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Breaking Down Machete’s Breaking In

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Martin Maldonado is now a Houston Astro thanks to a trade with division-rival Anaheim. What does the trade mean, and how should we feel about it? Let’s examine.

Hello everyone! Yes, I’m still here. On to business.

Today, the Astros surprised many of us by making a trade within the American League West division for Martin Maldonado, formerly of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There are a myriad of conclusions that one can reach (some likely pretty accurate, some possibly not) as a result of this trade - let’s dive into some of them. Sorry that this piece is going to come across as more of a Tweet dump than pure analysis, but I really wanted to get this article out to you, dear readers, as soon as I could.

First, it behooves us to mention that the Astros sent some international bonus slot money to the Angels...along with Patrick Sandoval, who several of us here are very, very high on:

I definitely don’t want to focus too much on what was lost, but it would be irresponsible analysis of the trade not to acknowledge at all that a steep price was paid here, relative to the return.

But what a return it is!

Yes, Martin Maldonado is not going to hit much. We know this. We also know that catcher offense is a fun afterthought for most teams (including the Astros, who have employed catching value deity Mike Fast - currently their Director of Research and Development - since 2012 largely based off the work on catcher value that he, along with other deities like Max Marchi and Dan Turkenkopf, was pioneering almost a decade ago while he was with Baseball Prospectus...pieces like this one and this one and this one) and that defense rules the day for those denizens of the dish, according to the prevailing current wisdom.

Martin Maldonado is absolutely one of the top defensive catchers in the sport.

Forget for a moment that he won the Gold Glove last year - I mean, he did, but that’s an award voted on by sports writers. Let’s instead look at numbers, and at accolades from true analysts.

He is regarded as having the best throwing arm in the American League according to StatCast (yes, Yankees fans, ahead of Gary Sanchez) and second best in baseball, behind only Jorge Alfaro of the Phillies.

StatCast Guru and Baseball Savant creator Daren Willman concurs:

It is a long-held belief of mine that the man who said “You steal bases off the pitcher, not the catcher” was correct, but still, laying the caught stealing numbers side by side for Maldonado versus Astros catchers paints a pretty stark picture...

It isn’t completely true that the other hitters aren’t hitting much right now (Stassi does at least still sport a 129 wRC+ versus left-handed pitching) but the caught-stealing percentages there are pretty stark. The top two teams in the league in stolen bases are the Indians and Red Sox, so the move makes sense from that perspective.

Beyond the throwing arm, Maldonado has good mobility in front of the plate and blocks pitches well. He has been an elite pitch framer recently (he won the Fielding Bible award for catchers last season partly by virtue of stealing an additional 12 runs for the Angels - good for fourth most in baseball. His framing numbers are slightly down from that elite level but still very good) and he does at least offer a little pop in his bat.

But, again...offense for catchers is an afterthought.

Going forward, Jeff Luhnow says he expects Max Stassi to remain the primary backstop with Maldonado (who calls himself Machete on his Twitter account) backing him up. Brian McCann is reportedly progressing well in his rehab and will ostensibly rejoin the team in September, once rosters are expanded.

All in all, the move stacks up favorably in terms of improving the Major League team for the remainder of this season, even if it lacks the luster and panache of a major splash that many Astros fans seem to be hoping for.