First Pitch: Jacob Stallings Can Handle Things Now, But the Pirates Need Future Catching Help

The Pirates have seen a nice stretch of mostly strong catching production over the last eight years. In my recaps of the catching position over the last two days (2020 article, future article), I focused a lot on Rod Barajas, who was the final starting catcher before the recent positional strength.

I focused on Barajas as a sort of reminder that it’s not always going to be Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli behind the plate for the Pirates. The Pirates have the sixth best team fWAR behind the plate since 2013, with their combined 24.9 WAR during that stretch largely made up by 11.7 from Martin and 11.3 from Cervelli.

They’ve got Jacob Stallings going forward, although he comes with his own question marks. Stallings has outstanding defense behind the plate, but I’d still label his offense as a question mark. In his MLB career, he has hit for a .262/.327/.372 line in 425 plate appearances. Those are almost identical numbers to what he put up in 2020 over 143 plate appearances.

Those numbers are almost enough that you can trust Stallings to continue putting up those numbers, which would be fine when paired with his defense. The problem is that Stallings will turn 31 next month. At this point in his career, he shouldn’t be expected to improve his game. At best, you’re hoping he maintains his game. This is the ceiling for Stallings, and it will only lower in the upcoming years.

The Pirates can hope that Stallings still has a few more years of production left. I think he could be a surprising starting catcher. He isn’t a candidate to match the best years from Martin and Cervelli, but he is a guy who can put up multiple WAR for a few seasons.

Beyond Stallings, their farm system is largely made up of Stallings types who are strong defensively, but don’t add much or any value on offense. Eventually the Pirates will need a replacement.

While I tore down Neal Huntington’s work at developing catchers in yesterday’s article, you have to give him credit for the actual results he gained. He inherited Ryan Doumit, then tried to upgrade to Chris Snyder. That move was followed by the addition of Barajas. He followed that by adding Martin, then added Cervelli, and had Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings in the system, which helped in 2018 and 2020.

Ben Cherington can do the same, but seeing the path shows how impressive it was that Huntington got those results.

Is Cherington going to be able to develop another Stallings type catcher to start for the Pirates?

Will he find the next Martin or Cervelli, rather than the next Barajas or Snyder?

How long can Stallings maintain his production and buy time?

The catching position right now in Pittsburgh isn’t a disaster, and there’s some promise that Stallings can hold things down until Cherington adds a catcher of the future. Cherington will need to find a way to recreate Neal Huntington’s magic in adding behind the plate, and preferably before Stallings starts to decline with age.

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