I can’t resist opening Jacob Stallings’ season review with a flashback to May 3, 2023.
The Marlins lost 14-6 to the Braves, but nestled in the glum outing was a fun little gem. Stallings struck out Ronald Acuña Jr., and rather spectacularly on a 85 MPH fastball after a series of comically lobbed curveballs.
“I saw that last pitch at 120 MPH,” the slugger later joked. Stallings was able to get the ball signed, and manager Skip Schumaker observed, “he’ll keep that ball forever.”
Thank you for indulging me. Let’s get to it.
It’s no secret that the Miami Marlins have struggled to find a solution for the catcher position since February 2019. It’s worth noting that this is an almost historic problem for the organization. Some fans may or may not recall that “Pudge” Rodriguez, a Hall of Famer, was a Marlin for only one season. More recently, J.T. Realmuto provided four seasons of great contributions. Outside of that, there’s been a severe lack of stability and offensive production from Marlins backstops for much of the last two decades.
Expectations for offensive production for most catchers tend to differ from other positions: “If he can drive in runs too, great.” However, grading on a curve, Stallings’ bat was notably chilly in 2023.
Let’s zoom back into Stallings’ hitting stats from 2023.
Batting average is still a quick short hand for general context. Stallings BA for the season was .191, up against the MLB average BA of .248. A good rule of thumb for some of these traditional stats is to give plenty of wiggle room, but the argument could be made that a 57-point difference is a little too much wiggle room.
Looking at the rest of the slash line gives more or less the same context with an OBP of .278 and a .286 slugging clip.
During the first half, Stallings batted .202 and dropped 22 points to .180 in the second half with a similar enough amount of at-bats before and after the All-Star break. With 20 RBIs on the season and three home runs, there’s no need to compare and contextualize: Stallings simply had no production at the plate in 2023.
Fielding stats for catchers are their bread and butter. There was an MLB-wide adjustment to the larger bases on the basepaths in terms of base stealing and throwing out runners. Stallings threw out only 9 of 67, a caught stealing rate of 13%. That’s about half the average for all MLB catchers in 2023.
Coming into the season, Stallings was understandably pumped to work with the pitching staff. Sandy Alcantara had just won the NL Cy Young, and up-and-coming talent like Jesús Luzardo and the early arrival of Eury Pérez offered plenty of room for Stallings to showcase the intangibles of catching.
The news that Alcantara would lose out on the 2024 season with a projected return for 2025 was a huge blow to the organization all the way around. The Marlins will need to make moves this offseason that will likely be colored by this unexpected wrench in the rotation. Stallings had been Alcantara’s personal catcher since 2022. It brings to mind those intangibles again. Most of those, like guiding a young fireballer through a bases-loaded jam, don’t have an easy to digest numerical statistic.
What Stallings unequivocally brings to the table outside of being at the plate or behind the dish may not align with the Marlins immediate needs in 2024. Retaining him would also come at a cost entering his final year of arbitration eligibility. Stallings made a $3.35 million salary this season and would be owed a similar wage if tendered a contract.
I anticipate Stallings will look forward to free agency on Friday when the MLB non-tender deadline arrives.
Photo by Jesus Sanchez/Fish On First