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Tony Wolters’ struggles in 2020 were not insignificant

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Wolters’ defense usually makes up for his offense, but not this season

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

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No. 34, Tony Wolters: -0.5 rWAR

Tony Wolters’ decline was evident in 2020. His -0.5 rWAR was drastically lower than his 1.4 rWAR in 2019. In previous years, it was known that while Wolters wasn’t going to be the catcher that smashed the long ball, he was known for his game-calling and pitch framing. In 2019, he made offensive improvements. He even felt confident enough in his improvements that during his second year of arbitration, he and the Rockies ended up going to a trial. Wolters was vying for $2.475 million and the Rockies offered him $1.9 million. Ultimately, the Rockies won the arbitration hearing. And with the shortened season, Wolters would only receive a prorated amount of that $1.9 million salary.

Wolters is again arbitration eligible this offseason, but it’s very unlikely he will see much of a bump in salary.

In 2019, the Rockies called upon Wolters to be their every day catcher and even with the additions of Elias Díaz and Drew Butera to the roster in 2020, he still saw the most starts for any of the catchers during the shortened season. He started 35 games compared to 13 from Díaz and 12 from Butera.

Defensively, Wolters’ .996 fielding percentage wasn’t significantly lower than his .999 posted in 2019, but his defensive runs saved dropped to a -2 from 8. That is significant. It is also the worst number in that specific statistical category for him since starting his major league career. It’s the first time he’s posted a negative number.

According to Baseball Savant, he was only able to garner a 47.2% strike rate. His Runs Extra Strikes was ranked 42nd at -1, which is below both Díaz (0) and Butera (0). (Runs From Extra Strikes converts strikes to runs saved on a .125 run/strike basis, and includes park and pitcher adjustments.)

The Rockies seem to really praise Tony for his defensive ability, but when you see significant decline like we did in 2020, it leaves concern for his ability to be an every day catcher, or even a backup catcher.

The 2020 season also brought an offensive decline for Wolters, which is not good considering many of his praises came from his offensive improvements from 2018 to 2019. He slashed .230/.280/.270 this season compared to his .262/.337/.329 line in 2019. His OPS+ of 41 was his lowest since starting his career. Even amidst his struggles in 2018, he posted a mark of 48.

One of Tony’s struggles this year was strikeouts. Even in a shortened season, he struck out 30 times in only 100 at-bats. In 2018, he struck only 33 times in 182 at-bats, in 2019 he had 68 in 359 at-bats. He struck out 30% of the time this season compared to 18% in 2018 and 19% in 2019. Those are drastic changes. Was he not seeing pitches well? Or was this season an anomaly?

What does the future hold for Tony Wolters? It’s really not certain. Tony is a very likable player (just look at some of the fun things he did with fans in both 2018 and 2019), but likability only goes so far when you are playing a crucial position. His decline from 2019 is really concerning. After two terrible seasons in a row, the catching position really needs to be reevaluated. The Rockies were able to add a veteran in Díaz, but there needs to be even greater improvement. A catcher is a such a pivotal piece of the game, and having below average talent is not going to make the Rockies contenders.

So, while Wolters was able to stay above the Mendoza line, his offensive abilities (or lack thereof) and defensive declines are worrisome when you have players like Elias Díaz or Dom Nuñez looking for a roster spot.