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The Phillies’ Jorge Alfaro is awesome

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At least, I think he’s awesome.

San Francisco Giants v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

What does one want in a starting catcher?

It’s a question that a lot of people will have a lot of different answers to. Some people value defense more, hoping that the catcher is able to control the running game while simultaneously massaging the best performances possible out of the pitching staff. Others will want a more offensive-minded backstop, preferring power and on base ability to the leather. Both kinds of catchers have a place on a major league roster, though which type is preferred by teams depends on the individual front office philosophies.

But what if you could have both? The Phillies seem to be on their way to developing one in Jorge Alfaro that will set them up for the forseeable future.

Now, before you scoff, hear me out for a while. I will be the first to admit that Alfaro’s offensive game has some holes. Sizable holes. The first is the on base ability that teams such as the Phillies value so highly. Alfaro’s .286 OBP ranks 18th among 21 catchers with at least 175 plate appearances this season. His 73 strikeouts are second among those same catchers. Prior to this season, he had been billed as someone who possessed a high amount of power in his swing, but that hasn’t translated just yet (five home runs) to the field. His slugging percentage (.385) is in the middle third of those 21 catchers. Basically, as an offensive catcher, he has been below average. However, if someone had asked you if you would be happy if Alfaro had a ~.700 OPS this season, you would probably take it so long as the defense was good.

That was the big question. Headed in to the season, Alfaro’s glove was the biggest question mark. He had always had #TheArm to succeed, but would the rest of his game (framing, blocking, etc.) be able to follow suit? Would he be able to reach his ceiling of being an above average catcher? Judging from the stats, it looks like that ceiling is very much within reach.

Let’s start with the framing, since that was one of the areas of concern Alfaro. Using Baseball Prospectus’ catcher stats*, we can see that he ranks 10th in baseball with 4.0 framing runs to his credit. That’s ahead of noted framing luminaries Buster Posey and Yadier Molina. It is something that the front office emphasized this spring with all of their catchers. They wanted the presentation of pitches to the umpire to be better than it had been it in the past when Phillies’ catchers were routinely near the bottom of the league in the category. You can see how much better Alfaro has been this season, something I mentioned earlier this season. Moving on to blocking, this is one area that Alfaro can improve in, as his -1.1 blocking runs are near the bottom of the league. Couple that with the fact that he has 7 passed balls already, we can say that the receiving, while improving, can still stand to see some work.

*stats through Sunday’s games

Now, let’s move to the part of Alfaro’s defense that received the most attention, his throwing.

<faints>

Sorry, the mere thought of Alfaro throwing someone out at second base makes me lose consciousness for a second.

Jorge Alfaro has the best arm of any catcher in this game right now. Courtesy of Statcast, we know his throws have averaged 90.4 miles per hour, tops in the game. This statement is a fact, not an opinion. Also, a fun fact that may interest me: the difference between Alfaro’s arm and Andrew Knapp’s arm in terms of throw velocity is the greatest difference between any of a team’s backstops in the National League.

NL catcher velocity (through 6/15)

Team #1 catcher MPH #2 catcher MPH #3 catcher MPH Difference in MPH
Team #1 catcher MPH #2 catcher MPH #3 catcher MPH Difference in MPH
Braves 80.4 (Suzuki) 74.4 (Flowers) 6.0
Mets 82.2 (Nido) 81.6 (Mesoraco) 77.0 (Plawecki) 5.2
Marlins 87.6 (Realmuto) 81.1 (Holaday) 6.5
Nationals 84.0 (Severino) 79.0 (Weiters) 5.0
Phillies 90.4 (Alfaro) 82.6 (Knapp) 7.8
Cubs 84.4 (Contreras) 81.3 (Caratini) 79.4 (Gimenez) 5.0
Pirates 85.2 (Diaz) 80.0 (Cervelli) 5.2
Brewers 84.7 (Kratz) 84.5 (Pina) 0.2
Reds 79.7 (Casali) 78.6 (Barnhart) 1.1
Cardinals 82.4 (Molina) 81.3 (Pena) 1.1
Giants 82.7 (Posey) 79.3 (Hundley) 3.5
Dodgers 80.8 (Grandal) 76.0 (Barnes) 4.8
Rockies 82.8 (Murphy) 81.8 (Iannetta) 77.9 (Wolters) 4.9
Padres 83.1 (Hedges) 81.5 (Lopez) 78.3 (Ellis) 4.8
Diamondbacks 85.0 (Murphy) 80.3 (Avila) 78.4 (Mathis) 7.6

He’s thrown out 29% of basestealers, which is middle of pack, but consider that through the first few weeks of the season, he was only at 16%.

He is getting better.

This kind of improving defense combined with his offensive profile is something teams build around. Now, I am not naive enough to think Alfaro’s offense is good. He doesn’t walk enough, he strikes out too much and doesn’t make enough contact to tap into that prodigious power. He’s still young enough that there is time for him to improve, something the team seems intent on giving him, with good reason too. The ability is there. It just needs the reps to improve.

So yes, Alfaro’s bat isn’t there yet. That isn’t really disputable (as much I want to dispute it). But that defense is good and is getting better. If the bat can keep getting better and the defense continues on this trajectory, it looks like the Phillies have a pretty good building block behind the plate.