On June 12th, the Colorado Rockies placed Jordan Pacheco on waivers, and the D-backs put in a successful waiver claim. The D-backs’ press release calls Pacheco an “infielder/catcher,” and on a team with Martin Prado and other moving parts, I think it’s natural to wonder how Pacheco fits in. Note: I’m kind of a sucker for complicated time shares and positional versatility, so if anything, I’m probably likely to give Pacheco some extra benefit of the doubt.
Reasonable minds can differ on this, but I like for backup/bench options to have some kind of “special sauce.” It’s how I sorted through fourth outfielders, and with a tweak or two I think we can use the same framework to discover just how valuable Pacheco can be to the D-backs.
Skills: 1) Hitting; 2) Positional flexibility; 3) Fielding; 4) Special sauce
We’ll get back to that “special sauce” idea in a bit — it’s really just a question of whether Pacheco does something that can be particularly useful at particular times. But what we’re primarily interested in is the skills that would determine whether Pacheco could be a starting player.
1. Hitting is the easiest aspect of Pacheco’s game to measure. For his career, Pacheco has a 76 wRC+, which is mediocre but not necessarily terrible. For some context, of the 140 players who qualified for the batting title last season (based on plate appearances), just five had a wRC+ that was worse than Pacheco’s career rate. Perhaps more alarming are Pacheco’s career splits; he’s had a 88 wRC+ at home but a 63 wRC+ in away games. Now, among the many things that wRC+ is supposed to control for is park factor, but there’s evidence to suggest that it’s done so inadequately — it seems that the home/road split affects Rockies players much more than it affects visiting players. It may be a consequence of hitters having to adjust to a different environment in away games, as at least one person has theorized. Maybe a 76 wRC+ is a reasonable rate to expect from here on out, but it’s just as possible that he’ll hit more like he did in away games with Colorado. In other words: not good.
Before the season started, the ZiPS projection system had Pacheco pegged for a .679 OPS, which is uninspiring — and a -1.2 WAR (zWAR), which is alarming. That considered Pacheco a first baseman, though, and as a catcher, he’d fare about two wins better. Which brings us to the next questions.
2. Positional flexibility is a little more difficult to pin down. I’m probably Steve Berthiaume’s biggest fan, but I was shocked when he said on air that Pacheco could play all five infield spots, and well. We’ll get back to “well” in a second, but five infield spots?
Here’s how Pacheco’s playing time has broken down in the majors:
Even this chart is misleading. The second base innings make for a hilariously small sample, but they also made for a hilariously bad UZR/150. Friends, chances are you could do better than a -165 UZR/150 if you took the field and played second base for a few games next week, and the same can be said for Pacheco. He’s probably not quite that terrible because no one is quite that terrible — but I think we can safely say that he’s no higher on the second base depth chart than Paul Goldschmidt.
It’s also been quite a while since Pacheco manned the hot corner — he may have played some in the minors, but although the vast majority of his playing time in 2012 came at third, he hasn’t played a major league inning there since. He could conceivably play third if called upon, but I would think even Didi Gregorius might be ahead of him on the depth chart there if team officials aren’t deluding themselves, and it’s a sure thing that Eric Chavez will be a better option there once he returns from the DL. Keep playing, Prado.
It’s also hard to see how Pacheco can be much help at first base. At the moment, he’s probably the principal backup, but don’t see how he’s ever going to be a better option there than Chavez or Prado. That leaves catcher. Pacheco played sparingly behind the plate in 2011 and 2012, but filled in for 15 games there in 2013 before playing (and starting) 19 games this season. Chances are pretty good he’d be called on to play some catcher, which at least provides value in freeing up Tuffy Gosewisch for pinch hitting duties (yes, I cringed when I wrote that). We’ll call Pacheco a catcher/first baseman and leave it at that, knowing he could also play third base in a pinch.
3. Fielding. We’ve already sort of covered this, but as a first baseman, Pacheco has not impressed — and he’s played just enough games there for the numbers to matter. He’s not an asset at first base defensively, although he’s not a liability there, either. He’s clearly a liability at third base, much the same way that Prado plays second: adequate, but well below average. So if Pacheco is going to be an asset defensively, he’s going to have to do that behind the dish.
And, chances are, he won’t. UZR doesn’t track catchers, but Defensive Runs Saved does — and it rates him below average for his career (-4 DRS, which is a counting stat). More importantly, Pacheco has also been a poor receiver. Using the same Baseball Prospectus metrics that led us to discover that Miguel Montero is a framing and blocking whiz, we can tell that Pacheco has been a below-average pitch framer, but not a horrendous one. He’s been more or less average in blocking pitches when that matters. Overall, Pacheco’s career leads one to believe that his catching skill is worth about negative five runs per 7000 innings, or roughly half a win in the wrong direction. Gosewisch doesn’t have as many major league catching innings to his credit, but his limited track record suggests that he’s a plus defensively (6.7 receiving runs per 7000 innings), so it’s really hard to see Pacheco as a better option.
Types of special sauce: a) Defensive standout; b) Base running; c) Platoon split; d) Power
Pacheco appears to be well below average offensively and defensively, and while his positional flexibility is definitely an asset, being able to play more positions badly isn’t necessarily helpful. What can be helpful for part time players is having a skill that can be particularly useful at particular times. Can you provide value as a pinch runner? If so, that can become magnified, because the player in question will probably only be used as a pinch runner when the situation is especially critical. The same goes for great defense (late game defensive replacements), for hitting for power (sometimes going for home runs is the right play), and for having a platoon split.
Why a platoon split? Because if a player is going to get a very large portion of their plate appearances as a pinch hitter, that platoon split can be used to his team’s advantage. Nothing too controversial here. At 74 wRC+ versus southpaws and 63 wRC+ versus RHPs, though, there isn’t much of a split to take advantage of. I’m not sure we can identify any special sauce in Jordan Pacheco’s resume.
So how does Pacheco fit the D-backs roster?
The short answer: he doesn’t. Pacheco and Gosewisch are very similar hitters, and Gosewisch is a better defender. There are very few times that a third-string catcher is useful, injury being the largest exception. And if Pacheco isn’t really going to catch, how useful is his catching ability?
I really do not see how Pacheco is going to stay on this roster for very long — he may be waived as soon as Eric Chavez is ready to come back from the DL. Until then, he’s great insurance against an injury to Martin Prado, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero and Tuffy Gosewisch. Beyond that, he just doesn’t have too much to offer, and probably shouldn’t stay on the roster. As outlined last week, this season should be all about the team putting itself in a position to get lucky — and Pacheco, a known quantity who is below average in every facet of the game, just doesn’t fit that model.
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