Wallach’s first challenge was sticking on the 40-man roster throughout the 2019-20 offseason. Entering the third year of their rebuild, the Marlins were determined to make improvements in the form of accomplished veterans. For every Jesús Aguilar, Jonathan Villar and Corey Dickerson they acquired, there was a Tayron Guerrero, Kyle Keller and Austin Brice sent packing as corresponding moves. Derailed by a concussion the previous summer and no longer benefiting from having father Tim Wallach as an ally on the major league coaching staff, Chad’s spot was far from secure during this process.
Ultimately, the Marlins determined that the 28-year-old was important enough to retain as insurance behind the plate. However, he was a distant third on the catcher depth entering the regular season—barring injury/illness, Jorge Alfaro and Francisco Cervelli would surely receive the vast majority of playing time at that position.
With the luxury of a 30-man Opening Day roster size, the Marlins had Alfaro, Cervelli and Wallach active at the same time.
That only lasted for a few hours—Alfaro was abruptly placed on the injured list prior to the start of the first game. Wallach got the start the following day (a 7-1 loss to the Phillies) before succumbing to the same fate. He was among the 18 Marlins players who tested positive for COVID-19 during that road trip.
Wallach made it back to the field on Aug. 30, which was also Sandy Alcantara’s return from the IL (another lopsided loss, 12-7 to the Rays).
Cervelli was sidelined by a concussion and Alfaro wasn’t having as much offensive impact as expected. As a result, Wallach’s role expanded. At one point, he caught seven times in eight days. The Fish went 5-1 in his final six regular season games. Wallach reached base safely in each contest while posting a .333/.364/.381 slash line, so the club rode his hot hand into and through the postseason (Wallach started all five Wild Card Series and Division Series games).
18 incredible innings in the Wild Card Series, all caught by Chad Wallach pic.twitter.com/FbJ6khEh3A— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) October 2, 2020
- Statcast rated Wallach as a below-average pitch framer. He struggled especially at getting called strike calls on pitches that were slightly above the zone. Overall, he got extra strikes on 48.2% of borderline pitches in 2018 and 49.6% of them in 2019, but that dipped to 45.8% in 2020.
- Career splits for Pablo López: 3.00 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 27.0 K% when throwing to Wallach (8 GS); 4.81 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 19.7 K% when throwing to any other catcher (34 G)
Prior to Cervelli’s physical setback, Wallach had been stuck as the Marlins third-string catcher. Will his September/October production change anything heading into next year? I asked the Fish Stripes Twitter followers whether he’d get the workload of a bonafide backup (second-stringer) in 2021—more than 70% of respondents expect him to fall short of that.
I lean in that direction, too. Wallach may be a better defender than Alfaro, but not by a huge margin. As a batter, he is easily neutralized by non-fastballs, and he obviously doesn’t run as well as Alfaro.
Even more so than last offseason, the Marlins will be careful to protect Wallach on the 40-man roster. However, there are at least a dozen superior catchers to consider who are available via free agency and trade. This team has the financial flexibility and prospect depth to pursue them all.
With two minor league options remaining, Wallach figures to be in standby mode at Triple-A once the new season begins.