Major League Baseball
Why Houston’s catchers, worst-hitting tandem in MLB, are so valuable
Major League Baseball

Why Houston’s catchers, worst-hitting tandem in MLB, are so valuable

Updated Jun. 15, 2022 5:43 p.m. ET

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Any reports of the Houston Astros' demise were premature, overstated, fallacious. 

With franchise cornerstone Carlos Correa departing in free agency, questions about Justin Verlander's effectiveness after missing two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a core of hitters creeping down the aging curve, some voices wondered aloud if the sun were beginning to set on the most dominant American League team of the past half-decade.

But two-and-a-half months into the 2022 MLB season, the club with five consecutive ALCS appearances looks primed to stretch that streak to six. The Astros are already 13 games over .500 and 7.5 games up on the second-place Rangers in the AL West. 


After a few lackluster seasons by his standards, Jose Altuve looks all the way back to his world-beating self. Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez have solidified themselves as elite hitters and the fresh faces of Houston’s post-banging-scandal generation. Correa’s replacement, rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, should win Rookie of the Year. And Verlander looks like a Cy Young candidate again.

The Astros' blueprint for success

Ben Verlander breaks down how the Astros constructed a perfect blueprint for long-term success and are still the team to beat in the AL.

It’s a dynamic, deep and championship-caliber team. But at first glance, the roster has one enormous, glaring, life-sucking black hole: catcher.

Two 35-year-old veterans, Martín Maldonado and Jason Castro, have caught every single inning for the Stros this season. As a pair they’ve hit .136/.216/.231 with just four home runs. They are 27-for-199 with 11 extra base hits and no steals. Their .447 combined OPS is not just the worst for any team’s catching unit in MLB this season, it would be the lowest catcher OPS in a full season since the 1907 Boston Americans’ backstops came together for a .446 OPS. 

A team’s catchers haven’t been this bad at hitting since BEFORE THE RED SOX WERE CALLED THE RED SOX.

Most of that abysmal production falls upon Maldonado’s shoulders, as the 12-year big-leaguer has caught 72% of Houston’s innings this season. And besides being the slowest player in the entire league (which makes it almost impossible for him to leg out infield hits), Maldonado has the 12th highest strikeout rate in baseball at 30.8%. 

On the rare occasions when he makes contact with the ball, he does hit it pretty hard, but that happens so infrequently that Maldonado ranks as the fifth-worst-hitting offensive regular in MLB (shouts out to Andrew Velazquez, Elías Díaz, Leury García and Cristian Pache).

Astros catcher Martín Maldonado brings value to Houston despite hitting woes

FOX Sports MLB Writer Jake Mintz explains why even though the Houston Astros have the worst-hitting catcher tandem in the league, both players bring immense value to the roster.

Castro, who returned to the Astros last season after four years bouncing around the league, was more than adequate as Maldonado’s backup in 2021. In 179 games, Castro ripped eight homers and posted a .799 OPS, both well above average marks for a secondary backstop. 

But in the early going this season, Castro is 6-for-59 and has yet to smack a tater. If you crunch the numbers, that’s an OPS+ of 2. Peak Mike Piazza he is not.

If Castro continues to hit so poorly, the team could and should upgrade its backup catcher spot — top prospect Korey Lee is off to a brutal start in Triple-A but could warrant a look if his bat warms up. But there’s no reason to expect Houston to replace Maldonado anytime soon, despite his complete and total ineptitude at the dish.

And while longtime Chicago Cub Willson Contreras has been the best-hitting catcher in baseball and could be on the move at the trade deadline, chances are the Astros consider Maldonado too vital to their run-prevention game to make a move.

Although Maldonado has only one Gold Glove and rates poorly on most pitch-framing leaderboards, he’s widely regarded as one of the best all-around defensive catchers in the sport. His bazooka of a throwing arm is a game-changing weapon, especially come the postseason, when teams tend to be more aggressive on the basepaths. Since Maldonado joined the Astros in 2019, only J.T. Realmuto has thrown out would-be base stealers at a higher rate among catchers with at least 100 throwing opportunities.

But where Maldonado really shines is in his game-calling and handling of the pitching staff. In an era of baseball when every player’s value can be boiled down to a single number, it’s still impossible to calculate exactly how beneficial a good defensive catcher really is. It might sound cliché, but backstops such as Maldonado do many immeasurable things to help a ballclub win.

The best catchers are part baseballer, part coach, part therapist, part pump-up man and part tour guide. Watching Maldonado usher a pitcher through the heart of a lineup is a delight. At his best, he’s like the conductor of a symphony, orchestrating his hurler through the various ebbs and flows of a game.

It’s a skill not easily learned, acquired only through experience and hard work. Maldonado has to memorize the opposing scouting report, know how his pitcher’s strengths play against the offense’s weaknesses and then alter that approach in real time — sometimes mid-at-bat — depending on how hitters are attacking. It’s a difficult job and a thankless one, but it's indescribably invaluable.

And for the Astros, the MLB team with the highest percentage of Latin-born, Spanish-speaking pitchers, Maldonado’s experience and communication skills are even more important, especially with younger arms. That .150 batting average is tough to look at, yes, but Maldonado deserves a good chunk of credit for Framber Valdez's 2.64 ERA, Cristian Javier's 11.2 K/9 and Luis Garcia's 60 solid innings.

Like most front offices today, Houston’s organization is shrewd, calculated and data-driven, at times ruthlessly so. The Astros' baseball execs know that Maldonado can’t hit a volleyball with a folding chair, but they run him out there more often than not because his arm, his glove and, most importantly, his brain are downright irreplaceable.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more