No Major League catcher shouldered as heavy a workload this regular season as Angels backstop Martin Maldonado. In his first full season as a starter, Maldonado led the Majors with 137 games caught, the most by an Angels catcher since Bob Boone's 144 in 1986.
It was unchartered territory for Maldonado, who had never played more than 79 games in a single season before the Angels acquired him from the Brewers in an offseason trade last year and gave him his first opportunity to be an everyday catcher.
While Maldonado continually impressed the Angels with his defense behind the plate, the sizable jump in workload seemed to show up in his bat as the season wore on. In the first half, Maldonado slashed .251/.313/.412 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs over 243 at-bats. In the second half, those figures dipped to .183/.227/.312 with five homers and 12 RBIs over 186 at-bats.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher, acknowledged that he thinks fatigue was likely a factor in Maldonado's decline in production this season.
"It's the most at-bats Martin has ever had in his career, most games," Scioscia said earlier this month. "So you can point and say there was some fatigue. I think as far as where he was in the batter's box, it's natural. It's one position I've played where you're catching that many games, it's no doubt the first that suffers is going to be your hitting, especially when you're out there playing against everybody."
Scioscia said he believes Maldonado will be able to avoid a similar drop-off next year once he's adjusted to the rigors of being an everyday catcher in the Majors.
"Next year, nothing to say that Martin is not going to go out there and catch 130 games and be more proficient offensively," Scioscia said. "It's the first go-around he had. ... I think we believe [he] has a more consistent offensive year in him than we saw in the second half of the season."
Either way, the Angels still view Maldonado as a "net-positive catcher" because of the amount of defensive value that he brings to the club. Known for his cannon-like arm, Maldonado shut down the running game by throwing out 39 percent of would-be base stealers this season and routinely drew praise for his preparation and game calling.
Scioscia, who believes Maldonado should win the Gold Glove this year, also credited the 31-year-old for getting the most out of a pitching staff that suffered myriad injuries from the beginning of the year. Though Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Matthew Shoemaker all missed significant time, the Angels still finished sixth in the American League with a 4.20 ERA in 2017.
"When you talk about the net that a player brings, Martin had a terrific year for what he did for our club," Scioscia said. "To focus on the offensive fall-off that he had is one small slice of the pie. Yeah, we hope to address it, but I don't know of any catcher that did as much for his pitching staff as Martin did for ours."