clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Making Sense of Austin Hedges’ Return to the Guardians

Hedges is back

Texas Rangers Victory Parade Photo by Tom Fox - Pool/Getty Images

The Guardians are rumored to have signed Austin Hedges and they have traded their erstwhile backup catcher Christian Bethancourt to the Miami Marlins

If you look at Steamer’s 2024 projections, Hedges and Bethancourt were projected for about a win each (0.8 fWAR) with most of Hedges value coming defensively and most of Bethancourt’s coming offensively (relative to his position). There is DEFINITELY more offensive upside from Bethancourt, but Hedges is 90th percentile in blocks above average and 98th in framing above average. In 5,244.1 innings, Austin Hedges has 14 career rCERA, and Bethancourt has 4 in 2,143.2 innings, so, if you would give Bethancourt the same rate of rCERA in the same number of innings, he’d still trail Hedges by about 5 runs.

To see one example of the Hedgey-effect, I’d point to Emmanuel Clase’s performance under Hedges. With Hedges as the primary catcher, Clase had a 2.04 FIP and a 9.5/1.6 K/BB/9. With the loss of Hedges and the advent of the pitching clock, Clase regressed to 2.91 FIP and a 7.5/2 K/BB/9. You can read Travis Sawchik’s excellent piece on Hedges and the Pitch Com to see how Hedges impacted Clase specifically with this device. Can I claim Hedges; absence as the primary reason for Clase’s regression? No, I cannot. Can I postulate that Hedges can help Clase rediscover his dominance as he adjusts to a pitch clock world in a second season? I absolutely can.

Most importantly, I suspect for the Guardians, Hedges has 81.6 Framing Runs for his career... Bethancourt has -11.7. For the past decade, Cleveland has been among the league leaders in valuing good framers, so it was a surprise to me to see them pickup Bethancourt. It seems clear that they saw some value there and got him as a fail-safe if other better options for the framing and defense they value in the role didn’t materialize. And, then, Hedges materialized.

It’s impossible also to not take into account the existence of intangible value to Hedges. One of the most humble players in baseball, Hedges happily took a backseat role on the Rangers and Pirates, when asked, and looked to mentor younger teammates. It’s hard to imagine a better player to take Bo Naylor (and David Fry?) under his wing and give new manager Stephen Vogt another veteran to help keep the clubhouse vibes immaculate.

With Bethancourt traded for cash considerations (up to $100K), I doubt that the Hedges’ deal adds more than about $1.6-1.7 million to the payroll, so I think the money considerations aren’t too significant. However, I hear the questions of folks asking how a penny-pinching team like the Guardians can afford $4 million for a backup catcher and I think those questions are fair. My answers would be two-fold:

1. The value immensely Hedges’ work with pitchers and leadership in the clubhouse.

2. I believe this move is a harbinger of things to come. Free agent signings? No. Blockbuster trade for Randy Arozarena? No. But, I believe that acquiring Austin Hedges isn’t just a Rockies’ vibe move as it seemed at first. It means that the team is expecting to have a roster in which the kind of skills that Hedges offer mean something and they will be using resources (mostly trading players of some value, but also minimal financial resources) to help shore up this collection of players.

I could be very, very wrong about my last assumption. Maybe Hedges is signed just to make a segment of Guardians fans (prominent on Twitter) who adore him happy. Maybe it’s to try to flood the roster with vibes guys in hopes of capturing a market inefficiency. Maybe the Guardians just like catchers too much.

For me, the Occam’s Razor answer is that the Guardians’ value veteran leadership and experience getting the best out of young pitchers enough to where they see a little financial investment here as worthwhile because they expect to compete for an AL Central title and a playoff run. So, I expect to see a trade or two of reasonable significance in the month to come. Time to see if I’m right or dreadfully wrong in the days ahead, but first let’s watch this video to remember just how much of an artist Hedges is as a framer:

I will not post any videos of Hedges hitting at this time because I feel like we all remember that all TOO vividly. At the very least, this move means we should see a good 400 or more PA’s from Bo Naylor who will no longer be automatically platooned against LHP. It’s time to hope for the best on December 10th as we continue to navigate the unexpected twist and turns of this Guardians’ offseason.