If this was your initial reaction upon seeing Chris Herrmann’s name amidst the flurry of roster moves on Sunday, I can’t say I blame you. A 30-year-old backup catcher with a career 64 wRC+ who spent the last two years in the National League? Zero shame in not knowing the guy. For better or for worse, though, he figures to back up Mike Zunino for the foreseeable future, with David Freitas getting swapped out for him after a couple of rough defensive games and a cooled-down bat.
Drafted in 2009 during the sixth round by the Twins, Herrmann immediately held his own in the minors, armed with great plate discipline and a strong arm behind the plate. After earning a cup of coffee in the bigs in 2012 following a solid campaign at Double-A, he rode the AAA-MLB shuttle bus over the next three years with Minnesota. Although his line of .188/.257/.293 and 27.8% K-rate in 370 plate appearances over that time is hardly inspiring, Herrmann’s arm translated well to the bigs, catching fifteen would-be base stealers out of 39 total attempts. He also showed interesting positional flexibility, starting a handful of games in both corner outfield spots. Here he is gunning down Marwin González by at least one Altuve:
After the 2015 season, Herrmann was shipped to the Diamondbacks for Daniel Palka (now with the White Sox), and made their Opening Day roster behind one Welington Castillo. Something changed for him in 2016, though: he figured out how to hit. His walks jumped, his strikeouts dropped, and most surprisingly, he developed actual power, running a .209 ISO en route to a 117 wRC+ in 166 trips to the plate. He even started a game in center field! The .364 BABIP was bound to come down, but his other peripherals were encouraging enough for Arizona to again slot him in as their main backup catcher for 2017, and he collected 90 more plate appearances than in the year before.
Unfortunately, the BABIP did more than just regress, plummeting all the way down to .207, and a ten-percent drop in hard-hit rate suggests it wasn’t just bad luck. His strikeout rate stayed about the same, and the walks actually jumped a couple percentage points, but Herrmann’s power took a step back and he finished the year with a wRC+ of just 58 - almost exactly half his 2016 mark. Most concerning of all, his great arm became merely above-average, with his caught-stealing percentage dropping ten full points from 2016. Herrmann ended up being released at the end of spring training this year, and waited two full weeks until the Mariners scooped him up on a minor league contract.
Upon arriving in Tacoma, Herrmann locked in at the plate as the team’s primary catcher, and was second in the Pacific Coast League in walks prior to his call-up. He threw out over a third of would-be base stealers, and while his .342 BABIP definitely helped his numbers, a strong line-drive rate of 23.8% and just three infield fly balls hit suggest that he wasn’t merely getting lucky.
Herrmann does hit left-handed, and can bring a little more pinch-hitting flexibility than Freitas or Mike Marjama. With Dee Gordon due back tomorrow and Jean Segura back in the lineup after a scary kick to the head on Saturday, though, those opportunities could be limited to days when Andrew Romine or Gordon Beckham are filling in.
Other than his arm, though, Herrmann’s catching abilities aren’t the greatest. RAA has consistently been down on his framing since he broke into the league, and his blocking skills seem to be around average. As a backup, he should be perfectly acceptable behind the plate, but I can’t help but wonder if we start seeing Zunino come in as a defensive replacement once say, Edwin Díaz comes in to slam the door.
Chris Herrmann, while showing flashes of intrigue, is still most likely a Quad-A player. This isn’t an inherently bad thing - every team needs guys like this to step in at some point over the long season. While it’s anyone’s guess as to how long Herrmann will stay with the big club, his lefty bat, strong arm, and ability to cover a corner outfield spot in an emergency are all welcome additions to the bench, and he should function just fine in the role he’s filling.