The last time Nick Hundley came to Baltimore, which happened to be the last time the Orioles needed a catcher, they only had to trade out-of-favor reliever Troy Patton to get him. Now they find themselves needing a catcher again and Hundley, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, is seen as the Orioles Plan A to pursue for the job for next season.
Baltimore Baseball’s Dan Connolly first suggested early Monday that there was interest in the O’s camp in a reunion with Hundley. Connolly even described Hundley as a “perfect fit” given what the Orioles need.
If you are a believer in the near, yet not immediate, arrival of catching prospect Chance Sisco, that is indeed exactly what the Orioles need: Some kind of inexpensive stop-gap option who can be counted upon to be reliably something and who won’t take much in order to get him signed.
The catching tandem of Hundley and Caleb Joseph was improbably successful in 2014, at least in the sense that the team wasn’t torpedoed by those two gentlemen being used on a daily basis. They could probably do worse than Hundley in that there are free agent catchers who may cost more while not being much better.
However, there’s nothing about a reunion with Hundley that should be exciting to Orioles fans. He threw out only nine of 66 would-be base-stealers in the 2016 season, only a 14% success rate. Given that controlling the running game is one of the big sources of anxiety about Sisco and Hundley is even worse than that, what is the point?
There’s also pitch framing to consider. The departing Matt Wieters was not good at it, costing Orioles pitchers every game by losing them strikes, or failing to gain them strikes that other, more skilled catchers have been able to gain for their pitchers.
This is a frustrating thing to talk about, because the real solution to pitch framing should be to have umpires who are actually capable of calling the strike zone as it is in the rulebook. That’s not the reality we live in, though.
The reality is that pitch framing is a tangible skill for catchers and Hundley is, on a per-game basis, one of the worst framers in all of baseball - or at least, that was the case in the 2016 season. In his 2014 tenure he was more run-of-the-mill bad in this regard rather than among the worst.
Hundley hits like a backup catcher in his good years. He’s spent the last two seasons with the Rockies, so the fact that he batted .260/.320/.439 even given the Coors Field run environment isn’t encouraging. Actually, Hundley’s road numbers were even better than his home ones in 83 games this year - he had a .717 OPS at Coors and an .803 OPS everywhere else. So maybe that would work out.
In Connolly’s article that links the Orioles to Hundley, he observes that the reason the Orioles didn’t pursue Hundley following the 2014 season is that Hundley wanted a multi-year deal and the Orioles didn’t want to give one. Hundley got his two years from the Rockies.
Now Hundley is 33 and in a weak catching market could still potentially command a multi-year deal. That’s not necessarily bad either if there’s a mutual understanding that Hundley will end up being the veteran backup for the second year of the contract.
That would be a disappointing option for the Caleb Joseph partisans of Birdland, but the 2016 campaign shows the Orioles shouldn’t just be handing Joseph any jobs into the future.
If the Orioles are going to go for a cheap option like Hundley as their answer at catcher, they had better not go cheap in a similar way in trying to improve on their current hole in right field.