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State of Cubs catching situation: Stolen base attempts, offensive contributions and playing time

3 weeks agoTony Andracki

The Cubs need more from their catching position this season.

And they know it.

Craig Counsell touched on multiple areas of the Cubs catching situation prior to Friday’s game against the Reds, ranging from how playing time is doled out to controlling the running game.

The Cubs entered play Friday tied for the worst WAR from the catching position by FanGraphs’ metric (-1.0).

A big part of that is due to the offense.

The Cubs rank 29th out of 30 MLB teams in batting average (.181) and on-base percentage (.203) and slugging percentage (.271) from the catching position.

Miguel Amaya and Yan Gomes have combined for a 30.0% strikeout rate (27th in MLB among catchers) and a 4.4% walk rate (also 27th).

Amaya is a 25-year-old going through his second year in the big leagues – and first full season. He is hitting .196/.258/.286 (.544 OPS) on the year while drawing a majority of the starts behind the plate.

Gomes is the seasoned veteran who will turn 37 in July. He was the team’s primary catcher last year and had a strong season with a .267 average and .723 OPS in 116 games while driving in 63 runs and coming up with several clutch hits throughout the year.

This season, Gomes has taken a big step back at the plate. After going 0-for-2 with a hit-by-pitch during Friday’s game, he is now slashing .154/.173/.244 this year for a .417 OPS. He has 6 runs scored and 5 RBI in 28 games.

“Yan’s gotten off to a slow start,” Counsell acknowledged. “And he did have a very good offensive season last year. … It’s been a struggle right now. And frankly, our catchers’ offense has been a struggle right now.

“We’re going to need to have better offense from our catchers frankly to have a good offense. To have spots in your lineup that aren’t producing kind of stops rallies, so to speak.

“It’s tough when Yan’s struggling. He’s been a good offensive catcher in this league for a long time. So we’ve got to get him going.”

Counsell said he hasn’t seen anything that has jumped out to him about Gomes’ at-bats this year apart from maybe making better swing decisions.

“The consistency of playing time may contribute to that a little bit but it’s also a job that you got to be able to do,” Counsell said.

Meanwhile with Amaya, the Cubs manager has seen the young backstop go through several different phases this season offensively – from a period where he was unlucky to a place where he was chasing pitches out of the zone too often and times where Amaya is just missing pitches to hit.

“We’re just going to keep going. Big-league at-bats from Miguel is a great teacher right now,” Counsell said. “At his experience level, he will improve but we need the improved offense for our catchers. There’s no question about it.”

Amaya Gomes Photo Together St 2024

Entering play Friday, the Cubs ranked third-worst in Major League Baseball in opponent stolen base percentage. Only the Mets (88.7%) and Rangers (85.7%) have allowed the opposition to steal bases at a higher clip than the Cubs (85.5%) this season.

And only the Cardinals have thrown out fewer would-be basestealers (7) than the Cubs (8) this year.

While the Cubs have struggled to control the running game when there is traffic on the basepaths, but they have done a solid job of mitigating stolen base attempts. They rank 17th in total stolen base attempts allowed this season.

“Limiting attempts is helpful, too,” Counsell pointed out. “We all bear the responsibility and a part in it – catchers, pitchers, coaches, everybody.”

Counsell also acknowledged that the quality of opponents is a major factor, too.

For example, Reds phenom Elly De La Cruz already has 31 stolen bases this season before the calendar has even flipped to June. He’s only been caught 5 times, illustrating that the best way to stop him is to simply keep him off base.

The new rules around the game have made it easier to steal bases. Limiting pickoff attempts, bigger bases and even the pitch clock could all play a factor in the rise in stolen bases – and stolen base success rate.

Both Cubs catchers have struggled this season to throw out runners. League average is 21% caught stealing rate and Amaya is at 14% while Gomes sits at 17%.

There have certainly been instances this season where neither Gomes nor Amaya can do anything about the stolen base attempt because the runner got such a good jump and swiped the bag easily.

“Your job is to do the best you can to mitigate it,” Counsell said. “Not let it completely affect the other thing – which is actually more important – and that’s getting the guy out. And to do both well.

“Our catchers – you have to have help to do that. You have to have help to be good at that. And I think we’re gonna continue to try to do a better job helping those guys be successful.”

Of course, catchers are not only judged by what they do in the batter’s box or how well they can limit the opponent’s running game.

A huge part of the job is working with the pitching staff, calling a game and just overall working to prevent runs.

Gomes carries a 4.50 catcher’s ERA this season, up from the last couple years when he had a 4.04 mark in 2023 and a 3.72 ERA in 2022.

Amaya has been stellar in that department as Cubs pitchers collectively have a 3.58 ERA when throwing to the young catcher this season.

“I think Miguel is doing a nice job defensively,” Counsell said. “I think he’s doing a nice job of receiving. But certainly the catching position – they’re processing a lot. They deal with the coaching staff more than any other [position group], they’re dealing with the pitching staff, they got at-bats to do.

“There’s a lot on the catchers’ plate. And I think for that reason, they probably get evaluated more because they’re interacting with every part of the roster. And I think both guys have done a really good job with all that.”

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