As a whole, the 2022 season was a disappointing one for Jacob Stallings. The Miami Marlins traded for Stallings on November 29, 2021, just before the owners locked out the players and things came grinding to a halt. To acquire the 2021 NL Gold Glove Award winner, the Marlins traded pitcher Zach Thompson and prospects Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott.
The Marlins knew Stallings was a glove-first player, so they didn’t expect him to put up flashy offensive numbers in the middle of the order. If he could provide something around league-average production like he had his last two seasons in Pittsburgh—92 wRC+ and 94 wRC+ in 2020 and 2021, respectively—it would be serviceable because of the value he was expected to provide behind the plate. This didn’t go as planned, however.
- Opening Day: Stallings hit a home run against the Giants on Opening Day, something no one expected from a player with only 17 career home runs.
- June 14: Stallings hits his second home run of the season. At this point, he was slashing .204/.272/.272 with a .544 OPS. His 59 wRC+ was 16th-worst in baseball. For context, a 100 wRC+ is league average.
- All-Star Break: At the halfway point of the season, the Marlins backstop was slashing .184/.244/.232 with a .476 OPS. Only three players had a wRC+ worse than Stallings’ 39 wRC+ at the midway point.
- August 15: Stallings had been quietly producing at the plate in the second half, as noted in the tweet below. He posted five multi-hit games during the month following the All-Star Break, nearly matching his total from the entire first half (seven).
The top hitting MLB catchers since the All-Star break, according to wRC+ pic.twitter.com/sGklS4txar— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 15, 2022
- End of season: Although it was a poor season overall, just looking at Stallings’ season line does a disservice to his second-half improvements, when he slashed .281/.361/381 with a .742 OPS. His 116 wRC+ in the second half gets lost if you don’t consider the splits.
By The Numbers
When put up against his Pittsburgh Pirates performance, Jacob Stallings’ 2022 numbers with the Miami Marlins are disappointing. Not only did he underperform his offensive expectations, the Gold Glove defense Stallings was lauded for was nowhere to be found.
In 2021, Stallings’ 21 defensive runs saved led all catchers. Mainly through his game-calling, pitch framing, and ability to block pitches in the dirt, Stallings saved the Pirates 21 runs at the catching position compared to a league average catcher. The second-place finisher, Austin Hedges, wasn’t close with 12 DRS.
With the Marlins, however, all of this evaporated into thin air. Stallings didn’t frame pitches well or control the running game, and there were a few instances where I thought his streak of consecutive games without a passed ball was sure to end. Him being behind the plate cost the Marlins nine runs in 2022, which ranked 115th out of 120 players who appeared at the catching position.
Jacob Stallings passed Johnny Bench (!!!) for the most consecutive games without a passed ball in MLB history— Bally Sports Florida: Marlins (@BallyMarlins) August 30, 2022
Jacob spoke to @CraigMinervini about what it feels like to hold the record!@Marlins | #MakeItMiami pic.twitter.com/0k3pT0Ind0
Defensive metrics are finicky and require a few seasons' worth of data to stabilize, but I have rarely seen a player go from one extreme to the other like Jacob Stallings did in 2021 and 2022. Because we should never use small sample sizes to draw decisive conclusions, I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Stallings. You shouldn’t be, either.
Stallings came in and gave the pitchers confidence. He was behind the plate for every pitch that soon-to-be NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara threw. Chemistry, that illusive and intangible necessity, is something Stallings and Alcantara clearly have. Sandy recognizes it, and I’m sure the other starters do, too. Here’s what Alcantara said to Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer about his season and Stallings’ part in it:
Displayed on a stats site, Alcantara’s pitch mix looks like it could have been randomized. Maybe that’s why it works so well: You can’t predict random. But every pitch was the product of a considered decision by Alcantara and Stallings, who caught every inning Alcantara threw. “Him and me, we’re always together,” Alcantara says. “We got the same pitch in mind every time. When he puts that finger there, I don’t need to shake, because he knows what pitch I want to throw.”
Just because we can’t quantify the pitcher-catcher relationship doesn’t make it any less valuable. Alcantara and Pablo López put up career years, and both have mentioned the confidence they gained when Stallings came aboard. When they don’t have to worry about throwing a pitch in the dirt with runners on base, they’re able to throw their best pitch with conviction. These details may not show up on a FanGraphs leaderboard, but they remain a crucial part of the pitching staff’s success.
On the other side of the ball, I mentioned how Stallings’ offensive numbers were disappointing. Looking at the first and second halves individually is important, though. Here are those numbers again:
- First half: .184/.244/.232, .476 OPS, 39 wRC+
- Second half: .281/.361/.381, .742 OPS, 116 wRC+
Before the All-Star Break, Stallings was striking out a quarter of the time he stepped to the plate. When he made contact, a lot of it was weak and on the ground. This made for a lot of noncompetitive at-bats.
In the second half, however, Stallings improve his strikeout rate to 18%. He began making harder contact, especially when he pulled the ball or went up the middle. This, coupled with putting the ball in the air more, led to more extra-base hits.
Improved plate discipline and higher quality of contact contributed to what was a much more productive second half for Jacob Stallings. If he can carry over the adjustments he made in the second half of 2022 into the 2023 season, it would be a big win for the Marlins who are looking to upgrade their lineup.
On the defensive side, Stallings’ track record makes me hopeful that his 2022 defensive numbers signal some bad luck in a small sample size rather than a defensive collapse we should expect to see going forward.
Stallings’ playing time is something to monitor. Will he continue to receive the majority of starts at catcher or has Nick Fortes earned a larger role?
Stallings, who has just over four years of official service time, is heading into his third arbitration eligible year and age-33 season. He will also have a fourth year of arbitration in 2024, so the Marlins control Stallings’ contract for this upcoming season and the next, leaving plenty of time for him to rewrite the narrative surrounding the trade before potentially becoming a free agent in 2025.