The Oakland A's have a new player in town on Wednesday, as Matt McBride is up for what is likely just a cup of coffee. McBride has been playing for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds this season. He is most likely here to serve as a third catcher, especially with Josh Phegley a bit banged up already.
As it happens, Athletics Nation went a bit over the top in our coverage of McBride last winter when the A's signed him to a minor league deal. After December the offseason got reeeeeally slow, and we were fiending for our fix of sweet, sweet transaction news. I wrote 1,500 words about McBride's career, which averages out to about 10 words per MLB plate appearance. In addition, Jeremy F. Koo got an interview with him at spring training.
So! Who is Matt McBride?
The basic facts
McBride turns 31 years old in May and has played several positions during his career. He was drafted as a catcher but eventually moved to first base and the outfield corners, and before this year he last caught a game in 2013. However, the A's moved him back behind the plate and he's gotten most of his playing time there for Nashville.
The right-handed batter has shown a lot of power in the minors, but couldn't translate that into MLB success in parts of three seasons for the Rockies. His Baseball-Reference profile lists "Pinch Hitter" as his primary position, which is a good way of saying that he hasn't gotten a lot of serious chances in the bigs.
Career history and numbers
McBride was drafted by the Indians in the second round in 2006, and he went that high because he profiled as a power-hitting catcher. After all, he had just set the single-season school record at Lehigh University with 12 homers (later broken in 2015).
He moved up the ladder at a decent enough pace, reaching Triple-A in his fourth full season at age 25, but injuries have taken their toll over the years. He stopped being a full-time catcher after 2008, when he had surgery on the labrum in his throwing shoulder. An oblique ended his 2011 early, a neck injury shortened a monster 2013 campaign that may have led to another MLB chance, and a fractured foot cost him half of 2014. It's tough to prove yourself when your body won't even let you take the field.
As for the stats, there are two areas of particular interest. The first is his power, as he's swatted 114 home runs in his minor league career over 862 games (that's 5-6 seasons worth of games, which theoretically averages out to about 20-homer power). All told he has slugged .496 in the minors, around 200 points higher than his batting average, and in 339 games at Triple-A his line bumps up to .315/.351/.527. Of course, most of his Triple-A experience came in Colorado Springs, which has the highest elevation of any pro ballpark in the U.S., so his environment may have helped a bit. Either way, the dude has some pop.
Now, when I think of a Quadruple-A slugger who can't make the jump to the bigs, my assumption is that he didn't make it because he couldn't make enough contact and piled up the strikeouts. However, this is not the case with McBride. In fact, his avoidance of strikeouts is almost more impressive than his power. Check out these minor league K-rates:
2012: 10.0% Ks
2013: 10.8% Ks
2014: 9.2% Ks
2015: 12.2% Ks
Those are extremely low strikeout rates, and they're not what I was expecting to find. For an idea of what a low K-rate looks like in practice, consider that only 6-of-141 qualified MLB hitters managed a single-digit mark last season, and Josh Reddick led the A's at 11.2% (15th-best overall). Granted, in his MLB career his K% has jumped up to 20.9% overall, but that's still not cripplingly high. Meanwhile, his Triple-A stats make him look like a contact maven fit for the 2015 Royals lineup. In other words, McBride has a knack for finishing his at-bat by putting the ball into play, and when he makes contact it often goes a long way. With that skill set I'm honestly surprised that his MLB stints haven't gone better than they have, especially since they all came with Coors Field as his home park.
And indeed, those MLB trials have been bad. In 158 plate appearances, his line of .199/.228/.305 has been good for an OPS+ of 35. He's managed a few homers but not enough to get your attention, and his plate discipline stats have been awful as he's generally done a lot of swinging and missing.
McBride has valuable things to offer. Power is always important, and strikeout avoidance is a popular skill right now. But he hasn't yet put it together in MLB, and injuries haven't helped matters as they've slowed his progress at some crucial junctures. But now he'll get his next chance with the A's!
Role in Oakland
The A's have had an extra roster spot available this week, and they're having some fun with it. They sent down fifth starter Eric Surkamp on Monday and they don't need to bring up his replacement until Friday, and that has given them several days to temporarily address some other holes and get a look at different role players. Initially that meant calling up an extra reliever to take some pressure off the overworked bullpen, and so Andrew Triggs made his MLB debut on Monday. But with Rich Hill pitching deep into the game last night and Sonny Gray on the bump tonight, the pen is probably safe until Friday anyway so Oakland opted for an extra hitter in the meantime.
McBride has played 11 games for Nashville this year, and seven of them have come as a catcher. It's clear the A's signed him to play that position, and also that his catching ability is what got him this call:
I presume McBride called up so both Vogt and Phegley can be used without fear of needing an emergency catcher.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) April 27, 2016
His presence allows the A's to put both Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley in the lineup with one of them as the DH, or to pinch-hit one for the other in the late innings, without having to worry about being left without a backup catcher in case of emergency. He wasn't hitting much in Nashville (.188/.297/.344, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 Ks), but in only 11 games those numbers are virtually meaningless. Why did I even write them? Due diligence, I suppose. Anyway, he has options remaining so he can safely be sent back to Triple-A on Friday, but we could well see him again this year when a spare backstop is needed.
In January, I concluded the McBride intro post with a poll. The question asks if he would ever play for the A's, not just be promoted, so the jury is still technically out. But it's looking like we missed on this one.
Welcome to Oakland, Matt!