Earlier today on Fish Bites, we noted that Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly had the second best caught stealing rate in the league early this season. To be fair, that 57.1 percent rate quoted in the linked article comes from a sample of seven throws, as Brantly has gunned down four of seven would-be basestealers. This is hardly a sample worth discussing, except that the Marlins coaches seem to have some potential reasoning behind his improvement. Bench coach Rob Leary, who doubles as the team's catching instructor, says it is all in the momentum.
"Rob has really done a nice job making a few adjustments," said bench coach and catching instructor Rob Leary. "He certainly has the arm strength and the hands, the exchange, but his footwork, he didn't always gain momentum toward his target, primarily second base.
"We basically just have him gaining momentum. We don't want him to have two big steps. We want them short and quick. The most important thing is the momentum and the direction going through his target and he's been much more consistent."
It is a good sign to see given that Brantly threw out only four of 22 steal attempts late last season after the Detroit Tigers trade. The Fish need some defensive prowess from their catcher, especially since Brantly has struggled some early at the plate. After an impressive .290/.372/.460 (.358 wOBA) debut last season, Brantly is only hitting .228/.308/.333 (.287 wOBA) to start the year this season.
But if you go back and look at Brantly's scouting reports, you will find that the arm has never been much in question. Here is a scouting report Fish Stripes's own Sam Evans provided before Brantly debuted last season.
Defense: Brantly isn't built like a normal catcher, he's a little on the slim side. This helps his mobility behind the plate, which is one thing I've heard has greatly improved this season. Brantly has a strong arm, and his throws down to second base rival those of any catcher in the PCL. He's still learning how to block offspeed pitches effectively, but all reports indicate he is getting better day by day.
The fact that his arm is not a major concern is backed by the minor league numbers, as Brantly threw out 32 percent of would-be basestealers in his minor league career (293 attempts). The league average in the majors last season was 26 percent, so Brantly can definitely pull off a line like that, even with improved basestealers in the majors.
The problem with his defense has not been the arm, but rather the rest of his body. Brantly struggled last season to block pitches at the plate, and he is still doing so this year. Last season, he allowed 30 wild pitches and passed balls in 247 2/3 innings caught, which translates to a rate of one wild pitch or passed ball per 8.2 innings. In contrast, the league average last season was one of those events per 22.7 innings, meaning that Brantly was giving up about two more lost pitches per full game at catcher.
This season, however, his game in that category has improved thus far. He has allowed four wild pitches and three passed balls to start the year and has caught 141 1/3 innings. His rate this season translates to one event per 20.1 innings. While he is still below the league average as of right now, it is a drastic improvement from last season. It is still a small sample, but here's hoping Brantly can continue to perform well in that category, as that will make him a more well-rounded catcher and give him a better chance of retaining the catcher job in the future.