The Chicago White Sox are slowly inching closer to full strength. Before Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Yasmani Grandal could be seen launching bombs into the Wrigley Field bleachers during batting practice. One of his batting practice home runs even hit off the jumbotron when he was taking swings right-handed.
This came a day after he was running the bases at what looked like full speed. All signs indicate that he is close to a return. In a pregame interview, Tony La Russa also added that Yasmani Grandal “will be back sooner than we thought he would.”
While getting their power-hitting catcher is great news for the White Sox, it could spell the end of Zack Collins’ time in the Major Leagues this season. When Grandal went down with an injury, the White Sox called up Seby Zavala to split time with Zack Collins behind the plate.
At the time, it was assumed that Collins would get the majority of the playing time. He had helped guide White Sox starting pitchers to some dominating performances including Carlos Rodóns no-hitter. Seby Zavala made his first appearance during a Lance Lynn start in Minnesota. Lynn threw the ball well and had such high praise for Zavala’s work behind the plate that he became his primary catcher.
The Chicago White Sox has an interesting decision to make behind the plate.
As the games wore on, Zavala has proven to be the better defensive catcher and has gotten more opportunities to work with other pitchers. The reason that Collins was ahead of him on the depth chart was that he was supposed to be better offensively. That has no been the case.
Collins was hitting .225 on the day Grandal went down with an injury. Since then, his batting average has plummeted to .197. In his last 15 games, he is batting an abysmal .065. In his last 34 plate appearances, he is 2-for-34.
While Zavala’s .217 batting average isn’t all that impressive, his recent hot stretch has been. In his last seven games, he is hitting .286 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Luckily for him, he won’t have to hit much when Grandal returns to the starting lineup because Grandal will get the majority of the time behind the plate. His slight edge over Collins offensively might be all he needs to stick in the big leagues.
Meanwhile, Zavala is a much better defensive catcher. The pitchers feel comfortable throwing to him. After throwing to Zavala for the first time, Lance Lynn has pretty much only thrown to him and it may just stay that way.
Tony La Russa said before the season that he values defense. The metrics show that Collins is one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball. His rSZ, which measures strike zone runs saved (aka pitch framing), is -6. His rSB, which measures stolen base prevention, is -1 and he has allowed 37 bases to be stolen off of him. The most telling stat is his defensive runs saved. DRS is a stat that takes into account errors, range, and arm strength. Collins DRS is -14.
Zack Collins has had some bad breaks in his career. He never got the chance to play for a rebuilding team and experience growing pains in the Majors. Collins worked tirelessly to improve his defense and become a serviceable catcher. When he was ready to play in the MLB he was always blocked by veteran catchers such as Wellington Castillo and James McCann.
When he finally did get called up he played sparingly. He had to beat out three other catchers in spring training just to earn the backup job. Grandal getting injured should have been his chance to earn more playing time. Instead, he fell into a slump while Zavala has made the most of his opportunities. When Grandal is ready to return, Collins will likely be the one heading down to Charlotte.