2016 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

I think I’ve written almost this exact thing before, but to kick off this annual series in earnest, let’s begin with the position we arguably know the least about! Here’s a link to Dave’s introduction to the series, if you need a bit of a refresher. Probably, though, it’s all self-explanatory, and now here’s a plot of all the projected team values behind the plate, with what at least I consider an unsurprising arrangement. In fairness, maybe it’s unsurprising because I’ve been looking at these numbers now for several, several hours. OK.


Did you know that the Giants have a good catcher? What I love about this isn’t just that the Giants are in the lead — it’s that they’re in the lead by 1.3 wins. That’s the same as the difference between the Dodgers in second place and the Reds in 15th. The tricky bit is that catchers can sometimes have all that perceived intangible value, and I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with leadership from a statistical perspective, but, you know, no analysis is perfect. Read on for paragraphs about catchers! (The Braves get the last paragraph.)

#1 Giants

Buster Posey 416 .305 .371 .468 .359 17.2 -1.1 3.1 4.3
Andrew Susac   192 .226 .304 .355 .293 -2.3 0.0 -0.6 0.7
Trevor Brown 32 .228 .272 .299 .254 -1.4 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .278 .346 .425 .334 13.6 -1.1 2.4 5.0

Buster Posey’s discipline might be underappreciated. Last year, he was one of just six players to bat at least 250 times, and walk more often than he struck out. He wound up with baseball’s fourth-lowest strikeout rate, between Andrelton Simmons and A.J. Pierzynski, and so while Posey’s power has declined some from his home-run peak, we’ve still got a rare player who can hit the ball and hit the ball hard. And by the way, he’s also fantastic defensively. You wonder if Posey would be a bigger star if it weren’t for AT&T. I mean, Posey is recognized as a star, but in his career he’s got an .801 OPS at home, and a .911 OPS on the road. Posey is dominant; Posey is a superstar. And for all the talk about the Giants eventually moving him away from the backstop position, it’s not like he’s raising any red flags. He is genuinely as good as it gets.

Which probably makes things frustrating for Susac, but Posey will still get his time at first base, so Susac will play enough to make some impressions. One thing many of those impressions will have in common: “Well, he’s no Buster Posey.”
#2 Dodgers

Yasmani Grandal 384 .237 .345 .413 .333 6.4 -0.9 -0.3 2.6
A.J. Ellis 224 .227 .327 .351 .301 -2.0 -1.0 0.2 0.9
Austin Barnes 32 .250 .317 .378 .305 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.2
Total 640 .234 .338 .389 .320 4.2 -1.9 -0.1 3.7

We talk a lot about the Dodgers and depth. What we’ve been talking about most frequently is their attempt to build depth in the rotation, but they have plenty of pieces to go around on the position-player side, as well, and this is a great example. Grandal is the regular, and while he’s defensively capable, he also just had an offensive first half right out of the Joey Votto playbook before a shoulder injury took its toll. Said injury has been repaired, and Grandal turned just 27 in November.

Behind Grandal, you get Ellis, who’s popular and productive when opportunities arise. He owns a career wRC+ of exactly 100, and he walks almost as often as he strikes out. And then there’s Barnes, the rare sort who can catch and also play second base. His career minor-league OBP is .390, and he just about matched that in Oklahoma City. People remember the Dee Gordon trade for being the Dee Gordon trade. The Dodgers did better than you might remember. Barnes is big-league ready, and he’s here in third string.
#3 Yankees

Brian McCann 512 .243 .315 .433 .323 1.6 -1.7 1.7 3.0
Gary Sanchez 109 .244 .295 .431 .313 -0.5 0.0 -0.7 0.5
Austin Romine 19 .240 .285 .371 .285 -0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .243 .311 .431 .320 0.5 -1.7 1.0 3.5

I think there’s this vague sense that McCann has been a disappointment in New York, so maybe seeing the Yankees so high in the rankings is an important reminder. McCann, predictably, gets his batting average absolutely slaughtered by his ground balls, because there’s no way he’s going to run out a grounder he pulls into the shift, but he still draws walks and he still mashes a baseball every now and again. Throw in defensive ability that hasn’t completely deteriorated, and McCann looks like a plus. However frustrating it is to watch a guy hit into the shift over and over, one shouldn’t overlook everything McCann is still able to do for his team. He’s not toast.

Between Sanchez and Romine, Romine might be more ready to be a backup, but Sanchez, of course, has the greater potential to be a starter. He was able last season to dig into his power, and at 23 years old, there’s a long future in front of him. With McCann in place, Sanchez doesn’t need to be rushed. But, you know, Murphy is gone. The Yankees know what they want Sanchez to be, and it looks like he’s getting ready to be it.
#4 Blue Jays

Russell Martin 480 .237 .334 .415 .328 3.1 -1.7 5.8 3.4
Josh Thole 128 .239 .300 .316 .274 -4.7 -0.4 -1.6 0.0
A.J. Jimenez 32 .237 .275 .340 .269 -1.3 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 640 .237 .324 .390 .314 -2.9 -2.1 4.3 3.5

For as often as we might talk about how catchers decline sooner than other players, we might not pay enough attention to what’s going on right in front of us. Martin is well into his 30s now, and he has an extended playing history, but if age has so far robbed him of anything, it’s his baserunning. Martin otherwise remains an outstanding starter, a defensive plus and an on-field leader with a bat that would probably get more respect if it weren’t hidden within the Blue Jays’ phalanx of dingers. An injury last summer interfered with what was an excellent year at the plate, and it’s not like injuries become less common as players age, but it doesn’t get a lot better than Martin. It definitely does get better than Thole, who hasn’t hit a homer since 2013, and as such the Jays will desperately need Martin to stay in the lineup. Thankfully, he usually does that.
#5 Cardinals

Yadier Molina 467 .279 .324 .390 .310 -2.1 -1.4 8.6 3.1
Brayan Pena   166 .259 .305 .337 .282 -4.4 -0.9 -1.0 0.2
Mike Ohlman 6 .239 .298 .342 .283 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .273 .319 .375 .302 -6.7 -2.3 7.6 3.3

One of the most important players in baseball might be approaching the end of his career. Alternatively, perhaps for Molina it was just a hiccup, caused by playing through a thumb injury that eventually forced him under the knife. The last time Molina was really healthy, earlier in 2014, everything was business as usual, so now we have to try to figure out what to expect from a player who’s been fixed, but who’s also into his mid-30s. One assumes Molina will keep making contact. That skill, he’s never lost. The Cardinals would love to see him return to a double-digit homer total. The Cardinals are always going to love him regardless, but if Molina has another big year or two left in him, it stands to reason the Cardinals will keep putting off that decline everyone keeps predicting.

A funny thing about Pena is he’s actually older than Molina, by roughly six months. It’s a little uncharacteristic to see the Cardinals make an investment in the backup, but, of course, it’s understandable now. And if they have their way, Pena won’t have to play very much. One thing he definitely isn’t is Tony Cruz. One thing he definitely is is a switch-hitter. Pena’s always hit much better as a lefty, so expect that to be when he’ll slide in to give Molina a break.
#6 Pirates

Francisco Cervelli 480 .271 .345 .377 .319 2.6 -0.3 0.6 2.9
Chris Stewart 147 .245 .297 .309 .270 -5.0 -0.2 0.3 0.3
Elias Diaz 13 .243 .294 .345 .281 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .265 .333 .361 .307 -2.7 -0.5 0.9 3.2

Credit to the Pirates, who saw past the Yankees’ concerns about Cervelli’s durability. It felt like the Pirates were going to be dealt a massive blow by losing Russell Martin to free agency, but last year Martin batted 507 times, finishing with a 3.5 WAR. Cervelli batted 510 times, finishing with a 3.8 WAR. I don’t mean to suggest that, on talent, Cervelli is actually as good as Martin is, but it was a wonderful addition, and Cervelli should again carry the load and remain productive for another Pittsburgh contender. I don’t expect him to hit .295 again, but he doesn’t need to, not with his pitch-receiving.

Stewart, also, receives well, and he’s shown a hint of modest offensive promise in his mid-30s. That doesn’t really make sense, which is why I’m not sitting here thinking of Chris Stewart as a half-decent hitter. But he’s looked like a half-decent hitter. That never happened until 2014.
#7 Mets

Travis d’Arnaud 416 .255 .316 .446 .328 5.9 -0.4 -2.3 2.6
Kevin Plawecki 128 .238 .292 .344 .279 -3.2 0.0 0.2 0.4
Johnny Monell 96 .229 .289 .350 .281 -2.3 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Total 640 .248 .307 .411 .311 0.4 -0.5 -2.5 3.2

In one sense, last year was a little frustrating for d’Arnaud, because injuries cost him so much playing time. In another sense, it was a positive year, because there are signs of an offensive breakout. His ISO pushed north of .200, which is a hell of a thing to blend with above-average skills in the field. Now, just to be something of a wet blanket, d’Arnaud faced the worst opposing pitchers of everyone in baseball who batted at least 250 times, according to Baseball Prospectus. You can understand how the Mets faced some weak competition down the stretch, and that boosted the team’s various offensive performances. But it’s not like that means d’Arnaud was a total mirage. He got help, but he’s good. He’s good, he’s healthy, and he’s 27.

If something does go awry with d’Arnaud, Monell might be the first reserve, but it’s Plawecki who could develop into another regular. He went and had himself a miserable 2015 — big-league paycheck and everything aside — but Plawecki has been a minor-league weapon in the past, and if he returns to the minors it’s in order to get regular playing time. To put this simply: It looks like a steep drop-off after d’Arnaud, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
#8 Indians

Yan Gomes 435 .253 .295 .423 .309 -2.7 -0.2 2.7 2.4
Roberto Perez 186 .207 .300 .332 .282 -5.1 -0.4 2.0 0.7
Anthony Recker 19 .198 .269 .355 .273 -0.7 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 640 .238 .296 .396 .300 -8.5 -0.6 4.6 3.1

I don’t know how many articles we’ve written in the past about how Yan Gomes was underrated. There was real power there, with both quality contact and quality defense, and then at the age of 27, Gomes ran into problems, after sustaining an early-season injury. So the Indians didn’t get what they expected out of their regular, but they happened to get more than they presumably expected out of Perez, who now deserves his own underrated consideration. In the interest of honesty, I barely knew anything about Perez before I talked with August Fagerstrom somewhere back in December. Only then did I take a closer look, and it turns out, hey, Perez shows a strong offensive approach, and he can play in the field, too. So the Indians have gotten somewhere good: they expect a bounceback from Gomes, but they also have reason to believe in Perez should Gomes for whatever reason underwhelm. There are two starting catchers here. The Indians get to start one at a time. At least that means the days off aren’t days off.
#9 Brewers

Jonathan Lucroy 429 .275 .339 .416 .329 2.0 -1.2 2.0 2.6
Martin Maldonado 186 .219 .287 .338 .274 -7.3 -0.3 1.6 0.4
Josmil Pinto 26 .247 .314 .417 .318 -0.1 0.0 -0.4 0.1
Total 640 .257 .323 .393 .313 -5.4 -1.5 3.2 3.0

Not even that long ago, there was a legitimate argument to be made that Jonathan Lucroy was the best catcher in baseball. You could still try to make the same argument, but after what happened in 2015, it’s gotten a hell of a lot weaker. Lucroy was bothered by a toe injury and, later, a concussion, and his offense slipped while, defensively speaking, he’s got a perplexing decline in pitch-framing value. So, Lucroy seems to be a strong bounceback candidate, but now there are questions.

Questions the Brewers would like to see answered quickly — and positively — because of Lucroy’s potential trade value. There’s nothing in here you don’t already know, but this is maybe the most interesting subject for the Brewers at the moment, because you don’t often see higher-profile backstops moved in the middle of the year. That doesn’t mean it never happens, but there’s some kind of chance Lucroy even gets dealt before opening day. There’s nothing great behind him on the depth chart, but 2016 isn’t exactly Milwaukee’s foremost concern.
#10 Royals

Salvador Perez 531 .272 .301 .431 .313 -2.3 -1.7 5.0 3.1
Tony Cruz 77 .225 .266 .324 .258 -3.7 -0.2 -0.6 -0.1
Drew Butera 32 .205 .263 .302 .251 -1.7 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .263 .295 .412 .304 -7.8 -1.9 4.4 3.0

You feel for Tony Cruz, who went from backing up a catcher who never sits to backing up a different catcher who never sits. Maybe all that Molina observation taught him innumerable lessons he can’t wait to apply on the field, but Perez just doesn’t leave many openings. The Royals think that’s one of Perez’s selling points, and there’s definitely no questioning his durability. Whether all this playing time causes Perez to break down prematurely, I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s something we can assume. For now, the Royals think of Perez as perhaps the most important player on the roster, and it’s hard to not give the Royals the benefit of the doubt considering, you know, everything. They’re absolutely in love with Perez, and they speak highly of his leadership skills. His statistical indicators are less glowing, and the wRC+ has gotten worse every single season. Perez last season drew just nine unintentional walks. He is obviously flawed as a hitter, yet because he’s still not 26, we all get to imagine he might still go all Ivan Rodriguez if he figures things out. Perez seems to have more perceived value than observable value, but there’s real growth potential remaining.
#11 Athletics

Stephen Vogt 416 .257 .322 .413 .317 1.2 -0.4 -2.1 2.2
Josh Phegley 192 .238 .281 .391 .291 -3.4 -0.2 0.8 0.8
Carson Blair 32 .194 .273 .330 .268 -1.2 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 640 .248 .307 .402 .307 -3.4 -0.6 -1.6 3.0

I know that we’re supposed to be the experts, sharing information with the curious public, but in the process of putting these things together, I get to do my own learning, and what I learned here is that Stephen Vogt is 31 years old. And Josh Phegley is 28 years old, so the A’s don’t have the most youthful platoon situation.

But they have a useful platoon situation, with this being another position where the A’s hope depth will make them into something greater than the sum of the parts. Vogt, the lefty, has a career 113 wRC+ against righties. Phegley, the righty, has a career 111 wRC+ against lefties. That’s enough to give you a sense of how this should go, and while it won’t be exciting, it should be good enough. The A’s are all about making sure things are good enough.
#12 Orioles

Matt Wieters   384 .249 .305 .419 .313 -2.6 -0.9 0.5 1.8
Caleb Joseph 192 .235 .286 .378 .289 -5.0 -0.2 1.7 0.7
Francisco Pena 64 .232 .271 .377 .280 -2.1 0.0 0.4 0.2
Total 640 .243 .296 .402 .302 -9.6 -1.2 2.6 2.7

Remember Matt Wieters Facts? If you consider how he used to be thought of, it’s almost staggering that he owns just a 98 career wRC+. I know they say catchers develop late, and I know Wieters had the elbow surgery take a chunk out of his timeline, but he’s 30 years old in May. He’s 30 years old in May, and his wRC+ is 98, and his projection is 94. You always want to believe there’s more in there, because of the background, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up. The fact that he’s feeling some elbow discomfort doesn’t make the season ahead seem any brighter.

I do like Joseph as the second string. He’s proven he can handle a workload, and although he doesn’t have it in him to be an offensive plus, he’s strong behind the plate, and he has enough power to be threatening. It’s funny: Joseph the overachiever is still a worse catcher than Wieters the underachiever. But as a combination, the Orioles have something right around playoff-caliber.

#13 Padres

Derek Norris 384 .244 .315 .395 .311 -0.1 0.0 -0.4 2.0
Austin Hedges 160 .220 .262 .328 .258 -6.8 -0.1 1.7 0.3
Christian Bethancourt 96 .247 .276 .367 .277 -2.6 0.0 0.4 0.3
Total 640 .238 .296 .374 .293 -9.5 0.0 1.8 2.6

Something is likely to give, here, as the Padres have three catchers they like for two spots. It doesn’t mean they have to trade Norris, but it seems like they’re going to trade Norris, because they want to see if Hedges and Bethancourt can handle the load in the long-term. It would be a rebuilding sort of move for a team that’s slowly coming to acknowledge what it is.

For now, Norris lines up as the regular, and one unusual thing about his 2015 is the numbers liked his pitch-framing more and more as the season went on. What was disappointing was that Norris didn’t hit enough, but when he’s going right, he walks, he homers, and he receives. He doesn’t throw, so much, but you can always blame that on the pitchers.

Hedges is a young defensive specialist with some offensive upside. Bethancourt is a young defensive specialist mostly without offensive upside. Also his defense, outside of his arm, seems overrated. People keep saying nice things about Bethancourt, which is kind of them, but I find it mostly unhelpful.
#14 Cubs

Miguel Montero 416 .238 .329 .368 .306 -4.1 -1.9 0.9 1.7
David Ross 115 .187 .267 .314 .249 -6.4 -0.1 0.9 0.0
Kyle Schwarber 96 .256 .341 .485 .355 2.8 0.1 -0.8 0.7
Willson Contreras 13 .251 .308 .374 .300 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .232 .320 .376 .303 -7.9 -1.9 0.9 2.5

One of the scary things about the Cubs is that they’re set up to be perfectly fine at the catcher position, and the catcher position might also be where they’re worst. They do get to claim to run three deep, with Ross and Schwarber more or less personal catchers behind Montero. Ross essentially exists to catch for Jon Lester, and the most recent speculation has Schwarber catching Jason Hammel, so that leaves Montero the other 60% of the time. He had himself an important bounceback season after arriving from Arizona, and no one would be upset with a defensively competent catcher with power and a great deal of walks. Montero’s power rebound came at the expense of some contact, which is how this usually goes, but the Cubs are poised to do well to limit Montero’s exposure to southpaws. So he can stay both productive and rested.

The most interesting angle is probably how Schwarber performs — how he does with Hammel might in large part determine how much he catches down the road. Plenty of people remain skeptical, but Schwarber wasn’t actually a lousy catcher in his limited time in 2015, so this’ll be a learning experience for everybody. If Schwarber proves he can cut it, his future versatility will make him greatly valuable. If not, well, you’ve seen the dingers. Teams make room for dingers.
#15 Reds

Devin Mesoraco   416 .243 .317 .426 .321 -0.2 -0.7 -1.1 2.0
Tucker Barnhart 160 .240 .306 .328 .279 -5.5 -0.1 1.1 0.4
Kyle Skipworth   45 .182 .239 .353 .258 -2.3 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Ramon Cabrera 19 .253 .300 .336 .281 -0.6 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .238 .308 .394 .305 -8.5 -0.9 -0.2 2.4

Sometimes when I think about the bad teams, I try to imagine ways they could end up not-bad teams. The Reds are probably going to be a bad team, but if they’re able to keep themselves respectable, I imagine Mesoraco is going to be a big factor. He’s sort of being forgotten about, because 2015 was a total wash on account of a hip injury, but it was just the season before Mesoraco was a four- or five-win player. As you look at his record, Mesoraco has 4.5 WAR in one season, and 0.3 WAR in his four other partial seasons. So he currently stands as a one-hit wonder, yet he’s still not even 28. If Mesoraco stays in the lineup and proves he really is that good at trading contact for power, the Reds’ll give Joey Votto some help. Mesoraco is important, even on an unimportant team.

I can’t claim to be particularly interested in the depth. I’m sure that’s dismissive of me, but as you can see right here, if Mesoraco just can’t handle the workload, that’s bad news. Barnhart is one of those batters who posts a higher soft-hit rate than hard-hit rate. That doesn’t have to be the kiss of death, but we could consider it the kiss of despair.
#16 White Sox

Alex Avila 320 .207 .324 .344 .301 -4.7 -1.1 -0.1 1.2
Dioner Navarro   288 .258 .315 .391 .308 -2.8 -0.7 -1.1 1.1
Kevan Smith 32 .235 .293 .359 .286 -0.9 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 640 .232 .318 .367 .303 -8.3 -1.8 -1.4 2.3

Here’s how easy this could be to sort out: Avila is a lefty with a career 116 wRC+ against righties. Navarro is a switch-hitter with a career 110 wRC+ against lefties. So if this situation is managed optimally, the White Sox could get some surprising production out of the catcher spot. In dropping Tyler Flowers, the Sox made a move toward catcher offense over catcher defense, and neither Avila nor Navarro is likely to be a pitching-staff favorite. This is a perfectly unexciting tandem, and I can’t imagine anyone has sky-high expectations. This is just two decent, playable catchers, who you want to use without using too often. Yeah, Avila’s best days are behind him. Yeah, Navarro’s best days are behind him, too. The White Sox didn’t sign anyone here to get their best days. They’re just looking for good ones.
#17 Mariners

Chris Iannetta 429 .214 .326 .356 .304 -2.7 -1.1 -2.3 1.7
Steve Clevenger 147 .256 .309 .353 .289 -2.7 -0.4 -1.4 0.3
Mike Zunino 51 .208 .264 .376 .279 -1.4 0.0 0.0 0.1
Rob Brantly 13 .241 .277 .349 .273 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .224 .316 .357 .298 -7.1 -1.5 -3.7 2.3

A season ago, the Mariners got a .464 combined OPS from their catchers, which is notable, because the Giants got a .463 combined OPS from their pitchers. It’s also notable because that’s the worst OPS any team has ever gotten from its catchers in recorded baseball history, by a full 29 points. As far as “there is no floor” is concerned, it’s true, but realistically, last year’s Mariners more or less found it, so there’s no way this year’s group can’t be better. That’s reason enough to be encouraged.

Zunino is in the minors, working to get accustomed to a new swing. He’s not toast, not yet, but he’s not a part of the 2016 picture. This is about Iannetta and Clevenger, and while the latter has shown hints of offensive promise, Iannetta’s the starter and he’s neat. As poorly as he hit last season, he’s historically been a lot better, and he’s coming off a massive improvement in his pitch-framing ratings. If he blends that with his usual bat, he’s solid. If he blends that with an inferior bat, he’s tolerable. If he plays like he’s asleep, literally asleep, well, it still might not be worse than what the Mariners got the last time around.
#18 Astros

Jason Castro 448 .227 .299 .381 .298 -7.2 0.3 1.1 1.9
Max Stassi   96 .215 .264 .354 .269 -3.8 0.0 0.3 0.2
Alfredo Gonzalez 64 .236 .297 .303 .269 -2.5 0.0 0.2 0.1
Tyler Heineman 32 .236 .289 .334 .276 -1.1 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 640 .227 .293 .367 .289 -14.5 0.2 1.9 2.2

Castro has been at least a semi-regular for parts of five years. And his profile is fascinating, for this reason: when he was a rookie, he posted an 87% contact rate. Last year, he finished at 69%. Castro has made a point of trying to hit for more power, sacrificing the other stuff, and the big problem here is that, outside of 2013, it hasn’t gone well enough for him. He looks now an awful lot like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and as an added bonus, Castro has hit 35 of his 51 career dingers at home. He’s not old, and he’s defensively solid, but the Astros were always hoping for more. This might just be what Castro is.

And while there was a time Stassi looked like a future regular, a couple years ago he stopped hitting. He’s hurt now — the ol’ hamate — and when he’s back, he’ll be just a reserve. Overall, the Astros should be okay with their catcher situation, but they wouldn’t run away from making an upgrade.
#19 Red Sox

Blake Swihart 320 .259 .304 .378 .298 -6.7 -0.1 -0.5 1.0
Ryan Hanigan 192 .238 .325 .330 .292 -4.9 -0.3 1.7 0.7
Christian Vazquez 128 .250 .309 .351 .290 -3.5 -0.1 1.1 0.4
Total 640 .251 .311 .359 .295 -15.1 -0.5 2.3 2.1

All things considered, Swihart handled himself pretty well for someone who probably wasn’t supposed to be in the majors. As countless others have noted, Swihart appeared more comfortable at the plate the longer the season went on, and as he was climbing through the minor-league system he had a positive defensive reputation. Swihart was one of the players the Sox ultimately declined to send to Philadelphia for Cole Hamels, and now they get to witness the development of a top-20 prospect.

Vazquez is the guy who could make it complicated, because while he’s going to report to the minors to build up his arm strength following elbow surgery, it stands to reason Vazquez might be ready to come back up before too much time passes. Swihart has the better bat, but Vazquez has the superior defensive skills and instincts, so there’s a battle here down the road. Maybe the real loser in there is Hanigan, who’s going to get squeezed out, but Boston might have two catchers of the future. Someone’s going to end up being favored.
#20 Tigers

James McCann 352 .255 .290 .366 .286 -9.3 -0.7 2.9 1.2
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 256 .226 .307 .396 .306 -2.6 -0.1 -3.0 0.8
Bryan Holaday 32 .239 .278 .346 .273 -1.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .243 .296 .377 .293 -13.1 -0.8 0.0 2.1

It isn’t very often the Tigers get to claim they spit a good product out of the system, so McCann is important for them, as the 25-year-old is going to be the opening-day catcher. What we might have is a problem of unaligned standards. What’s true is that the Tigers developed McCann, and that he’s going to play regularly in the major leagues. But I’m unconvinced he’s actually a special player, given his offensive limitations and lousy pitch-receiving record. The Tigers, for what it’s worth, like McCann’s leadership, and he’s supposed to be a defensive asset, so it’s not like what you see in 2015 is what you get. It’s just, to me, McCann is the starter by default.

McCann’s limitations could open the door for Saltalamacchia, and he’s always hit far better against righties. The problem is that Saltalamacchia has several of his own limitations. If the Tigers do a decent job of monitoring platoon situations, they might get league-average offense out of here. Defense isn’t where Saltalamacchia is going to shine.
#21 Nationals

Wilson Ramos 416 .251 .287 .399 .295 -7.9 -1.2 3.0 1.6
Jose Lobaton 192 .227 .296 .340 .280 -5.9 -0.3 -0.2 0.4
Pedro Severino 19 .240 .278 .346 .273 -0.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Spencer Kieboom 13 .245 .299 .348 .285 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .243 .289 .379 .290 -14.9 -1.5 2.9 2.0

Here’s a big and underrated reason why last year’s Nationals failed to meet expectations: Their catchers combined for a total of 0.1 WAR, which would’ve been worst in baseball had it not been for the Mariners in another putrid galaxy. Ramos didn’t hit a lick, and Lobaton somehow hit even worse. Just based on track record alone, you should expect Ramos and Lobaton to improve moving forward, because they just shouldn’t be so terrible. It’s possible for a winning team in 2016 to have these two backstops behind the plate.

With that being said, the Nationals spent a lot of the offseason sniffing around acquisition candidates, like Jonathan Lucroy and Derek Norris. At this writing, nothing has happened, because especially with Lucroy, the asks have been enormous. But I think you could describe the Nationals thusly: They’re willing to go to battle with what they have, but they’re very interested in getting better. Ramos isn’t going to get that kind of leash again.
#22 Rangers

Robinson Chirinos 448 .232 .302 .384 .301 -8.9 -0.6 1.2 1.6
Chris Gimenez 160 .231 .298 .341 .283 -5.5 -0.1 -0.8 0.2
Michael McKenry 32 .231 .318 .394 .314 -0.3 -0.1 -0.4 0.1
Total 640 .232 .302 .374 .297 -14.8 -0.7 0.0 1.9

The Rangers are in sort of a similar situation as the Nationals. That’s why both these teams have continuously been linked to available catchers. Like the Nationals, the Rangers could get by with what they have, but, like the Nationals, the Rangers could gain an awful lot by swinging an impact acquisiton. Just thinking about it, if the Rangers and the Nationals want catchers, and if Jonathan Lucroy and Derek Norris are the good available catchers, maybe both the teams get their upgrade? I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

What’s cool about Gimenez is his versatility. You knew that. As for Chirinos, while he turns 32 in June, I like what I’ve seen of the bat. Perhaps that’s putting it too strong. I’m interested in what I’ve seen of the bat, and there were signs last year Chirinos was trying to tap into more of his pull power. He’s not a bad catcher by any means, so if he ends up as a reserve behind someone else, he’ll provide the Rangers with some excellent depth. You know. If.
#23 Angels

Carlos Perez 416 .235 .285 .336 .274 -12.1 -0.1 2.5 1.3
Geovany Soto 211 .212 .279 .352 .279 -5.3 -0.7 0.1 0.5
Jett Bandy 13 .231 .284 .356 .281 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .227 .283 .342 .276 -17.7 -0.9 2.6 1.9

As regulars go, I’m not sure it gets more anonymous than Carlos Perez. This isn’t intended as a criticism — after all, Perez is lined up to be the starting catcher for a playoff hopeful. Just based on that, he can’t be that bad. But Perez pretty much never comes up in conversation or analysis. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about him for more than 30 seconds. I think Perez is like the replacement-level starting catcher, if that makes sense. He’s got a strong arm, but his overall profile is unexceptional. He’s one of several players the Angels hope does well enough to not suck, around the Trout-shaped roster core.

There’s no sense in dwelling too much on Soto, who should be sufficiently useful depth, but I will note that he’s historically been one of the game’s more extreme fastball hitters, relative to the softer stuff. This is valuable Geovany Soto trivia, should you ever need it.
#24 Diamondbacks

Welington Castillo 397 .246 .310 .414 .315 -3.0 -0.9 -1.8 1.5
Chris Herrmann 128 .219 .280 .334 .270 -5.5 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Tuffy Gosewisch 64 .221 .257 .320 .253 -3.6 -0.1 0.5 0.0
Peter O’Brien 45 .236 .279 .458 .314 -0.3 0.0 -0.5 0.1
Oscar Hernandez 6 .222 .265 .329 .261 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .237 .296 .391 .299 -12.8 -1.0 -2.2 1.7

A year ago, this was literally the Diamondbacks’ catcher depth:

-Tuffy Gosewisch
-Gerald Laird
-Oscar Hernandez
-Peter O’Brien
-Jordan Pacheco

It was the most miserable position in the league, and one of the most miserable positions I’d seen in recent history. I’d say it was legitimately laughable, and none of us could believe it was for real, then Castillo arrived in a trade and the Diamondbacks catchers wound up leading the National League in home runs. It’s just a wonderful example of how the situation on opening day doesn’t have to be the situation all season long. Castillo, as you see, is still around, and the power isn’t fake. He’s still not a top-tier backstop or anything, but compared to how last year started? No one, at least, is laughing about this.
#25 Twins

Kurt Suzuki 320 .253 .307 .344 .285 -8.5 -0.5 -1.7 0.6
JR Murphy 288 .249 .301 .387 .300 -4.4 0.0 -0.9 1.0
John Hicks 32 .226 .263 .323 .257 -1.6 0.0 0.3 0.0
Total 640 .250 .302 .362 .290 -14.5 -0.6 -2.3 1.7

As a hitter, Suzuki is basically a wall. If you throw the ball toward him, he’ll reliably return it to you, at a slightly reduced velocity. During the hot streaks, he’s a reasonably productive wall, but if a wall is getting a few extra balls out to the outfield, that’s not really so much the wall’s fault. Suzuki has seniority on his side, and he’s the known entity, but Murphy is going to push him. As much as I like Aaron Hicks on the Yankees, I also like Murphy on the Twins, as he could be a useful catcher over 350 plate appearances or so. He has more of a bat than Suzuki at this point, and he’s superior at catching and holding the baseball. I don’t think that Murphy has tremendous career upside or anything, and he does remain fairly unproven, but he’s not in position where he has to clear a Buster Posey bar. He just has to clear the Kurt Suzuki bar, and I expect him to be able to do that.
#26 Rays

Curt Casali 256 .217 .295 .359 .290 -4.6 0.0 -0.7 0.9
Rene Rivera 224 .217 .263 .334 .261 -9.2 -0.5 1.6 0.4
Hank Conger 128 .223 .294 .365 .290 -2.3 -0.3 -0.9 0.3
Luke Maile 26 .221 .277 .311 .262 -1.0 0.0 0.1 0.0
Justin O’Conner 6 .208 .236 .328 .245 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .218 .282 .349 .278 -17.5 -0.8 0.2 1.6

Given where the Rays rank in this list, at least you could honestly say they have three catchers of unusual intrigue. Casali, who has slugged .354 in Triple-A, slugged .594 in a very small sample of major-league games. Rivera is about as strong defensively as they come, but whatever offensive promise he showed two years back was more recently obliterated in full. And Conger became something of a pitch-framing hero, and he can even hit some, too, but he’s allowed 37 consecutive successful steals. There’s reason to like all three. There’s reason to doubt all three.

And given all these nuggets, it’s not super easy to tell how the playing time is going to shake out. I mean, Casali will run away with the gig if he keeps on beating the crap out of the ball, but assuming he slows down, you could make a case for any of the three. The Rays would call it depth. It’s spin, but only sort of.
#27 Marlins

J.T. Realmuto 448 .254 .298 .379 .294 -8.8 0.3 0.8 1.6
Jeff Mathis 160 .196 .251 .306 .242 -9.7 -0.2 0.9 -0.1
Tomas Telis 32 .252 .283 .338 .270 -1.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 640 .240 .285 .359 .280 -19.7 0.2 1.8 1.6

Let’s accept that Jeff Mathis is Jeff Mathis. In his big-league career, he’s finished two seasons with a 32 wRC+, one season with a 31 wRC+, and one season with a 29 wRC+. The 29 season was last season. Mathis’ strengths are of the intangible variety, but at least he’s the backup. Realmuto is the featured player, and he has a modestly interesting blend of contact, power, and speed. He stole eight bases, he knocked 10 dingers, and he hit the ball with six of seven swings. Realmuto doesn’t project to develop into a first-division backstop. His role on the Marlins is essentially “catch, and don’t ever accidentally somehow run into Jose Fernandez.” I’d expect that Realmuto will check off those two boxes.
#28 Rockies

Nick Hundley 397 .275 .318 .433 .324 -6.0 -1.0 -2.3 1.1
Dustin Garneau 128 .244 .299 .391 .299 -4.4 -0.1 -0.3 0.2
Tom Murphy 109 .238 .292 .430 .310 -2.8 -0.1 -1.0 0.2
Tony Wolters 6 .235 .293 .312 .270 -0.4 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 640 .262 .309 .423 .316 -13.7 -1.2 -3.6 1.5

Hundley finished last year with a .348 wOBA in Coors Field, and while that’s not quite the same as the .356 wOBA he once posted in Petco Park, it sort of marked a return to his offensive roots. Hundley was a contributor again at the plate, and like everyone else, he appreciated Colorado’s outfield area and strikeout dampening. One thing I find strange about Hundley is that he just gave back all the pitch-framing gains he made the season before. I would’ve expected those to be sticky, and now I don’t think we can think of Hundley as being above-average behind the plate. The Rockies might not really care. They don’t expect Hundley to be an All-Star. They expect him to be Nick Hundley, as they play out what’s projected to be the Nick Hundley of baseball seasons.

Behind Hundley, it’s Murphy who’s most interesting. To get this out of the way, here’s the problem: last year, he finished with 32 walks and 133 strikeouts. Without any improvements in approach, Murphy’s just a substandard catcher with contact issues. But there’s power in there, and so like everyone with raw strength, if Murphy taps into enough of it, he’ll make up for his shortcomings. I wouldn’t count on this happening, but all that you need is a glimmer.
#29 Phillies

Cameron Rupp 320 .220 .282 .359 .279 -10.2 -0.5 1.9 0.8
Carlos Ruiz 288 .237 .314 .336 .289 -6.8 -0.6 -1.6 0.6
Jorge Alfaro 32 .229 .275 .381 .286 -0.8 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 640 .228 .296 .350 .284 -17.8 -1.2 0.1 1.4

Let’s be real, here. Does it matter? We know what the Phillies are going to be. We know which players the Phillies hope to count on long-term, and Ruiz isn’t one of them. Rupp, presumably, isn’t one of them. Rupp profiles as a maybe useful backup, and Ruiz is a guy who was worth five wins in 2012, before the Phillies understood fully how deep the ship would sink. The year Ruiz had in 2015 was dreadful in every imaginable way, and if the Phillies could, they’d probably just close their eyes and wait for five or so months to pass. The hope is Alfaro.

There is a lot of risk in Alfaro. He just wound up with nine walks and 61 strikeouts in a partial season in Double-A, and he might never have a big-league approach. He might never deliver on the promise that’s carried by his power. Alfaro is a question mark, but one for whom tomorrow could be brighter than today. The Phillies are finally assembling a crop of those players. One hopes it results in a watchable second half, no matter the team’s actual record.
#30 Braves

A.J. Pierzynski 384 .264 .301 .379 .295 -6.5 -2.3 -4.5 0.6
Tyler Flowers 224 .225 .280 .359 .281 -6.3 -0.6 0.4 0.5
Ryan Lavarnway 32 .238 .309 .351 .292 -0.6 0.0 -0.4 0.1
Total 640 .249 .294 .371 .290 -13.4 -2.9 -4.5 1.2

Pierzynski feels like a catcher you sign if you’re actively rebuilding, but you’re nervous to admit it. He’s a respected(?) veteran, so he helps keep a team from going full Astros. Pierzynski is not a great catcher, by big-league standards. That’s made plainly evident here. What I’ll say for him, though: The guy is 39 years old. He first became a starter at 24, and he simply won’t leave. In his first five years as a regular, he had a 97 wRC+. In his last five years as a regular, he’s had a 98 wRC+. He stays in the lineup and he doesn’t strike out. Pierzynski’s durability is one of those minor miracles, and while his reputation is his reputation and while he’s not going to finish with an incredible WAR, he’s wrapping up a hell of a career. Pierzynski ranks 11th all-time in catching appearances. He’s 43 games out of the top 10, and 153 games out of the top five. Would you really put it past him?

Flowers is, I think, a surprising 30 years old. Defensively, he can frame a pitch. Offensively, he is definitely right-handed. Flowers might be able to keep the Braves from hitting fewer than 100 home runs. This has been a paragraph about Tyler Flowers.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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8 years ago

Love these!

One of the most frustrating things about having R.A.Dickey is his need for a personal catcher, because man is Thole terrible. Looks like Jimenez is actualy finally healthy for the first time in years this spring too, and profiles well as a plus defense / not useless offense backup C – sure hope he skates through waivers somehow.

Danny Middaughmember
8 years ago
Reply to  Damaso

I would think Tony Sanchez is 3rd on the Jays depth chart. Not that it would change these projections much, if at all.

8 years ago
Reply to  Danny Middaugh

may well be, but iirc Sanchez’ defense is a bit of a disaster, and his bat doesn’t make up for it. He hasn’t been getting much playing time in spring so far.

8 years ago
Reply to  Damaso

If knuckleball catching skills had the same amount of variance as framing skills, maybe you could live with Thole’s bat if he was helping Dickey that much. I highly doubt that though. Especially for the Jays in 2016 specifically, now that Martin has at least some experience catching Dickey.