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Cobbled together catching is working for the Twins

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Jeffers and Astudillo haven’t missed a beat

MLB: SEP 13 Indians at Twins Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If I told you that Ryan Jeffers and Willians Astudillo were the Twins catchers in a playoff race, you’d be forgiven in thinking we just fast-forwarded five years into the future. Thanks to injuries to Mitch Garver and Alex Avila, the future is now, and its working out so far.

Avila hit the 10-day IL on September 6th with a back injury, and had been splitting time with Jeffers for awhile before that, thanks to Mitch Garver going on the IL all the way back on August 20th. Astudillo was called up to replace Avila, giving us the current catching tandem.

When they hit the IL, Avila and Garver were both hitting under .200. Avila was at .167/.352/.262 and Garver was at .154/.262/.212—a line from the latter which is more surprising than from the former, but both well below expectations. Catcher defensive stats being what they are, and samples being small, its hard to really grade out their defense, but Garver had passed two balls and 38% of would-be base-stealers in 16 games behind the dish. Avila caught 22% of runners attempting, and passed one ball in 19 games. For reference, league average this season is 25% caught stealing.

Jeffers made his big-league debut after skipping triple-A entirely (not unusual in 2020) and with only 17 games at the double-A level in 2019. Despite this, he has been a highly productive member of the Twins. He’s now caught in 20 games—more than any other Twins catcher. During that time, he’s only been assigned one passed ball, and has caught 20% of runners. While that is 5% below league average, its a small sample—if he had caught one more, he’d be 5% above league average. Perhaps more importantly, his bat has also been a spark. He’s hitting .300/.391/.525 with three home runs. He’s also gotten six free trips to first base; four walks and two HBP.

The short half of the current platoon, Willians Astudillo, has made six appearances for the Twins this season. He’s been in at catcher five times, and once as a pinch hitter/extra-innings ghost runner (in which he scored the game winning run.) On offense, he’s hitting .364/.364/.727 in a tiny sample. As he is known for making contact, his batting average is no surprise, but his slugging percentage certainly is, as he has a double and a home run included in his four hits. There were understandably justified questions about his defense at catcher which helped propel him into his previous utility role. He’s exclusively caught for the Twins this season, and has passed two balls and allowed the only attempt to steal a base in his five games. Again, this is an incredibly small sample that doesn’t mean anything.

Most importantly, the Twins have been winning with this combination. The Twins are 13-7 in games that Jeffers has appeared in. That’s a .650 winning percentage, or a 39-win pace this year and a 105-win pace in a normal season. That percentage would have them essentially tied with the White Sox at the top of the American League, and behind only the Dodgers overall. The Twins are 4-2 in games with Astudillo appearing, which is slightly better—a .667 pace. The Twins still have a winning record with Avila (.650) and Garver (.558) playing, but that is to be expected—those guys were the intended tandem for a serious contender. With a journeyman and a rookie behind the plate, and those numbers continuing, well, that’s more impressive.

Given that these are small samples and an odd year, you still can’t help but look forward and smile. Avila is on a one-year deal, but Garver and Jeffers will both be a part of the team for years to come, and their future looks bright.