Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher Manny Piña has been doing pretty well for himself in the major leagues since debuting for the Brewers at beginning of August 2016. Piña, who just turned 30 last month, was drafted in 2004 by the Texas Rangers, and then traded to the Royals in 2009 and made his MLB debut in 2011.
In 71 plate appearances over 33 games last year, 17 coming as a pinch hitter, Piña posted a .254 batting average, two home runs, and 12 RBI. In spring training 2017, he had a .396 average in 19 games with four home runs. All of this was good enough to earn Piña a spot on the opening day roster.
This season he has kept being productive in the lineup with a .287 average and six home runs in 54 games. Piña has proven himself to be the starting catcher and a reliable bat in the lineup in the first half of this season. I looked into what the reasoning could be behind Piña posting these numbers by sorting catchers at a minimum of 200 PAs, which is 24 players.
Piña has the ninth best wOBA at .335, just about average. He is also one point above average in wRC+ at 101, earning 13th best. Piña’s BABIP is also good for sixth best at .335 as well. His K% is good for twelfth best as well at 19.8 percent.
All of these stats are almost the definition of average. There’s nothing wrong with being average though, Piña being halfway through his first full season in the majors and posting average numbers shows he has time to get better in the next few years.
Piña’s plate discipline has also been to blame for his success at the plate. His Z-Swing%, which tracks how often a player swings at a pitch in the strike zone, is 76.2 percent, which is almost 10 percent higher than MLB average of 66.7.
His O-Swing%, Z-Swing% and Swing% are all above the league average by at least five percent. So it’s clear Piña likes to swing the bat when he steps up to the plate. What matters though is if he is hitting those pitches he is swing at, which he is. His O-Contact% is five points above the MLB average at 71.0 percent and his Z-Contact% is almost six points higher at 91.1 percent (!!).
That number is 40th in the majors amongst all players with at least 200 PAs. That number is also first on the team for the Brewers, ahead of Travis Shaw and Eric Thames, some of the fans’ votes for first half Brewers’ MVP. If you drop the PAs to 100 amongst the Brewers he is second only to Eric Sogard.
Another reason why Piña could be doing so well is pitchers are throwing right into his wheelhouse.
Charts courtesy of Fangraphs.com
He is getting all a very large amount of his pitches middle inside or down and away. His averages also happen to be the highest in those areas. Whether that’s pitchers not knowing where to pitch him yet or something else is to be determined, but for now, it’s workout out for him.
Piña is a similar batter to Jason Kendall when the Brewers had him for a couple years in 2010 and 2011. Kendall would always come through in the clutch with a bloop single or a liner over the infield’s head and way in front of the outfielder to score a run or to get a bigger bat to the plate. Look at this these two spray charts dating back to last year until now.
Chart courtesy of Fangraphs.com
The charts are pretty close to mirror images of one another. He is ahead of a lot of the pitches he gets hits for, putting them into left field. These are the type of hits that start an inning off right and get runners to advance and or even score runs.
Piña has also solidified himself as the starter behind the plate. Piña remained in the big leagues unlike his teammate Jett Bandy who was optioned to AAA Colorado Springs, when the Brewers picked up catcher Stephen Vogt off of waivers from the A’s. His numbers don’t jump off the page and aren’t Golden Glove worthy, but they are certainly enough to keep the starting job. Piña has only two errors on the year, which is tied for 26th in the MLB at the catcher position.
Piña isn’t behind the plate gunning down runners every time they try to steal, but isn’t letting up stolen bases left and right. He has caught nine players stealing and let up 19 stolen bases. Again, not amazing numbers, but a lot of factors go into if it was Piña’s fault or not. Speed of the player, pitcher’s time to the plate and if the second baseman or shortstop caught the throw to name a few.
Overall, Piña has been seeing the ball very well and making good contact at the plate. With the addition of Stephen Vogt, Piña will see some days off here and there, but will stay the starter after showcasing his talent over the past year. If he keeps up these type of numbers, he has a good chance to cement himself as the Brewers’ starting catcher going forward for the next few years.