WHAT YOU WON'T HEAR

Here's the unspoken truth about Houston Astros facing former catcher Martin Maldonado

Astros Yainer Diaz, Martin Maldonado
Let's end this debate once and for all. Composite Getty Image.

When Martin Maldonado comes to bat for the Chicago White Sox against the Astros this week, you can expect our TV and radio announcers to wax nostalgic about Maldy’s six years in Houston.

They’ll go on about how popular he was with fans and what a leader he was in the clubhouse. They’ll praise his defensive ability and mastery of the catcher position. They’ll talk about how pitchers had confidence in him and pitched their best with him in the lineup.

Social media will come alive with thoughts the Astros blew it by letting Maldonado go in free agency in favor of giving the full-time catcher job to Yanier Diaz.

Let’s put that defenseless talk to rest.

I could stop right here: Martin Maldonado is a terrible hitter, on course to put up the worst offensive numbers in baseball history. He’s a very below average defensive catcher, perhaps the worst in the Major Leagues.

As they used to say on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, let’s go to the tote board.

Maldonado, 37, is batting a ridiculously paltry .083. He has only nine hits in 107 at bats, with one homer and five RBI.

To put those lowly numbers in perspective, the worst season a player with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in history was Orioles first baseman Chris Davis in 2018. Davis batted .168 that year.

Maldonado won’t reach the required number of plate appearances, but raw numbers, Davis’ batting average was more than double Maldonado’s current .083. Speaking of double, Maldonado has only two doubles this season. The season is almost half-over.

OK, he is horrible at the plate, the closest thing to an automatic out since Little League.

This from a Reddit post: there’s an expression to describe a terrible hitter … “He can’t hit his weight.” If you’re talking pounds, that’s been done many times over history. But if Maldonado stays the course, he will be the first ever who didn’t hit his weight in kilograms. He weighs 104 kilos.

Now let’s look at his defensive numbers. Surely those must be some impressive stats to justify his place in the starting lineup. Wrong. He simply can’t throw out base stealers, an important measure of a catcher’s defensive worth. This year, 34 runners have attempted to steal a base on Maldonado. He’s thrown out only two of them for a 6 percent success rate.

Maldonado has three passed balls this season. He had 12 passed balls last season with the Astros and led the league in that department. He is one of the most porous catchers over the past decade.

As for his intangibles and handling of pitchers, the White Sox have a team earned run average of 4.93. That’s good for 29th place in MLB. There are 30 teams. The White Sox staff’s WHIP is 1.42, also good for 29th place. The bullpen has 11 saves, yup, 29th place.

Not surprisingly, the White Sox are in last place in the American League Central with a 19-54 record. That’s a winning percentage of .260. Only five teams since 1900 have had a lower winning percentage for a season. The last time a team had a lower winning percentage than the 2024 White Sox was the hapless first-year New York Mets in 1962.

It’s not like the White Sox are doing so well they can withstand a catcher who can’t hit and can’t throw out base stealers.

So why is Maldonado still behind the plate for the White Sox? He has caught 38 games, more than half of the games the White Sox have played.

Here’s White Sox manager Pedro Grifol a couple of weeks ago: “I’m actually OK with his results at the plate. He hasn’t played 12 seasons because he hits .300.”

No, he’s played 12 seasons and his career batting average is .203.

More from Grifol: “He’s played as long as he’s played because he does what he does behind the plate. A future Hall of Fame manager (Dusty Baker), he wanted him behind the plate. There’s a reason for it.”

Let’s play $25,000 Pyramid. The answer is “Things a manager says before he loses his job.”

Meanwhile, for all the wringing of Astros fans’ hands over Yanier Diaz’s recent batting slump, chasing pitches outside the strike zone and grounding into double plays …

Diaz, 25, is hitting .260 (solid for a catcher) with seven home runs and 33 RBI (tied for third on the Astros). Over 44 games behind the plate, he has thrown out nine potential base stealers for a 20 percent success rate. He has no passed balls, this year or for his career.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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