Ten starts into his major league career, catcher Henry Davis has yet to make a start behind the plate.
Per the Pirates, Davis continues to spend practice time at catcher, and he possesses a bat that significantly outpaces incumbent backstops Austin Hedges and Jason Delay—in a tiny sample—and a 70 grade arm capable of throwing out attempted base stealers.
Why, then, do the Pirates remain adamant about leaving Davis to patrol the outfield or serve as a designated hitter?
Here’s a look at the numbers.
Caught Stealing Success
The chief argument for Davis behind the plate is his arm.
Hedges throws out opposing base-stealers 15 percent of the time, which lags behind the major league average in a year where steal attempts succeed roughly 80 percent of the time. It’s not for lack of trying, though, as his 62nd percentile pop time sits above the median. Hedges, often criticized for his ‘noodle arm,’ is pretty good at getting the ball to second base in time. He’s not a world-beater, sure, but he’s more than good enough.
Delay throws out 10 percent of base runners, clocking a 15th percentile pop time.
Davis, on the other hand, threw out 16.667 percent of baserunners during 35 games at catcher in the minors: a hair better than Hedges, but not to the degree his arm’s reputation suggests.
With the lofty stolen base numbers this season, Davis’ cannon arm might be better spent in the outfield, holding runners up rather than trying to throw them out from behind the plate with the deck already stacked against him.
Everyone knows Hedges is excellent at framing pitches (96th percentile, per statcast) as is Delay (79th percentile). While Hedges has a reputation of providing poor defense behind the plate—his issues with catcher interference, in particular—he has four blocks above average to date this season, tied for the fifth-best number in the league.
Davis, for all his talent, has never had the reputation of being a good blocker, but that’s not to say he can’t improve.
At 23 years old, Davis has plenty of time to hone his craft at catcher if that’s where the Pirates want him to play. Right now, however, he isn’t playing at catcher because the Pirates have better defensive options behind the plate—but that isn’t to say he shouldn’t get a try.