Mar 3, 2014; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward (22) warms up before the spring training exhibition game against the New York Mets at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves vs. the NL East: Catchers


Mar 2, 2014; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (58) talks to relief pitcher Cory Gearrin (53) during the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to continue our series ranking the position players in the National League’s Eastern Division with what could be the most difficult comp:  the catching position.  And frankly it’s difficult because of two reasons:

  • Not a long track record for a number of the players involved
  • A very wide range of possible performance outcomes

I’ve spent a lot of time this off-season looking at the Braves’ Catchers:  here, here, and here.  Oh, and even here.  But despite that, I have to say that while the Braves are hopeful that their bountiful band of backstops can bash the baseball without bobbling too many of them, it’s going to honestly be something of a craps shoot once April begins, for Evan Gattis has never caught 100 games in a season.

So with that as a backdrop, let’s check out the competition:

NLEastCatchers1

For simplicity, “third” catchers have been left off the list, since they are not expected to see a lot of playing time anyway.  So let’s see what one should expect in terms of basic production in 2014.

 

Offense

NLEastCatchers2

The explanations:

  • Yes, Evan Gattis will be better than 0.9 fWAR (2013) this year.  No, the combined might of he and Gerald Laird (0.9) will not make up for the loss of Brian McCann‘s 2.7 fWAR.  Thus I believe that Atlanta’s catching production will be less than the 4.5 fWAR of that trio from 2013.
  • Personally, I’ve never been high on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, other than in picking on his name.  I believe he played above his pay grade last year in Boston, and almost certainly will regress somewhat – on top of playing in 121 games for 2 straight years – his career high.  At least he’ll be indoors in Miami – that alone is probably worth an extra 1.0 fWAR during a sweltering Florida summer.  But despite all that, the Marlins’ catchers should easily outstrip last year’s negative-WAR production.
  • Travis d’Arnaud has no place to go but up.  But it’s hard to say whether he’ll stay the primary guy if he struggles this year.  Anthony Recker could end up splitting the time equally with him.  Interesting that this is the only pair of catchers in the division to ‘repeat’ with their team this year.
  • Which Carlos Ruiz will show up this year?  Well, since he missed a bunch of games in 2013 (suspension), he’ll likely have more production, but will it be the 1.4 fWAR of 2013, or the (juiced-up) 5.2 fWAR from 2012?  I’m guessing a little more than 2013, but not strongly so – same for the total team production.
  • With Brian McCann gone, Washington’s catchers are now the class of the division – easily.  Wilson Ramos pulled 1.8 fWAR in just half the schedule last year, and Jose Lobaton matched that over 100 games for Tampa Bay.  That was a solid pickup for them.

 

Defense

I had previously projected that the Braves catchers would be – overall – somewhat worse than the average (Gattis slightly better; Laird… not great).  This could be further complicated if Laird’s back continues to bother him as it did a couple of days ago, as Ryan Doumit is even worse behind the plate.  In all honesty, if Laird can’t go, then Christian Bethancourt should be called upon to fill in for him, since he will most certainly make the defense better.  So this will come down to the amount of playing time that Laird gets, but the best scenario would be if Bethancourt gets called up.

Otherwise, there’s a surprise here:  the Marlins actually have the best fielding catchers – despite Salty’s throw at third base in the World Series.  Both he and Jeff Mathis are more than capable – and are definitely the best in the league.

Next up are the Nationals:  both Ramos and Lobaton are also better than average – close to the Marlins’ duo, but just a notch behind.

For Philly, Ruiz is a solid defender as well, while backup Wil Nieves is roughly average.  In New York, neither catcher is a standout on the field, but they aren’t butchers either.

 

Overall Catching Rankings

NLEastCatchers3

The Nationals win this battle again.  Yes, the Braves catchers could do better.  Ditto for the Phillies; possibly also the Marlins.  I gave the nod to the Phillies over Atlanta due to defense:  though I weighed defense half as much as offense, the offensive projections (guesses, really) for those two teams came out almost too close to call anyway.  Playing time will make a big difference here, though.  And that’s the problem in ranking this position – too much potential for variables to kick in and mess with the process.  Then again, we don’t play the game on paper, now, do we?

A couple of things for sure, though:

  • The Mets have some work to do:  there’s no way to project their catchers as anything higher than 5th on this list.
  • The Nationals have the fewest question marks

 

A few Superlatives:

  • Best Overall Catcher:  Again, tough to call:  I’ll go with Ramos, then Ruiz, Lobaton, Salty, and Gattis.  Can’t argue too much if someone would like to shuffle these names in any order.
  • Worst Overall Catcher:  Jeff Matthis, due to lack of offense, though either of the Mets’ players could do just as poorly.
  • Ones to Watch:  Ramos, d’Arnaud, Saltalamacchia, and Gattis.  Their production will be key for their respective teams.

 

We’ll continue with this series in the days to come.  In the meantime, I’d like to encourage your responses.

 

Tags: Atlanta Braves Catchers

  • Ryan Cothran

    Call me blindly stubborn, a homer, or just an optimist, but I have much more faith in Gattis than being the 5th best defensive catcher in the NL East. Last year, albeit a small sample, Gattis showed a good arm, an above-average ability to frame pitches (in his first season as a catcher with supposedly poor defense, that’s great news!) and obviously an above-average bat for a catcher. His one weakness was the ability, or lack thereof, for blocking balls in the dirt, but even baseball prospectus says he was slightly above the average in this skill. In fact, digesting the data, here’s how the NL East catchers rank (top 5) in TRR (total receiving runs which calculates extra strikes, framing runs, wild pitch saves, blocking runs):
    Mathis: 12.1 TRR
    Lobaton: 8.8 TRR
    Saltalamacchia: 6.2 TRR
    Gattis: 4.0 TRR
    Ramos: 3.5 TRR
    Now, considering all of these catchers caught at least twice the amount of innings as Gattis last year, there’s no real reason to believe (yet) that Gattis can’t be just as good defensively as the average NL East catcher. Only time will tell, but I think Gattis will top the WAR list for catchers in the NL East this year and for the next 2-3 years to come. I’m expecting a 4 WAR year for Gattis.
    Now Gerald Laird…bleck.

    • amorelle

      I agree with you about Gattis. Last year he was touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread and, *I* believe, a huge reason why the Braves let McCann go – which I’ll never forgive them for. But I’m completely willing to transfer my feelings to Gattis and have no reason to expect that he’ll do poorly, not even more poorly than ANYONE.
      We had our chance with Salty and traded him away – time will tell whether THAT was a good move or not.

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      If it were ONLY Gattis, then yes – the defensive rating for the TEAM would be higher. Unfortunately, every inning he doesn’t catch works against Atlanta in that regard since Laird and Doumit are among the worst in the league… or baseball.

      • fireboss

        Gattis is going to catch more than even he suspects this year. His bat is going to make him impossible to take out. I know they plan 100 games but Gattis doesn’t need 50% of the year off and we certainly don’t need him in the outfield.

  • Jeff Schafer

    I think Ramos will have a big year, if his injury didn’t come he would of had a solid year in 2013. With the Nats lineup, he may receive a few fastballs

  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    Reading other comments below, pre-comment of my own :) lol. Gattis might be ranked higher than 3rd in terms of his potential, both with the bat, and perhaps with the glove, but he’s a little shaky with the glove at times, and thus I wouldn’t have given him more than a 3 at this particular point either. He could jump up to a divisional positional comparison of #1 by 2015, but for now, I’d be prone to give the nod to Ramos as well.

    Despite struggling with injuries, the baseball gods gave Ramos a true catcher’s build, and gave him some pretty good defensive capabilities to boot. In terms of hitting, he has some “iffy” plate discipline, but is still able to generate 20-25 homers, which is not bad. I’d also see him with a near .800 possible OPS. I find it hard, personally, to argue with Alan on this one. Wow, huh?

    Oh, and btw… I’ve linked your two pieces in our topbar/hot stove Alan.

  • fireboss

    To be clear, Ruiz’ suspension was for amphetamine use in a cold medicine that he failed to get permission for before using. It wasn’t a PED. His issue like almost all of the Philly starters is age; how many games he can catch at 35. His bat will still I think be solid, he was never a big power guy rather he produced timely hits.

    I actually think Gattis and Laird can come close to the 2.7 if Laird stays healthy. Most catcher WAR is about the bat and he will hit. Mac put together a .250/.336/.461/.796 line with 20 homers and 13 doubles. Gattis was .249/.291/.480/.771 with 21 homer and 21 doubles. I expect his on base to go up a bit and more homers to come as well. Defensively i suspect he spent the winter trying to become a better catcher rather than in a new part time job so I’m hoping to see improvement there as well.he could easily be a 1.8-2.0 war guy if he does that.

    Salty is a league average catcher better at blocking balls because he’s had more practice but I’m not overly impressed with his defense. He had one season throwing out 30%, one at just over 20 and the rest in the teens. The NL East will run wild on him. They will run on Gattis too bet he has by far the better arm and he has a staff that holds runners better than the fish. Mathis won;t get many starts unless Salty gets hurt and since his value is defense his contribution is minimized.
    Ramos is pick of the litter here then Ruiz, Marginally Salty then Gattis. D’Arnaud will have to hit his weight to be useful.

  • fireboss

    If they let Doumit hold a glove long enough to qualify he could put up a 1 oWar he’ll probably loose it on the dWar side though

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    (* finishing the sentence somehow cut off above:) …high enough to just bump them up to that 2nd ranking.