2015 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data below is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems, with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Yes, we know WAR is imperfect and there is more to player value than is wrapped up in that single projection, but for the purposes of talking about a team’s strengths and weaknesses, it is a useful tool. Also, the author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

As we kick off the 2015 Positional Power Rankings with catchers, let’s start with a chart of the projected WAR totals, and…


…and good lord, Giants and Diamondbacks, for two entirely different reasons.

Immediately obvious: Buster Posey isn’t just the best catcher in baseball, he’s the best by a considerable amount. Also equally obvious: It’s going to be a really, really long season in Arizona. In between, you’ve got some pretty clear tiers of 4-6 teams apiece, and that’s far more important than the actual rankings themselves. After the Giants, the next 10 teams break down easily into two blocks, and then beyond that, starting with the Mets at No. 12, there’s a soft decline from “acceptable” to “poor” to, well, the Diamondbacks.

Remember, please, that there’s just not a lot of meaning in tenths of a point of WAR, so while (for example) we have the Mets and Rays separated by nine spots, they’re only 0.4 WAR from one another. Remember, also, that our WAR formula doesn’t currently account for pitch framing, which has been pretty well acknowledged here and elsewhere as being a real thing that exists. You’ll just need to mentally account for additions (or demerits) for those catchers well-known to be valued (or avoided) based on that skill.

#1 Giants

Buster Posey 480 .300 .367 .474 .367 22.1 -1.4 3.2 5.2
Andrew Susac   96 .227 .304 .347 .294 -0.9 -0.1 0.2 0.4
Hector Sanchez 64 .230 .273 .341 .272 -1.7 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Total 640 .282 .348 .441 .346 19.5 -1.6 3.2 5.8

Here’s a thing that hasn’t changed: The Giants are atop the catcher rankings by a considerable amount. Last year, they led No. 2 Cleveland by a considerable amount. In 2013, they led No. 2 St. Louis by a considerable amount. It’s not terribly difficult to imagine that in 2016, they’ll be atop the catcher rankings by a considerable amount. This is largely thanks to Buster Posey, who — after having a quietly mediocre calendar year comprised of a lousy second half of 2013 and a merely good first half of 2014 — was just the best hitter in baseball in the second half. He only turns 28 this weekend. He’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He’s very good at baseball, is the point, and do remember that what you see here isn’t his full projection, since we’ve got him down for another ~100 or so plate appearances at first base.

For once, though, it’s not only Posey. Andrew Susac put up a 128 wRC+ in limited play last year (fueled by a .368 BABIP), and there’s more than a few Giants fans who would like to see Posey moved to an infield corner so Susac can play more. That’s probably overly optimistic, because Steamer and ZiPS both see Susac as a 91/92 wRC+ guy, which is fine for a catcher but not all that much more. Would you believe that Hector Sanchez is only four months older than Susac and not, say, 35 years old? I didn’t, either.

#2 Blue Jays

Russell Martin 448 .239 .338 .404 .331 4.6 -0.7 6.4 3.7
Dioner Navarro 160 .264 .315 .398 .314 -0.4 -0.6 -0.7 0.7
Josh Thole 32 .244 .308 .337 .288 -0.7 -0.1 -0.4 0.0
Total 640 .246 .330 .399 .325 3.4 -1.4 5.3 4.4

Last year, Toronto ranked No. 18 here. Now they’re No. 2. This alone justifies the $82 million they laid out to bring Russell Martin back to Canada. You should probably reconcile these two facts about Martin: first, to reiterate, our WAR does not include pitch framing, so whatever value he’ll bring to help young pitchers like Drew Hutchison, Daniel Norris, and Aaron Sanchez is in addition to what’s accounted for here. (Sad face, Marcus Stroman.) Second, it seems absolutely impossible that a 32-year-old Martin is going to duplicate his career-high .336 BABIP. Pretty much every projection system, the Fans included, expect that he’ll be about 10% better than league-average with the bat while adding defensive value, which is a worse year for him, but still an improvement on…

…oh, hi, Dioner Navarro. You’re still around? How are you not a Diamondback yet? It feels like you should be a Diamondback. If he does get traded, he’d be on his sixth team in sixth years, which is appropriate for a player who recently suffered the almost-unheard of fate of being cut days before the Sept. 1 roster expansion. (Reportedly due to a lack of effort.) Despite below-average framing skills, Navarro has been an above-average hitter over the last three seasons, which means he’ll be a useful part-time DH / backup catcher. Sorry, Josh Thole. Even R.A. Dickey’s knuckler couldn’t save you this time.

#3 Indians

Yan Gomes 480 .263 .308 .446 .330 7.5 0.0 4.2 4.0
Roberto Perez 128 .196 .278 .296 .261 -4.7 -0.2 0.6 0.3
Tony Wolters 32 .220 .273 .290 .254 -1.4 0.0 0.2 0.0
Total 640 .248 .301 .409 .312 1.4 -0.3 5.0 4.3

Yan Gomes had a breakout half-season in 2013, and everyone wanted to see if he could sustain it in 2014. All he did was have the best non-Victor Martinez season by a Cleveland catcher in the divisional play era, while also sneaking onto the end of the Top 50 Trade Value list. You might say that yes, the breakout was for real, and the Indians are looking pretty good right now for having given Gomes $23 million over six years, which covers most of the prime of his career. Despite some questions about his plate discipline, Gomes has done nothing but produce with the bat, and he’s very well-regarded as a framer. Really, the only flaw in his 2014 was an early propensity for throwing errors, though that quieted down as the season went on.

Gomes’ emergence has completely pushed Carlos Santana out from behind the plate — Santana’s notable deficiencies back there helped, no doubt — and so the backups here are Roberto Perez and Tony Wolters, who are, apparently, real human baseball players. Wolters was drafted as an infielder and is a recent convert to catching, but it may not matter if he doesn’t start to hit. The Indians are the choice of a lot of people (myself included) to overtake the Tigers this year, and that only happens if Gomes stays healthy. There’s just no depth here.

#4 Cardinals

Yadier Molina 474 .288 .337 .420 .332 6.8 -1.4 9.6 4.2
Tony Cruz 166 .225 .272 .316 .261 -6.7 -0.5 -0.7 0.0
Total 640 .271 .320 .393 .314 0.1 -1.9 8.9 4.2

After five straight seasons of more than 500 plate appearances, the only thing that could slow down Yadier Molina was an injured thumb suffered on an awkward slide. When he returned in late August, he wasn’t at all the same player, and in fact his final homer of the season came on June 29th. It’s easy and probably not inaccurate to point to the thumb and the need to regain his timing for the late struggles — 78 wRC+ after his Aug. 29 return — but it’s also fair to note that he’s going to be 33 this July, has caught nearly 11,000 major league innings, and has had his K% increase each year since 2011.

This isn’t the preface to “the collapse of Yadier Molina,” but merely the valid question of whether this is the start of “very good Molina” instead of “elite Molina.” Behind him, Tony Cruz has made it into almost exactly 50 games three seasons in a row. He has been awful three seasons in a row, now with a career 59 wRC+. Now you know something about Tony Cruz.

#5 Royals

Salvador Perez 480 .276 .308 .423 .320 2.0 -0.8 5.7 3.5
Erik Kratz 128 .233 .283 .383 .292 -2.2 -0.2 0.1 0.5
Francisco Pena 32 .224 .262 .358 .274 -1.0 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 640 .265 .301 .412 .312 -1.2 -1.1 6.0 4.0

Salvador Perez played in approximately 700 games last year, so it’s tempting to blame overuse for the fact that his wRC+ has gone down literally every single year of his career. Perhaps that’s not unrelated, but, well, the 1,200 words I recently wrote at ESPN about his absolutely horrifying plate discipline trends should be more enlightening than anything I could fit into this capsule. Or, just read this small snippet from it…

Perez somehow put up a 46/3 K/BB in the second half of last season, tied with Ben Revere for the fewest free passes of any qualified player. Put another way, here are five other players who also drew three walks in the second half of 2014: Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, Kyle Hendricks, David Buchanan and Tyson Ross. They’re all pitchers.

…and understand that — with all due respect to his outstanding throwing arm and insanely team-friendly contract — I am backing away slowly from the Sal Perez train. The Royals reportedly plan to reduce Perez’ playing time somewhat, but if that were really true, you’d imagine they would have upgraded over Erik Kratz as the backup.

#6 Brewers

Jonathan Lucroy 384 .287 .349 .444 .349 8.6 -0.7 2.9 3.3
Martin Maldonado 224 .220 .287 .349 .285 -6.1 -0.4 1.3 0.6
Nevin Ashley 32 .212 .278 .312 .267 -1.3 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 640 .260 .324 .404 .322 1.2 -1.1 4.2 3.9

Lucroy is universally lauded for his framing, so if you want to mentally push him up, that’s fine, though No. 6 overall is already pretty good, isn’t it? For all the talk about the framing, though, don’t forget that Lucroy just finished his third straight season of above-average offense, and that counts for a lot. For a few seasons now, he’s increased his walk rate. For a few seasons now, he’s decreased his strikeout rate. He came ever so close to having them even out in a 1:1 ratio last year, which is difficult for anyone to do but particularly so for a guy who has power. He’s elite in every sense of the word.

So why are the Brewers ranked only sixth here? It’s because Lucroy is slated to be Adam Lind’s first base platoon partner — yes, that means we expect Lucroy to get more than 384 plate appearances this year — and while Martin Maldonado is a perfectly capable backup, there’s still a considerable downgrade when Lucroy is out of the lineup, or at least not penciled in as the catcher.

#7 Orioles

Matt Wieters   416 .249 .311 .423 .322 1.8 -1.0 3.7 2.9
Caleb Joseph 160 .229 .274 .362 .282 -4.2 -0.2 0.9 0.5
Steve Clevenger 32 .249 .303 .349 .291 -0.6 0.0 -0.2 0.1
J.P. Arencibia 32 .213 .260 .396 .288 -0.7 -0.1 -0.3 0.1
Total 640 .242 .299 .402 .309 -3.7 -1.4 4.2 3.5

Matt Wieters was off to a ferocious start in 2014 before Tommy John surgery put him down for the remainder of the season. Generally, a repaired elbow doesn’t have a ton of long-term impact on a hitter, which is the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that Wieters has been dealing with soreness in that same elbow this spring, and he’s been limited to only one appearance behind the plate, to the point that he’s likely to start the season on the DL. Though Wieters hasn’t necessarily fulfilled the insane expectations put upon him when he was drafted by the Orioles in 2007, he’s put up a few star-level seasons, and the more missed time he deals with this year, the more the Orioles will suffer.

While Wieters is unavailable, Caleb Joseph — only a few weeks younger than Wieters, despite not reaching the bigs until last year — is the likely starter, and he brings the expected backup catcher toolset of “atrocious on offense, very respected on defense.” That’s better than having neither of those things, and since we still have more than a few teams to get through here, you’ll see cases where teams are in fact stuck with a catcher who isn’t that useful on either side of the ball. That said, just because the Orioles won a ton of games in 2014 with Joseph getting the bulk of the time, doesn’t mean it’s a wonderful path to want to follow again.

#8 Nationals

Wilson Ramos 448 .268 .314 .439 .329 4.3 -0.7 1.7 3.0
Jose Lobaton 128 .237 .306 .346 .292 -2.4 -0.3 -0.1 0.4
Sandy Leon 64 .215 .281 .313 .267 -2.4 0.0 0.7 0.2
Total 640 .257 .309 .408 .315 -0.5 -1.0 2.3 3.5

Wilson Ramos feels like he ought to be a star, but he’s never quite managed to have that breakout season. A huge part of that can be attributed to injuries, because he’s played in only 191 games across the past three seasons. After missing most of 2012 due to a knee injury, he was limited by a left hamstring during 2013, and then had a broken left wrist and sore right hamstring in 2014. Unsurprisingly, given the history of hamate bone injuries, Ramos’ power dipped considerably; he also had a career-high swing rate and very nearly a career-worst swinging strike rate. These are all bad things; what the Nats can hang their hats on is that Ramos has usually been productive when healthy, and he’s not even 28 until August.

The Nationals are baseball’s best team, but they have depth questions pretty much everywhere that isn’t the rotation, and catcher is no different. Jose Lobaton has little offensive value and Sandy Leon even less, though both are capable defensively. The 2014 Nationals saw far too much of both in the lineup.

#9 Dodgers

Yasmani Grandal 397 .242 .336 .411 .331 6.4 -0.7 -2.5 2.5
A.J. Ellis 211 .227 .329 .334 .299 -1.9 -0.8 0.7 0.9
Austin Barnes 32 .236 .301 .349 .292 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 640 .237 .332 .383 .319 4.0 -1.4 -1.9 3.5

A.J. Ellis had a good season in 2012, and then an okay season in 2013, and then an atrocious season in 2014, and since he’s 34 and a catcher, well, you can understand the need to bring in some assistance. Enter Yasmani Grandal, a player I pegged as a breakout candidate even before he was included in the Matt Kemp trade. Lots of fans see a catcher with a .225 batting average and a PED suspension. Lots of fans care about batting averages and PED suspensions.

Of course, that ignores that Grandal just had a 111 wRC+ and led every non-righty in baseball in fly ball distance, as well as being a plus framer, as well as being another year off major 2013 knee surgery. So, you can see why the Dodgers liked him so much, and Ellis, who was slowed by knee and ankle injuries in 2014, should be a capable Plan B. If either go down, there’s projection darling Austin Barnes, acquired from Miami in the Dee Gordon heist. Behind him, minor league OBP machine Shawn Zarraga. Last year, the Dodgers had Ellis backed by Tim Federowicz, Drew Butera, and budding criminal Miguel Olivo. You might say this is better.

#10 Reds

Devin Mesoraco 448 .251 .322 .453 .338 6.9 -1.2 0.5 3.1
Brayan Pena 160 .253 .288 .354 .284 -4.2 -0.9 -0.5 0.2
Tucker Barnhart 32 .230 .288 .320 .273 -1.1 0.0 0.3 0.1
Total 640 .250 .312 .421 .321 1.6 -2.2 0.3 3.4

There’s breakouts, and then there’s breakouts, and then there’s what Devin Mesoraco did last year. He didn’t just have a good year, he had a better offensive season than all but one of Johnny Bench’s seasons, and, as you may remember, Bench was pretty good at this baseball thing. Perhaps, in retrospect, we shouldn’t have been so surprised, since he’d never really had a full season of playing time before 2014. The question now is, can he do it again? You shouldn’t expect a repeat of that 147 wRC+ — and that’s one of many reasons the 2015 Reds are in trouble before the season even begins — but he’s starting from such a lofty place that even a step back is still going to make him one of baseball’s best hitting catchers, with the most likely outcome being a season that’s 15% or so above league average.

In January, the Reds signed Mesoraco to a four-year, $28 million extension, buying out his first year of free agency and controlling him through his age-30 season. It’s not quite Sal Perez’ deal, but it’s a good one for both sides. Now let’s just hope that concussion issues (the one he suffered earlier this month was either the third or fifth of his pro career, depending on the source) don’t sidetrack one of baseball’s better stories. No one wants to see Brayan Pena getting another 44 starts behind the plate. Not even Brayan Pena, probably.

#11 Yankees

Brian McCann 448 .250 .315 .437 .329 4.2 -1.7 0.6 2.9
JR Murphy 128 .233 .282 .373 .291 -2.6 0.0 -0.5 0.4
Austin Romine 64 .228 .277 .338 .274 -2.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 640 .244 .304 .414 .316 -0.5 -1.7 -0.1 3.4

Brian McCann’s first season in pinstripes just couldn’t have gone worse, as one of baseball’s most heavily-shifted players put up a very disappointing 92 wRC+. The shift doesn’t help, but it doesn’t matter where the fielders are standing if you can pop the ball into the right field bleachers, which was a huge part of why McCann seemed to be a good fit for Yankee Stadium. He was clearly trying to do that, putting up a nearly career-high 45.1% flyball percentage, but when those flyballs were only going an average of 280 feet (his lowest since 2007), that’s just going to lead to a lot of outs. It’s not all bad, because he’s still a good framer, he stayed healthy, and the projections still like him. He’s just going to have to do a whole lot more on the field to prove the contract wasn’t a mistake, and with Francisco Cervelli off to Pittsburgh, the Yankees don’t have options other than backup-caliber Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy.

#12 Mets

Travis d’Arnaud 480 .253 .312 .434 .326 6.3 0.0 -6.6 2.6
Anthony Recker 128 .207 .270 .360 .280 -2.8 -0.2 -0.5 0.3
Kevin Plawecki 32 .245 .298 .364 .294 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 640 .244 .303 .415 .315 3.2 -0.2 -7.1 3.0

Say this about Travis d’Arnaud: He (mostly) stayed healthy in 2014, after missing time in each of the two previous years to left leg injuries. His first full season was generally a success, though it gets a lot more interesting if you look at his first- and second-half splits:

First half: .217/.292/.354 (81 wRC+)
Second half: .265/.313/.474 (124 wRC+)

You can’t simply look at that and presume that what he was in the second half is the player he’ll be going forward, but with Mets fans still reeling from the Zack Wheeler injury, let’s give them something to dream on here. Appropriately, the non-Fan projection systems aren’t going overboard on d’Arnaud, because the others all see him as a ~112 wRC+ guy, which is more than good enough. Anthony Recker is a mere placeholder, but it’s not him that d’Arnaud has to worry about. It’s Kevin Plawecki, who has done nothing but hit his way up the ladder, and reached Triple-A last year. N0. 40 on Kiley McDaniel’s Top 200 list, he should make his big league debut sometime late in 2015, and the Mets may have a decision to make on their long-term future behind the plate next winter.

#13 Astros

Jason Castro 403 .236 .306 .393 .310 -0.9 -0.3 -1.0 2.1
Hank Conger 192 .233 .298 .368 .297 -2.4 -0.3 -0.3 0.8
Max Stassi 32 .222 .265 .354 .275 -0.9 0.0 0.1 0.1
Evan Gattis   13 .245 .296 .462 .330 0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 640 .234 .302 .385 .305 -4.1 -0.6 -1.3 3.0

Jason Castro‘s 2013 was one of the only bright spots in a disastrous Houston season. Jason Castro’s 2014 was a blight on a Houston team finally showing signs of life. After increased progress in each year of his career, Castro totally collapsed last year, and now what he is remains a huge question mark. He was probably never as good as he looked in 2013 — how about that .351 BABIP, from a catcher — but the decline in both his walk rate and his power were real. The projections split the difference, and while that’s maybe disappointing because it’s too easy, it’s the best we can do right now. After last year, the Astros would happily take even that, because it would leave them with a league-average hitter on a roster that still has holes, though he’s hardly going to do much to stem the tide of massive contact issues the team has.

Newcomer Hank Conger is an acceptable backup due to his plus pitch framing, though he’s never really hit to his potential. Max Stassi is still only 24 and has a shot to be the team’s catcher of the future, but he took a huge step backwards last year with a 72 wRC+ in Triple-A. Evan Gattis has caught exactly zero innings for his new team this spring and probably never wears the gear regularly again, though emergency catchers always find their way into extra-inning games now and then.

#14 Athletics

Stephen Vogt 384 .255 .303 .398 .308 -0.4 -0.2 -1.0 2.0
Josh Phegley 224 .234 .273 .380 .288 -3.8 -0.1 0.3 0.9
Bryan Anderson 32 .219 .279 .340 .277 -0.8 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Total 640 .246 .291 .389 .299 -4.9 -0.4 -1.0 2.9

We’re well into the fourth tier here, at least if you consider Posey on his own tier, which you should. The last time we saw the A’s, Derek Norris was getting abused on the basepaths by the Royals, and now he’s off to San Diego. John Jaso has moved on to Tampa. Geovany Soto is with the White Sox. What’s left is Stephen Vogt, who started 68 games last year at multiple positions, but only eight behind the plate. It’s been a while since he was the guy best known for starting his big league career 0-for-32, and he put together a surprisingly good age-29 season (114 wRC+). Of course, that happened in a mere 287 plate appearances, and he’s coming off of offseason foot surgery, and he’s a lefty swinger, and he plays for the A’s, so this is a pretty clear platoon situation. Josh Phegley, newly arrived in the Jeff Samardzija deal, is finally going to get a shot to play. This isn’t likely a strength for Oakland; it’s pretty easy to see it being a big weakness, actually.

#15 Padres

Derek Norris 480 .236 .328 .384 .319 4.0 -0.3 -2.9 2.7
Wil Nieves 128 .237 .266 .315 .258 -4.9 -0.3 0.0 0.1
Tim Federowicz   32 .224 .280 .346 .278 -0.7 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 640 .235 .313 .367 .305 -1.7 -0.7 -2.6 2.9

From Yasmani Grandal / Nick Hundley / Rene Rivera to (extremely briefly) Ryan Hanigan to Derek NorrisTim Federowicz, and now to Wil Nieves now that Federowicz has torn up his knee, it’s been a winter of transition behind the plate in San Diego. Or, just like everywhere else on the San Diego roster, I suppose. It seems like Norris has been around forever, but he’s only just turned 26, and his first season as a regular catcher was a successful one. His struggles controlling the running game are a little overstated — the Royals aren’t exactly lead-footed out there — but it’s not going to be a strength. Righty hitter with offensive skill who might have a weakness on defense? Norris will fit right in on the 2015 Padres.The less said about Nieves, the 1,286th pick in the 1995 draft by these same Padres, the better. That was already too much.

Anyway, the most interesting Padres catching situation comes not here but in the minors, where top prospect Austin Hedges has only hit .225/.272/.314 in 523 Double-A plate appearances, and needs to do a whole lot better than that to maintain the words “top prospect” in front of his name.

#16 Red Sox

Christian Vazquez 384 .247 .307 .340 .290 -8.5 -0.6 3.8 1.6
Ryan Hanigan 205 .245 .335 .341 .302 -2.6 -0.3 2.1 1.1
Blake Swihart 51 .244 .286 .367 .289 -1.2 0.0 0.4 0.2
Total 640 .246 .314 .343 .294 -12.4 -0.9 6.4 2.9

Christian Vazquez walked nearly 10% of the time in a small look last year, and considering that he’s in the big leagues because he’s so highly thought of on defense, it’s nice to see that there’s something he could possibly hang his hat onto with the bat, as well. If nothing else, these Red Sox catchers are a lot younger than last year’s, when they started off with A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross. Ryan Hanigan is a perfect partner for Vazquez, since he’s also a plus defender who knows how to draw a walk, despite being a decade older. Really, though, while Vazquez should have a long career ahead of him, he’s not the young Boston catcher people are interested in. That’s Blake Swihart, who turns 23 in April and reached Triple-A last year. He’ll head back there to start, but it’s all but assumed he’ll make his way to Fenway at some point in 2015. Unless he’s traded for Cole Hamels first, of course.

#17 Tigers

Alex Avila 384 .230 .331 .376 .318 0.6 -1.3 1.0 2.2
James McCann 160 .243 .279 .345 .277 -4.8 0.0 1.0 0.5
Bryan Holaday 96 .233 .278 .325 .270 -3.4 -0.1 -0.1 0.2
Total 640 .234 .310 .360 .301 -7.6 -1.4 1.9 2.9

Were you to have asked me last October if Alex Avila would still be catching this year after repeated concussion issues, I’d have probably said no. Armed with a new mask, he’s still headed into the season as the starter, but it seems pretty clear that this is the last spring we’re going to be able to say that. That’s not only because of the open question about whether he’s physically capable of doing the job, it’s also because he’s going to be a free agent and increasing contact issues — a K% jump from 24.0 to 29.6 to 33.0 — have ruined the promise that seemed endless when he put up a 140 wRC+ in 551 plate appearances as a 24-year-old in 2011. The Tigers seem to like young James McCann, who will share time with Avila in 2015 and possibly take over entirely in 2016.

#18 Phillies

Carlos Ruiz 448 .261 .335 .377 .317 0.3 -1.1 2.5 2.6
Cameron Rupp 128 .206 .261 .327 .264 -5.1 0.0 0.2 0.2
Tommy Joseph 64 .222 .267 .378 .285 -1.5 -0.1 -1.0 0.1
Total 640 .246 .313 .367 .303 -6.3 -1.2 1.7 2.8

The Phillies were crushed for giving Carlos Ruiz a three-year deal headed into his age-35 season, and while it’s yet possible that it will have been a poor choice, the fact is that Ruiz’ 2014 looked a whole lot more like his recently successful career than it did his lousy 2013. The projections all expect a league-average 2015, and while that’s hardly exciting, look at this Philadelphia roster. A league-average offensive season might land you in the All-Star Game. What it should do is land him somewhere that’s not Philadelphia, but, well, that’s another story entirely, and you understand the impulse to not want to see what months of “Cameron Rupp, starting catcher” might look like.

There’s still 12 more teams to go. A bright spot for the Phillies, that.

#19 Angels

Chris Iannetta 480 .225 .341 .355 .316 3.6 -0.9 -3.6 2.6
Drew Butera 128 .197 .250 .285 .242 -6.3 -0.2 0.5 0.1
Carlos Perez 32 .217 .275 .320 .267 -1.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 640 .218 .320 .339 .299 -3.7 -1.0 -3.1 2.8

In 2008, Chris Iannetta had a .391 wOBA for Colorado, good for a 129 wRC+. In 2014, he had a .343 wOBA for the Angels, good for a nearly-similar 126 wRC+. It’s amazing what park adjustments and six years of consistent downturn in the offensive environment will do for you. In between, Iannatta has been an above-average hitter every year aside from a disastrous 2010, and that’s largely due to his excellent plate discipline. (Since the turn of the century, only one primary catcher has had a better BB% than Iannetta’s 14.2%, and Carlos Santana isn’t even a catcher any longer.)

At 32, it’s fair to expect another similar season, but now the Angels will absolutely require it. With Hank Conger off to Houston, the backup is now Drew Butera, who is without hyperbole one of the worst hitters in baseball history. Stay healthy, Chris.

#20 Cubs

Miguel Montero 403 .245 .335 .371 .314 -1.6 -1.6 1.1 1.9
David Ross 128 .201 .270 .365 .282 -3.7 -0.5 -0.2 0.2
Welington Castillo 109 .244 .313 .393 .314 -0.4 -0.2 -0.2 0.5
Total 640 .236 .318 .374 .307 -5.7 -2.3 0.6 2.6

The Cubs appreciated Welington Castillo’s 2014 so much that they went out and traded for Miguel Montero and signed David Ross. Nothing wrong with that, really, except that the seemingly inevitable departure of Castillo — one would have thought that simply sending him back to Arizona in the Montero deal might have solved issues for both sides — never happened. For now, the Cubs may carry all three, and that would look a lot better than it does if Montero weren’t coming off two mostly-wretched seasons for the Diamondbacks, raising questions if all those years of heavy usage in the desert have robbed him of some skills. There’s something to that, maybe, because between 2008-12, Montero was the rare backstop who seemed to have the skill to post above-average BABIP. Over the last two years, that disappeared, and most of Montero’s previously above-average OBP went with it. (He’s still walking at a quality clip.) On framing alone, Montero and Ross are a massive step up over Castillo. This doesn’t seem like a situation that can last as-is for all that long, though.

#21 Rays

Rene Rivera   416 .227 .280 .354 .281 -8.0 -1.0 5.4 2.0
Bobby Wilson 96 .211 .265 .296 .252 -4.0 -0.1 1.0 0.2
Curt Casali 96 .211 .289 .310 .273 -2.4 0.0 -0.1 0.3
John Jaso 19 .249 .338 .387 .325 0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Justin O’Conner 13 .208 .242 .328 .253 -0.5 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 640 .223 .280 .339 .276 -14.7 -1.1 6.4 2.6

Well, that’s certainly a list of names. As I said up front, these rankings don’t reflect framing, and clearly framing is not only the main reason why Rene Rivera exists in the big leagues, but is why the Rays made sure to acquire him in the Wil Myers deal. (Obligatory plug for The Hardball Times article detailing Rivera’s framing greatness.) I assume you know better than to take his 114 wRC+ from last year at face value, of course; that projected wOBA drop of 48 points may seem harsh, but there’s also a reason it took Rivera until age 30 to get any real playing time. If he goes down, well, at least Bobby Wilson and Curt Casali are friends? It’s good to have friends.

#22 Twins

Kurt Suzuki 416 .257 .312 .360 .298 -5.0 -1.2 -1.8 1.5
Josmil Pinto   160 .247 .316 .400 .318 0.5 -0.2 -1.1 0.8
Chris Herrmann 64 .220 .284 .320 .270 -2.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 640 .251 .310 .366 .301 -6.7 -1.4 -3.1 2.4

At 30, Kurt Suzuki had a year largely out of line with his career norms, but rather than respond to a 117 wRC+/.328 BABIP first half by moving him at the deadline, the Twins instead guaranteed him $12 million over two years with a vesting option for a third. To the surprise of absolutely no outside Minnesota, Suzuki’s second half looked almost identical to his career numbers, and so what you have is a 31-year-old catcher disliked by pitch framing stats who is good for offensive performance about 10% below league average. That’s not necessarily awful from behind the plate, but it won’t get you much higher than No. 22. Josmil Pinto is a far more interesting offensive performer — and he’s nearly five years younger — but he’ll have trouble finding playing time with Suzuki behind the plate and Kennys Vargas & Joe Mauer around to eat up designated hitter time. Or Eduardo Escobar. Come on, Twins.

#23 Mariners

Mike Zunino 480 .219 .276 .398 .297 -4.3 -0.3 1.0 2.3
Jesus Sucre   128 .227 .254 .291 .243 -6.5 -0.1 1.2 0.1
John Baker 32 .188 .260 .242 .229 -2.0 -0.1 -0.3 -0.1
Total 640 .219 .271 .369 .283 -12.7 -0.4 1.9 2.4

Mike Zunino hit .199 last year, and while you probably easily know my position on caring about batting average, it’s still .199. The resulting 86 wRC+ was still better than the 76 wRC+ he put up in limited time in 2013, so there’s that, because he showed good power, but it’s still hard to overcome a .254 OBP. It helps that he’s an excellent framer, but I’m not sure I can over-emphasize just how serious the contact issues are here; we’re talking Chris Carter levels of not making contact. Zunino still doesn’t even turn 24 until later this week, and despite his flaws, no one’s desperate for more playing time out of Jesus Sucre, but even before last season, the Mariners were being questioned for rushing 2012’s No. 3 overall pick to the bigs. Considering his plate discipline so far, he’s far from quieted the talk that more minor league seasoning might have helped.

#24 Rockies

Nick Hundley 320 .260 .307 .413 .316 -5.9 -0.8 -0.5 0.9
Michael McKenry 192 .270 .338 .453 .348 1.2 -0.5 -1.8 0.9
Wilin Rosario 128 .275 .310 .474 .340 0.1 -0.1 -1.3 0.5
Total 640 .266 .317 .437 .330 -4.7 -1.4 -3.6 2.4

We’re going from the bottom up on this one, because Wilin Rosario was the primary Colorado catcher for the last three seasons. The Rockies finally admitted that he’s all but unplayable behind the plate, so now they’re trying to make him some kind of hybrid catcher / first baseman / outfielder. Or at least in theory, anyway. Before camp started, manager Walt Weiss indicated that Rosario was still considered a part-time catcher — that’s why he’s still on the depth charts — but Rosario has been in only three spring games as a catcher. There’s been five Rockies to get into more:

10 — Nick Hundley
9 — Michael McKenry
8 — Dustin Garneau
6 — Audry Perez
4 — Tommy Murphy

So, Rosario’s time on this list may be limited. In the meantime, Hundley arrives to add some much-needed defensive capability, and “The Fort” McKenry’s return to Denver was shockingly successful, at least if you don’t focus too heavily on that .381 BABIP. If it’s possible to say that a catching situation is both not all that great and also not a problem, maybe this is it.

#25 Rangers

Robinson Chirinos 448 .235 .294 .377 .298 -7.9 -0.5 1.8 1.8
Carlos Corporan 160 .230 .289 .360 .289 -4.0 -0.3 -0.6 0.4
Tomas Telis 32 .253 .280 .341 .274 -1.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .235 .292 .371 .295 -13.0 -0.8 1.1 2.2

Robinson Chirinos wasn’t awful last year,” he says, struggling to say something meaningful about Robinson Chirinos. It’s true, technically; in only 338 plate appearances, he piled up 13 homers and 2.4 WAR. That’s also nearly 79% of his career playing time total, and he turns 31 in June, so when none of our projection systems see him topping an 85 wRC+, and when you realize he’s a poorly-rated framer, well, that’s where No. 25 comes from. This is probably baseball’s most non-descript catching situation, devoid of an established veteran trying to hang on or a touted rookie trying to break through. This is “yep, we’re obligated to play 162 games, guess someone has to be the catcher.” It’s shaping up to be a pretty hideous season in Texas, and what’s behind the plate won’t be of much comfort.

#26 Pirates

Francisco Cervelli 384 .248 .319 .344 .299 -3.6 0.0 -1.7 1.5
Chris Stewart   192 .235 .295 .301 .269 -6.2 -0.3 0.3 0.4
Tony Sanchez 64 .223 .287 .357 .288 -1.2 -0.1 -0.6 0.1
Total 640 .241 .309 .332 .289 -11.0 -0.4 -2.1 2.0

Life in the post-Russell Martin world begins with two other backstops who found their way to Pittsburgh after having served in the Bronx, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. For the first time in a big league career that began in 2008, Cervelli gets a chance to be a regular starter. Like Martin and Stewart, Cervelli arrives with a reputation as a plus framer. Unlike Martin, Cervelli’s pre-Pirate days weren’t filled with accolades and success, but instead repeated trips to the disabled list. This is also probably a good spot to remind you of this exchange:

He’s actually been a league-average hitter for his career and better than that recently, though that’s in just 225 plate appearances over the last three seasons. It’s easy to see this paying off for the Pirates; it’s also easy to see that this is almost certainly going to be a big step back from Martin, a problem given the tight NL Central race, and perhaps more than that if Cervelli can’t stay healthy, Chris Stewart continues not to be, and Tony Sanchez actually needs to play. That it cost the Pirates useful reliever Justin Wilson in return only increases the need for Cervelli to perform.

#27 White Sox

Tyler Flowers 320 .219 .282 .384 .297 -5.3 -0.5 -0.8 1.1
Geovany Soto 192 .216 .286 .368 .291 -4.0 -0.7 -0.2 0.6
Adrian Nieto 64 .214 .279 .329 .274 -2.2 -0.1 -0.5 0.1
Rob Brantly 51 .231 .274 .323 .266 -2.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Kevan Smith 13 .230 .287 .361 .288 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .219 .282 .369 .290 -13.8 -1.4 -1.5 1.8

The White Sox added David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, and Zach Duke, and yet one of the reasons we’re still not so sure about them as contenders is, well, this. In 1034 career plate appearances, Flowers has struck out an astounding 34.8% of the time. If that sounds bad, well, it is. In the past 100 years of baseball, 2,986 non-pitchers have batted 1,000 times. Here’s the list of every player with a worse strikeout rate than Flowers:

*looks around nervously*

He ran into some homers last year, which keeps him in the lineup, but you tell me if you think a non-elite catcher is repeating a .355 BABIP again. Behind him, there’s the usual hodgepodge of veteran journeymen and moderate prospects. If the White Sox do come out of the AL Central this year, it’s going to be in spite of this group, not because of them.

#28 Marlins

Jarrod Saltalamacchia 448 .228 .305 .390 .308 -3.2 -0.3 -5.7 1.4
Jeff Mathis 96 .198 .256 .301 .248 -5.1 -0.2 0.6 0.0
J.T. Realmuto 96 .239 .290 .351 .285 -2.4 0.0 0.2 0.3
Total 640 .225 .296 .370 .295 -10.7 -0.4 -4.9 1.7

Saltalamacchia’s first year in Miami produced his lowest wRC+ since 2009 and some truly atrocious framing numbers, so, there’s that. He’s been basically the exact same player in three of the last four years, and that outlier 2013 seems more fueled by a .372 BABIP than anything else. At 30, and with more than enough evidence that striking out nearly a third of the time is simply who he is, there’s not really any reason to expect improvement here. This is just who he is. The Marlins don’t seem to mind him; of course, the Marlins enriched him with a multiyear contract prior to 2014. They have no choice at the moment.

Hey, FanGraphs+, is Mathis someone you want to give playing time to?


Hard to argue.

#29 Braves

Christian Bethancourt   448 .251 .276 .366 .283 -10.9 0.1 1.3 1.4
A.J. Pierzynski 192 .247 .281 .359 .281 -4.9 -0.8 -1.6 0.2
Total 640 .250 .277 .364 .283 -15.9 -0.8 -0.4 1.6

This may seem bad, but then again, last year the Braves went into the season expecting Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird, and Ryan Doumit to be their primary catchers, so in that sense, this is less bad. Betancourt showed nothing at the plate in a small cameo last year, and little indication he could hit in the last few years in the minors, and well, I’m not sure where I was going with that. But he’s still only 23, so that’s something, and he’s earned rave reviews for his defense, which, by definition, is also something. It almost doesn’t matter, anyway. With the Braves openly admitting they won’t be competing this year, and with 38-year-old A.J. Pierzynski around to offer support more than to compete for playing time, Betancourt is perfectly positioned to play through his struggles in hopes that he can develop into an asset by the time the Braves are ready to be good again.

#30 Diamondbacks

Tuffy Gosewisch 301 .220 .252 .331 .258 -14.6 -0.2 1.2 0.1
Gerald Laird 237 .233 .298 .320 .277 -8.1 -0.4 -1.1 0.2
Oscar Hernandez   45 .225 .262 .352 .270 -1.8 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Peter O’Brien 38 .236 .278 .473 .326 0.1 0.0 -0.7 0.1
Jordan Pacheco 19 .250 .291 .338 .280 -0.6 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 640 .227 .272 .337 .271 -25.0 -0.7 -0.9 0.5

These are the saddest of times:

On the second day of February, I wrote about how laughably dire the Diamondbacks catching situation seemed, and how there was no way they could possibly go into the season like that. Nearly two months later, all that’s changed is that Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez has fractured his wrist, and yes, they are going into the season like that. With Hernandez sidelined, there’s Tuffy!, and someone who vaguely looks like he used to be Gerald Laird, and two guys who can’t actually catch and may never actually catch. Don’t say you weren’t warned, Arizona.

Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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Spa City
9 years ago

Tuffy Gosewisch makes Christian Bethancourt look like Buster Posey.

9 years ago
Reply to  Spa City

Arizona may lose, but we all win when you give playing time to some dude named “Tuffy Gosewisch”. That name is like a 5 Win-Above-Replacement Name.

Tuffy Gosewisch.