Wednesday’s pitching appearance by Martin Maldonado was unusual in at least one respect: the game wasn’t a total blowout. When Maldonado entered, the Brewers were down just six runs. Granted, six runs in the ninth inning is hard to overcome—Baseball Reference’s game log says the Cards were virtually guaranteed to win at 100 percent probability (give or take). Six runs, though, is just about the minimum deficit at which a manager will start to consider using a position player in regulation. In 55 position player appearances since 2005 that weren’t in extra frames (not counting Maldonado), there have only been two occasions where one entered down six runs. The mean and median were both 10 runs.
The last time a fielder pitched in regulation down less than six runs was April 9, 2004. Journeyman first baseman/outfielder Dave McCarty came in for the Red Sox down just three runs in the ninth! The Sox had just come off a 13-inning game and placed long reliever Ramiro Mendoza on the DL that day, so skipper Terry Francona was forced to use McCarty.
Maldonado turned out to be a reasonable choice for Ron Roenicke.
Maldonado worked at a typically quick pace. However, his body language kind of made him look like a guy doing a helpless job—rather than Mike Carp, who said he was fulfilling a dream he’d had since he was a kid. Lighten up, Martin.
Maldonado did have the presence of mind to ask for a new baseball after getting one back that had hit the dirt while in play. He also shook off his catcher a couple of times. Gotta love a man with a plan.
According to Maldonado, “I could probably throw 90 at least.” Roenicke told him that was a bad idea, and that maybe he should just throw it over the plate. Maldonado settled in the 79-83 range, topping out at 87. That’s no more than a 60 on the position player velocity scale. He also had a bit of an odd pattern of movement: most of the heaters were basically straight, but a few had cut action. (I doubt that was intentional.) He did get one swinging strike with it.
It appears that Maldonado came armed with a slider and a changeup. The change was nothing special, but the slider was awesome. When I saw it live, I thought to myself, “Did I really just see that?” I think Tony Cruz did, too. He was reacting to a true slider, with about two inches of horizontal and vertical spin deflection. (In other words, it really did break away from the right-handed hitter.)
The spinner was 78 mph, which means it overlapped with his fastball range. There’s no reason that he couldn’t make that work—it’s just unusual. I’d want to see more than one to judge its consistency, but it shows a lot of promise. I already like it better than, say, Rick Porcello’s slider offering.
Not all that bad! As you can see from this strike zone map, which re-maps pitches against lefties as though they were right-handed hitters, Maldonado was able to stay on the outer third of the plate the entire time. A couple of pitches sailed high or wide, but on the whole it’s about what you could ask from a backup catcher who had 20 minutes to prepare.
Maldonado worked from the stretch the whole outing. He kept it safe and simple, without having to sacrifice too much in “stuff.” His torque was minimal, but he kept great balance. He loaded his arm early, avoiding serious elbow drag.
Overall grade: 60 present/70 future. Plus control and a potential weapon with his slider make him a guy worth paying attention to if he comes in again.
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