clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Diamondbacks Reviews : #42 Seby Zavala

The outlook is promising that Seby Zavala will be the Mariners’ backup catcher.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Zavala celebrating victory vs Cubs.
Zavala celebrating victory vs Cubs.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Overview

  • Rating: 3.41
  • 2023 stats:

White Sox:

Batting: 66 G, 7 HR in 176 PAs, .155/.207/.304 (37 OPS+), neg 0.6 bWAR

Catcher: Framing 4 DR, Blocking AA 6 DR, Caught Stealing AA neg 1 DR

Dbacks:

Batting: 7 G, 0 HR in 17 PAs, .357/.471/.429 (149 OPS+), +0.2 bWAR,

Catcher: Framing AA 1 DR, Blocking AA 1 DR, Caught Stealing AA zero DR

  • Date of birth: August 28, 1993 (30 years old)
  • 2023 salary: League minimum (pre-arb). Earliest free agency 2028
  • 2024 status: In November, he was traded to the Mariners.

Vote Breakdown:

AZ Snake Pit.

Introduction

On 6 September, the Diamondbacks claimed Seby Zavala off waivers from the White Sox, who were struggling with three catchers (Yasmani Grandal, Korey Lee, and Zavala). This acquisition was beyond awesome!

In the last two seasons his overall defense at catcher was top 20% in the Majors:

  • Pitch Framing: 2022 was 83rd percentile, 2023 was 77th percentile.
  • Pitch Blocking: 2022 was 69th percentile, 2023 was 85th percentile.
  • Caught Stealing: 2022 was 86th percentile, 2023 was 23rd percentile.

In the last two seasons, he was an above-average right-handed batter. In 2022, he earned 1.1 offensive bWAR (OPS+ of 108). After starting 2023 with a batting slump, as a Diamondback he bounced back earning 0.2 offensive bWAR (OPS+ of 149).

Perhaps one downside is that Seby Zavala is 30 years old. However, the average age of catchers in the Majors is 30.1 per this article, so I am not concerned.

Like typical catchers, he endured many injuries. I discovered the following injuries: Tommy John surgery (2013), broken thumb (surgically reconstructed), concussion, strained left quadriceps, inflamed wrist, and strained oblique. Most importantly, he is currently ready and able to play catcher.

His mental game is remarkable.

A 2016 interview revealed markers of his future success. They were:

  • A “higher level of urgency” to play well.
  • Striving for consistency.
  • Learned from Tony Gywenn how to think like a big leaguer and ask the right questions.
  • Learned from Tony Gywenn how to read hitters and understand their game plan.

A 2018 interview revealed another marker:

“One thing that has been told to me that I remind myself of is that the most important thing to remember is to never give up. No matter what you’re doing, never give up. I’ve surprised myself with things I didn’t know were possible by simply not giving up. I know it could be a little dramatic to say, but I would rather die trying to do something than give up. Everything you do should be done at your best effort because you will never know your full potential.” — Zeby Zavala, 2018

A 2019 article revealed two more markers:

“As you guys can tell, I’m pretty energetic.” — Zeby Zavala, 2019

“He [Zeby Zavala] has shown a nice job of handling pitchers and working with them.” — Rick Renteria, manager of White Sox

2023 Review

Although he was acquired too late in the season to play in the postseason, in September he played very well for the Diamondbacks.

His OPS+ increased from 37 to 149. My intuition is that the Diamondbacks hitting coaches made a quick and effective change to Seby Zavala’s swing. Compared to other batters in the Majors, he hits fly balls better than ground balls (sOPS+ of 143 vs neg 45). Perhaps because of a swing change, he hit less ground balls (25% vs 42%), and more line drives (50% vs 21%). His results were impressive!

In the last two seasons, his defense at catcher was at the top 20% of all catchers per percentiles in Baseball Savant. The glaring exception was that in 2023 his caught stealing percentage dropped from 35% to 14%. While his pop time to second base was about the same (increased from 1.97 to 2.00 seconds), it is noteworthy that one component, his transfer time, improved from .74 to .69 seconds. My intuition is that his caught stealing percentage will rebound.

The most significant achievement was that Seby Zavala proved he is a capable backup catcher.

2024 Outlook

He was traded to the Mariners. If that trade had not happened, as a backup catcher for the Diamondbacks he would have been an upgrade from Jose Herrera, both batting and defense.

  • Comparing September batting, his .899 OPS (with 2 RBIs in 17 PAs) was brighter than Herrera’s .500 OPS with zero RBIs. Abeit for the 2023 season, Herrra’s OPS was better (.553 vs .545), looking at more recent results, Zavala’s batting was better.
  • His two year average of defensive runs above average was much better (6 vs zero). The following table (focusing on pitch framing, pitch blocking, and caught stealing) compares defensive runs above average for Moreno, Herrera, and Zavala. Zavala’s defense was better.
Data from Baseball Savant.

Beyond being an upgrade to Herrera, his skill levels are above my expectations for a backup catcher. Being under team control for four seasons is a plus despite being 30 years old.

The outlook is promising that Seby Zavala will be the Mariners’ backup catcher.