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Austin Hedges’ intangible value is tough to quantify

There is certainly no questioning his mastery of PitchCom

Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I wrote last week about a member of the Cleveland Guardians whose defensive value in comparison to his offensive value (or lack thereof) was the subject of season-long debate.

I’m going to try not to write the same article about Austin Hedges.

Whereas it’s up for debate whether Myles Straw’s lack of offensive production this season was simply a slump from which he can emerge, no such debate exists for Hedges. In eight big league seasons, he has yet to finish with a WRC+ better than 90. His batting average has finished above the Mendoza line in only two of those eight seasons. He is what he is at this point.

This season, Hedges slashed .163/.241/.248 and posted 42 wRC+. Among catchers who logged at least 300 plate appearances, he ranked 29th in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+. Offensively, Hedges was the worst catcher in Major League Baseball.

The reasons the Guardians were comfortable giving him 338 plate appearances — despite league-worst offensive production at his position — are difficult to quantify. Hedges ranked 27th among all qualified catchers in catcher framing runs and 15th in strike rate, according to Baseball Savant. He did rank 10th among catchers in FanGraphs defense, but those are hardly the elite rankings you’d expect for a catcher championed solely for his defensive value.

I imagine the Cleveland organization would tell you that his value comes from his handling of the pitching staff. I mean, this is the man who hacked PitchCom to pump up his pitchers. How do you measure the impact of his relationship with the Guardians’ pitching staff? Guardians pitchers, including starters and relievers, ranked sixth in MLB in ERA, ninth in FIP, and ninth in WAR. I don’t know what share of that success is owed to Hedges and Luke Maile.

What I do know is that Cleveland needs more from the catcher position, and I think the organization knows that, too. After all, there is a reason they explored a midseason trade for Sean Murphy with the Oakland A’s, and Murphy even finished the season ranked ahead of Hedges in both catcher framing runs and strike rate. It’s not a binary choice between offense and defense, even if the Guardians have made it seem that way.

Hedges is a good example of a player whose value to the team is not something you’re going to find measured on his FanGraphs page. But that intangible value has limits.

Austin Hedges’ 2022 Stats

PA HR SB BB% K% Slash wRC+ WAR
PA HR SB BB% K% Slash wRC+ WAR
338 7 2 7.4% 23.1% .163/.241/.248 42 -0.6

We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.