia because of his place on my dynasty fantasy team.

Regardless of the objective and less-objective roots of my love affair with all things related to the man I call “Frankie Two Bags”, his recent placement on the injured list has, for better or worse, provided perhaps one last long look at the work of incumbent starter Austin Hedges.

By now, we all understand that Hedges may never even reach Brad Ausmus-level as a hitter (a comp that was often uttered when the catcher was a high schooler).

Across 1213 big league at-bats since his debut in 2015, Hedges has essentially been 35% worse than a league-average hitter, according to wRC+. And his .207/.259/.372 career slash is, generally speaking, the kind of output that will quickly usher a player off of big league rosters.

(2019 has been especially brutal—three pitchers—Zack Greinke, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob DeGrom—have logged wRC+ figures higher than Hedges this season.)

The saving grace for Hedges, though, has always been his purported defensive prowess. Although he has never looked anything less than a pro behind the plate, defensive measures intended to parse out catching defense haven’t always seen him as a premier backstop—at the least, by these measures, he has often been seen as a little less impactful than guys like Martin Maldonado, Jeff Mathis, or Yasmani Grandal.

But in 2019, his fourth year in the bigs, Hedges is looking up to no one.

Coming into his own

While he lost playing time to Mejia in the season’s second half, Hedges has put together a defensive body of work this year that stands head and shoulders above any other player at his position.

Here’s how our home-grown Hedges ranks according to various defensive indicators:

  • Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average number (FRAA) judges that he has essentially saved 24.7 runs more than an average catcher (1st in MLB among catchers)
  • Fangraphs places a 23.4 Defensive WAR indicator on his 2019 work (2nd in MLB among catchers)
  • Hedges has logged a 18.7 RAA according to Statcorner (1st in MLB among catchers); the site also finds that he has been +141 on framing strike calls (1st among catchers)

This, friends, is how you can log 1.7 WAR through 85 games despite being one of the absolute worst hitters in baseball (.196/.262/.351 this year).

Unlike many around here, I’ve honestly abandoned all hope that Hedges will ever be even a passable hitter—he is, based on his entire track record, one of the most automatic outs in baseball.

But, despite as much as my infatuation with the other Padre catcher might preclude it, I have to admit—Hedges is still proving to be darn valuable.