The Orioles All-Star catcher, Matt Wieters, began to experience pain in his right elbow about a month into the 2014 season. Following a short stint as the everyday DH and a trip to the 15-day DL, it was decided that the Gold Glover would go under the knife for Tommy John surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
The team went about two weeks with a platoon of Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger behind the plate, but it was a fluid situation, with constant murmurs that the O's were looking for an upgrade. The Houston Astros seemed like possible partners with Jason Castro being the most attractive option, but he would have been a bit expensive.
On May 24, Dan Duquette pulled the trigger to send left-handed reliever Troy Patton to San Diego in exchange for Nick Hundley and just under $2 million in cash.
The move was met with optimism as Patton had struggled following his 25-game suspension for taking a banned amphetamine. He had thrown 6.2 innings for the Birds and had compiled an ERA of 8.10. Hundley, on the other hand, looked impressive enough in the early goings with the Padres. He had been hitting .271 with one home run and three doubles in 33 games, but had not walked once all year.
Despite the feeling that the O's may have gotten the better end of the deal for the time being, it was still clear that this was a stop-gap if there ever was one. He was in and out of the lineup on a less than stellar team, but he was expected to come into a playoff-hopeful and work with an unknown pitching staff and a rookie peer.
It was a tough pill to swallow. Wieters had begun the season on pace to set career highs in just about everything. Hundley, on the contrary, is a serviceable veteran who won't do anything special to help a team win or lose a game. As long as you went into games with that mindset of Hundley, then you wouldn't be too disappointed.
With the Orioles in 2014, Hundley slashed .233/.273/.352 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 50 games. He had a wRC+ of 73, down from his career number of 88. Across the board, his offensive numbers took a dive. He walked just 5.7% of the time (career average: 6.9%), struck out 28.7% of the time (c.a.: 24.4%) and had an isolated power of .119 (c.a.: .148). It wasn't because he was unlucky, as he had a batting average of .299 on balls in play.
In the field, it is difficult to quantify a catcher's ability. If throwing out runners is an indication, Hundley was bad. He caught only 5 of 27 base-stealers. That is 18.5%. If he had caught enough innings to qualify for any awards, that would have been the second worst number in Major League Baseball, ahead of only Derek Norris (16.7%).
If you like catcher's ERA as a barometer (you probably don't) then Hundley had a 3.54 CERA for the season. That would actually put him at fifth in the league (if he qualified) behind Norris, Mike Zunino, Salvador Perez and Buster Posey.
But the real thing he did well was handle the Orioles ace, Chris Tillman. Hundley became his personal catcher, starting behind the plate in each of Tilly's final 13 starts. The stats below show my he was the right-hander's first choice.
*This stat is presented as a real decimal (.1 = 1/10, not .1 = 1/3 like traditionally seen with innings)
For the three that actually caught significant innings, Hundley stood out. With only the former-Padre behind the plate from July 23 to September 26, the final day of the regular season, Tillman went 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA over 12 starts.
Manager Buck Showalter hoped to carry that magic into the postseason, but it didn't work out that way. The two continued to team up but Tillman suffered through a 6.75 ERA in two starts, going no further than the fifth inning in either outing.
At the plate, the right-handed swinging Hundley struggled in October. He hit .067 with a single (1-for-15). In the field, he managed to throw out speedster Jarrod Dyson, kind of. Dyson stole the bag, but then slid past it and Jonathan Schoop helped him out a little bit. Nonetheless, the guy was out. He made a big play later in that Game One when the bases were loaded. A ground ball went to Steve Pearce who fired home with a throw in the dirt. Hundley managed to pick the ball and keep his foot on the plate to get the runner on the force.
It seems unlikely that Hundley will back in an Orioles uniform in 2015. He had an option for $5 million that the O's declined, predictably, Thursday evening. It did not require a buy out. So, it looks like the team will hope for a healthy Wieters to start and have Joseph as a reliable backup next season. But, as always, the backup catcher position can be constantly changing.
It was obvious that Tillman liked to pitch to Hundley and he seems like one of the nicest guys in the league. So, on a human level, this may hurt a little bit. I hope he gets a shot somewhere else. But man, will it be nice to have a healthy Matt Wieters behind the plate more often. No more hockey style catcher's masks! Well, except for when Joseph catches.