Ever since the LA Angels moved on from Mike Napoli after the 2010 season, there has been underwhelming performances from catchers that donned the white and red. That has all changed with Martin Maldonado.
Chris Iannetta never got it together for the LA Angels. Carlos Perez hit a walk off home run in his first MLB start, but he never put it all together. The Halos have always had good defensive catchers, but Martin Maldonado is truly special.
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When they brought him on before the 2017 season, Maldonado was a career backup. Incumbent Carlos Perez was expected to make a jump. However, Maldonado stole the job quickly, and ran with it. The same cannot be said for opposing runners.
Maldonado’s defense is he best asset. He controls baserunners like he has them on a leash, and when they do steal, they are not often successful by MLB standards. Maldonado ranked fifth in caught stealing percentage, and that was while catching in a league-high 137 games. Fatigue played a huge part in Maldonado’s sub par play down the stretch in 2017, but that should not be a factor in 2018.
While neither he or manager Mike Scioscia have mentioned any plans of lightening Maldonado’s load. Instead, they both planned for Maldonado to work on his stamina this offseason, since he now knows the amount of effort catching a full season requires.
One of the most underrated aspects of Maldonado’s game is his game calling. He understands his pitchers extremely well and goes above and beyond when it comes to finding out how to call pitches for them in the most effective way.
Recently, the MLB changed their pace-of-play rules to limit mound visits per game. Maldonado had quite a lot to say after the news broke that only six mound visits would be permitted.
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In an interview with Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register, Maldonado said, “If I have to go out there, I’m going to go. If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six (visits), and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers. If they need me, I’m going to go out there. It doesn’t matter how many times I go. If I have to pay a fine or whatever, I’m willing to pay.”
While the MLB responded by saying a pitching change, not a fine, would take place for a seventh visit, it is still a remarkable example of Maldonado’s determination to win ball games.
One of Maldonado’s biggest challenges this season will be helping Japanese phenom and new face of the Angels (next to Mike Trout) Shohei Ohtani get accustomed to the MLB. As soon as Ohtani announced his commitment to the Angels, Maldonado was ready to work. He immediately asked for years of tape to study Ohtani’s habits as a pitcher.
In his first live pitching session, Ohtani was struggling to place his breaking balls. However, during a break Maldonado reminded his newest partner about the dry air that affects the break on pitches in Arizona. There was improvement in the second half of the workout and Maldonado was “impressed” with Ohtani’s pitches.
What Maldonado does for the Angels is special. While he may seem like a generally quiet guy, he has shown time and time again how knowledgable he is when it comes to catching, calling pitchers, and helping pitchers adapt to situations. There is a reason the Angels’ starting rotation had the sixth-best ERA in the MLB last year. It was not because they had the sixth-best talent in their rotation.
It was Martin Maldonado.