MLB News

Korey Lee excels defending the bases, but has areas to improve

Lee is off the charts in base-stealing situations but is lagging in other areas

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At the 2023 MLB trade deadline, the White Sox began selling off their most valuable assets for prospects, and one highly touted prospect is excelling in a key area.

As part of that rebuilding process, then GM Rick Hahn and VP Ken Williams traded reliever Kendall Graveman, who had a hot hand during that season, for catching prospect Korey Lee from the Astros.

In acquiring Lee, the White Sox may have found their catcher for the future, and he's showing flashes of the promise the team saw in him.

Lee has quickly risen to the ranks as one of the best-throwing catchers in the league, as evidenced by some key defensive statistics he has on his résumé from this season, according to Baseball Savant.

StatValueMLB rank
Pop Time1.85 st-1st
Exchange Time0.62 s19th
Arm Strength84.9 mph2nd
Caught Stealing %29%15th

Lee has the quickness and arm strength to gun down runners trying to steal second base, and he's shown he can do that on an elite level while seeing the 10th most base-stealing attempts in MLB (28).

It's huge for the White Sox that Lee is excelling in his defensive role, but he still has a litany of work to do before one can designate him in the upper echelon of plate protectors in the league.

Improvement is key in two areas for Lee: framing and blocking.

Lee is a bottom-tier framer in MLB, and in addition to being a prerequisite in today's league to be a starting, the White Sox especially need a strong catcher to help gain more strikes for their struggling pitching staff.

Lee's frame rate behind the plate is 44%, which slots in 44th in MLB amongst catchers. The league average in that category is 46.2%. His -2 framing runs value ranks 50th amongst catchers.

On the blocking side of things, Lee also ranks towards the bottom of the catcher ranks. His blocks above average (-5) is four spots away from last amongst catchers. He's allowed 20 passed balls and wild pitches to get past him, which stands 59th in MLB.

All in all, Lee is on the right track to becoming a staple behind the plate. This year marks his third season with time spent in MLB, and at 51 games played this season, he's playing through his single-season high of games played.

He needs more time behind the plate, but he is still losing playing time in favor Martín Maldonado, who isn't much better than Lee defensively behind the plate, according to the numbers.

Maldonado has a lower caught stealing percentage (6%), a worse frame rate (42.8%), but a slightly better block above average value (-1). Maldonado is a seasoned veteran behind the plate, but statistics reveal they are at least close defensively.

What's more, Lee is a far better asset in the batter's box. He's hitting .260 with a .688 OPS this season, having hit five home runs and 16 RBIs. Maldonado, on the other hand, is a liability in that area. He recently snapped an 0-of-34 streak at the plate. This season, he's hitting to an .078 average.

Yet, Lee and Maldonado have experienced similar playing time. Lee has caught 305.2 innings this season, while Maldonado has seen 294 behind the plate.

It'd be worth the investment to keep Lee, 25, on the field to help him round out the rest of his skillset behind the plate, as he could be the catcher of the future for the South Side.

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