After losing longtime backup catcher Manny Pina to the Atlanta Braves, the Brewers found their new platoon partner for Omar Narvaez, signing Pedro Severino to a one-year deal for the 2022 season.
The 28-year-old veteran began his career with the Washington Nationals and was ranked at one point as their 13th-best prospect. He struggled to find consistent playing time in the nation’s capital, receiving just 282 plate appearances over four seasons and slashing .187/.273/.287 (47 wRC+).
The rebuilding Baltimore Orioles claimed Severino off of waivers prior to the 2019 season, opening the door for regular playing time. His 91 wRC+ over three seasons in Baltimore was acceptable for a catcher, but they outrighted him off of their roster with top prospect Adley Rutschman continuing his ascent toward the big leagues.
Offensively, Severino’s fit with the Brewers is clear. The right-handed hitting backstop’s career 81 wRC+ isn’t very appealing, but he has been a solid hitter against left-handed pitching. He owns a career 102 wRC+ against southpaws, including a 110 wRC+ during his time in Baltimore. This makes him a perfect complement to Narvaez, who has managed just a career 78 wRC+ against lefties, including an abysmal .152/.222/.212 line in 2021.
Severino is a worthy replacement for Pina at the plate, but the real key to this deal is his defense. He controls the running game fairly well. While he may not possess Pina’s elite arm strength, Severino has thrown out 28% of base stealers for his career (league average is 27%), and his pop time to second base is well above-average. The positives end there, as his receiving and blocking skills are among the worst in the sport. Here’s where Severino ranked among his fellow backstops in several of Baseball Prospectus’s catching metrics in 2021:
- Catcher Defensive Adjustment: -10.1 (third-worst)
- Fielding Runs Above Average: -10.1 (second-worst)
- Framing Runs: -7.5 (third-worst)
- Blocking Runs: -2.4 (worst)
In addition to those horrid evaluations, Severino also led the league with 10 passed balls in 2021. To put it lightly, his defensive reputation is not strong. However, the Brewers signed him with the expectation that they can reform his work behind the plate.
Milwaukee has a track record of developing strong defensive catchers. When they traded for Narvaez, his defense was just as poor as Severino’s: a -13.2 CDA, -12.1 FRAA, and -9.1 Framing Runs. Under the tutelage of catching instructor Charlie Greene, Narvaez made a stunning defensive turnaround. In 2021, he ranked fifth among all catchers with a 9.9 CDA and 10 Framing Runs.
While Narvaez is the most extreme example, the man who Severino is replacing was another one of Greene’s success stories. In Pina’s first full season with the Brewers in 2017, he was a below-average framer (-2.9 Framing Runs). By 2018, he improved to 4.8 Framing Runs and was a strong framer for the remainder of his time in Milwaukee.
Greene and the Brewers’ history of developing elite defensive catchers goes back more than a decade. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Brewers lead all of baseball by a wide margin in Framing Runs (236), Strike Zone Runs Saved (137), and Defensive Runs Saved (171) for catchers. That’s not a marginal lead, either. They’ve blown every other organization out of the water. The next closest is the San Francisco Giants with 125 Framing Runs, 74 Strike Zone Runs Saved, and 102 Defensive Runs Saved.
The acquisition of Severino gives some insight into how the Brewers approach catcher development. You can’t teach pop time; quickly transferring the ball and firing down to second base is a product of raw skill rather than technique. You can teach pitch framing. A different stance or other mechanical adjustment can help a catcher receive and hold a pitch more convincingly. The success stories of Pina and Narvaez are recent examples that the Brewers’ staff has a firm grasp of what these adjustments are.
The Brewers believe that Severino can be the next Pina. The offensive production is nearly identical. Both hit right-handed, and Severino’s .249/.315/.397 slash line with the Orioles nearly mirrors Pina’s career .245/.314/.413 line. Defensively, Severino does not control the running game as excellently as Pina does, but it is still his greatest strength as a catcher. Charlie Greene will teach him the rest. With a bit of instruction, the former top prospect could easily match the on-field production of the Brewers’ former backup catcher.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball Savant