If you don’t have a dog in the 2018 postseason fight, Erik Kratz is a feel good story to rally around.
Nestled away in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia is the small city of Harrisonburg, Virginia. When James Madison University isn’t in session, it is a quiet, progressive town with good food and great beer. It is also home to a plethora of Major League Baseball potential and its fair share of current and former professional baseball players. Harrisonburg is also where current Milwaukee Brewers catcher Erik Kratz played his college baseball, at a small Division III school called Eastern Mennonite University.
During his four-year college career, Kratz put up a lot of unbelievable numbers, with the most impressive being the fact that he played every single inning of every single game. From 1999-2002, Kratz slashed .415/.470/.762 with a 1.232 OPS, hitting .507 his senior season. He also chipped in 33 home runs, 77 doubles, and struck out just 61 times in 530 at-bats.
The Toronto Blue Jays rewarded the Telford, Pennsylvania native by making him the 82nd catcher taken in the 2002 draft, the 866th overall pick (29th round). He was the first player ever selected in the MLB draft out of Eastern Mennonite University.
Eight years later, Kratz made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates, recording four hits in 34 at-bats. Since his debut in 2010, he has either been traded/signed via free agency/or purchased by another team 15 times. If you want the textbook definition of a journeyman baseball player, Erik Kratz is just that.
Erik Kratz and his 2018 season with the Brewers.
At 38 years of age, Kratz is finally experiencing the one thing every young little leaguer dreams of, playing in the MLB playoffs. In fact, when he started against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, he became the oldest position player to make his MLB postseason debut since 1905. In his first ever playoff game since being drafted in 2002, Kratz went 2-4 with two runs driven in as the Brewers took a 2-0 series lead against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS.
Moments like this interview below sum up the Erik Kratz experience (it is ok to shed a tear when you watch).
Erik Kratz’s story is incredible. Never give up on your dreams 🙏 pic.twitter.com/F03Qtu0q2l— Baseball King™ (@BasebaIlKing) October 8, 2018
His 219 at-bats this year in the regular season were the most in any one season over the course of his nine-year pro career. He played in 67 games, besting that mark just once, back in 2013 with the Philadelphia Phillies.
With the Brewers, Kratz hit .236 with a .280 OBP and a 70 wRC+. In 295 career games, Kratz has a lifetime slash line of .211/.258/.363/.621 with 30 home runs, 32 doubles, and a career fWAR of 1.4.
Diving into his Statcast data doesn’t add much more to the statistical story. His 2.02 Pop Time ranks 47th in the major leagues among all catchers with at least five throws down to second base on stolen base attempts (Marlins J.T. Realmuto leads the league at 1.90 seconds, for reference). His exchange rate (time to release the ball) is even worse, ranking 66th in the league with a 0.77 second time (Welington Castillo of the White Sox leads MLB with a 0.62 exchange time). Yet Kratz has gunned down 30% of attempted base stealers, slightly above the league average mark of 28%.
Dig a little deeper and you find the real value Kratz brings to the Brewers organization. Milwaukee Brewer pitchers had a 3.42 collective ERA with Kratz behind the plate. Among all catchers with at least 2,000 plate appearances behind the plate, Kratz ranks fifth in Major League Baseball in this metric. The league average in 2018 was 4.14 and the man he splits his time with, Manny Pina, had a 4.00 mark.
Kratz has been the man behind the plate for a historic run by Brewers starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin.
Jhoulys Chacin of the @Brewers is the 6th pitcher in MLB history to toss at least 5 shutout innings in each of his first 2 postseason appearances.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) October 16, 2018
Christy Mathewson (1905)
Duster Mails (1920)
Joe Niekro (1980-81)
Steve Avery (1991)
Corey Kluber (2016)#OurCrewOurOctober
There has been an argument over the value of “team leadership” when it comes to players. Dive into San Diego Padres Twitter for a minute and ask them about Eric Hosmer and his clubhouse leadership (actually don’t..really..don’t do it). With a “rotation” of Wade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, and Jhoulys Chacin and a bullpen of young arms such as Josh Hader, Erik Kratz brings a veteran presence that is hard to come by and necessary to carry a franchise to a World Series. While Kratz doesn’t have the postseason experience, he’s been around the league just about longer than anyone on the Brewers roster and that’s not something to overlook.
In an era where fans desire to see players light up a new Daren Wilman Statcast graphic (which are some of the greatest MLB material on the internet, don’t get me wrong), calling a game from behind the plate is still a beautiful work of art and Kratz has been a fantastic artist.
So far this postseason, Kratz is 6-15 (.400) with two doubles, two runs scored, and two runs driven in with a .971 OPS.
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