FanPost

2010 NL East Fan Projections: Catchers

Introduction

This is part 3 in my review of FanGraphs' Fan Projections for NL East players.  In part 2, I reviewed the infielders.  In part 1, I reviewed the starting pitchers.  The Philies' infield projected to be the best, by about 4 wins, over the Mets' and Braves' infields.  The Braves' starting rotation projected to be about 2 games better than the Phillies'.  In this post, I will review the fan projections for NL East catchers. Obviously, that's a smaller group of players, so this should be a shorter post than the first 2. 

If you're reading this, you no doubt already know which NL East team is projected to get the most value from its catchers.  What you may not know is who is projected to have the 2nd-best catchers, or how far behind the top team the 2nd-best team is.  So, without further ado, let's get into it.

The Best Catchers in the NL East Will Be (Oh, Who Am I Kidding, You Know Who)...

I looked at the fan projections for each team's top 2 catchers.  This was a straightforward process for all the teams except the Mets, who have 5 catchers with a chance of making the team, none of whom is really all that good.  For the Mets, I used the top 2 projected catchers in terms of WAR, just to be charitable, even though they will almost certainly use catchers with lower projections.  For more on the methodology, check out the previous post on infielders.

So, who has the best catchers in the division?  I summed up all the projected WAR values from each team's top 2 catchers, and these are the results:

4419436349_ae257dd715_o_medium

It is obviously not surprising that the Braves (thanks to Brian McCann) come out on top.  It also might not be surprising that the Braves hold a 3-win advantage over any other team in the division.  The one thing that surprised me was how well the Marlins' catchers were projected.  Neither John Baker nor Ronny Paulino is a star, but they're both pretty decent hitters (for catchers, anyway).  The Phillies come in third; they have a good starter but a terrible backup.  The Nationals might have rated higher had they not signed Pudge Rodriguez, who will take away playing time from Jesus Flores.  Not that Flores is that great, but Pudge is no longer capable of being even a mediocre hitter. As for the Mets... well, they're a mess, as usual.

Here's a fun comparison: the 5.4 WAR player in the Braves' column is Brian McCann.  The 0.5 WAR player in the Phillies' column is Brian Schneider.

I will reiterate my warning from the last post: a lot can change during the season, between injuries, trades, surprise performances, and call-ups.  This is not a prediction; it is only a projection based on how things look right now. Though I will say that I cannot imagine any other NL East team beating the Braves in catchers' WAR this year, barring a catastrophe.

Below, I examine the projections for each team in more detail.  

Team-by-Team Projections

I broke down each catcher using the same stats that I used in the infielders post: # of votes, PA, AVG, OBP, SLG, BB%, K%, HR, SB, UZR, and WAR.

A few caveats:

  • Remember, there's a lot of wiggle room in these numbers, since they aren't, y'know, real.
  • Don't pay much attention to the UZR numbers, since UZR does not (at least not yet) measure catcher defense. Think of them as just a simple gauge of how good the fans' think a player's defense is, not a true measure of the value of their glove.
  • WAR depends largely on playing time, so check each player's PAs if you think their WAR is a bit low. If that player stays healthier than the fans project, or gets more playing time, he will eclipse his WAR projection even if he doesn't play any better.  
  • Also, you should keep in mind that the projections with fewer votes are more likely to be outliers than those with more votes, so if a player has fewer than 15 votes, take his projections with a grain of salt.

As with last week, we'll go in alphabetical order by location, starting with the Braves.

Atlanta Braves

  Player Votes PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% HR SB UZR WAR
Starter Brian McCann 102 579 .298 .370 .512 10.0% 15.0% 24 4 0.7 5.4
Backup David Ross   17 206 .253 .356 .444 13.6% 28.7%   8 0 0.6 1.5

The rate stat projections for both guys seem reasonable.  I could certainly see either doing a bit better or a bit worse, but those are good middle grounds.  One qualm I have with these numbers is that the combined number of PAs seems highly unlikely (unless Bobby starts using his backup catchers to pinch-hit more often).  i'd knock probably 50 PAs off of the total projection (let's say 25 each).  That'd lower the Braves' total catcher WAR from 6.9 to maybe 6.5. That is still excellent, of course.

The UZR numbers are a bit odd, as neither of these guys has a very good defensive reputation.  I would think that McCann, at least, would be projected for below-average defense, though he certainly could be average or better.  I guess what I'm saying is that I'd subtract a little bit from McCann's projected value based on the likelihood that his defense is a bit below average.

One final point about the Braves' catchers.  Even if (God forbid) McCann were to be out for a while, David Ross is a good replacement.  In fact, he is the 2nd best catcher in the division.  That 2-year deal we signed him to was just a steal.  Ross could start for probably 20 teams.  It is quite the luxury to have him as our backup.  

I combined the projections from the Braves' 2 catchers and compared those numbers to the projected league-average numbers.  The graph below gives you a sense of how the Braves compare to the averages in 5 categories: batting average (AVG), isolated power (ISO; slugging minus batting average), walk rate (BB%), strikeout rate (K%), and UZR Above Brad Hawpe (for more on what that is, see the previous post on infielders).   Here's the graph:

4420202886_6041220abd_o_medium

I think this graph should be titled "Domination" and exhibited in an art gallery.  McCann and Ross both hit for phenomenal power and have good walk rates.  McCann also has an excellent average and a good K rate.  Combine that with average defense and you've got some great production.  And keep in mind that these league averages are for all hitters, not just for catchers.  When compared to the average catcher, McCann and Ross are almost superhuman.

Florida Marlins

  Player Votes PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% HR SB UZR WAR
Starter John Baker 22 437 .278 .357 .408 10.3% 21.9% 9 0  1.6 2.5
Backup Ronny Paulino 15 305 .269 .329 .412   8.5% 21.5% 8 1 -0.8 1.5

Both the Marlins' catchers are pretty decent, apparently.  I hadn't really noticed before; maybe it's the fact that they split time that makes it hard to tell they're good.  Baker is projected to get on base well, and both project to have decent power (for a catcher, anyway).  Most teams would take 4.0 combined WAR from their catchers in a heartbeat.

Here's the Marlins' graph:

4420202936_94d5b509a5_o_medium

This is a fairly average graph for a catcher tandem, as catchers by and large hit for less power than other players and strike out a bit more.  The one place the Marlins stand out is in walk rate; most catchers have below average walk rates, so for them to be at +3% is pretty good.  I'm starting to think John Baker is one of the more underrated players in the division.

New York Mets

  Player Votes PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% HR SB UZR WAR
Starter Josh Thole 15 294 .292 .358 .397 9.2% 10.5%   3 5 -2.6 1.3
Backup Henry Blanco   8 295 .243 .301 .342 7.8% 21.3%   5 1  2.8 0.9
Other Omir Santos 18 308 .252 .292 .361 4.5% 18.4%   6 1  2.0 0.8
Other Chris Coste   9 254 .249 .312 .350 6.7% 21.1%   4 0 -0.7 0.6
Other Rod Barajas 35 415 .236 .271 .374 4.1% 17.3% 12 0  0.4 0.6

Omar, Omar, Omar.  What were you doing this offseason?  To recap: the Mets let Brian Schneider go (understandable), leaving them with a depth chart of Omir Santos and Josh Thole.  Now, Santos is not very good and Thole might not be ready for the majors, so I can understand trying to sign another catcher to split time with Santos. Only, this year's catcher market in free agency was just awful, and Omar tried to sign pretty much every guy available. Omar started off by chasing the mediocre Bengie Molina, then when that didn't work he went with the Blanco-Coste-Barajas puu puu platter instead.  The funniest part is that Barajas--who is probably the worst of these 5 guys--will likely get the most playing time, and Thole--who despite his lack of power is probably the best of the 5--will likely spend all year in the minors.  Bravo!  The Mets are just hilarious.

Regardless of which of these guys makes the team, the Mets are not likely to get even adequate production from their catchers.  Barajas and Santos just don't walk enough, and nobody but Barajas has even below-average power.  What a horrorshow.

One other fun tidbit: Brian McCann is projected to be worth 1.2 more WAR than all 5 of the Mets' catchers combined.

Now for the Mets'  graph:

4420202986_2ec849fce6_o_medium

That terrible ISO is due mainly to Thole.  If you replaced Thole's PAs with those of Barajas, for instance, that ISO would go up--though it'd still be below average.  The only problem is that Barajas is not nearly as good as Thole in BB%, K%, or AVG.  And if you ignore ISO, Thole is actually projected to have a higher overall SLG than Barajas, thanks to his higher AVG.  In other words, the Mets have no good choice, but Thole is the best available one.

Philadelphia Phillies

  Player Votes PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% HR SB UZR WAR
Starter Carlos Ruiz 41 422 .257 .355 .401 12.6% 12.2% 9 5 2.5 2.6
Backup Brian Schneider 15 284 .237 .310 .335   9.5% 12.8% 4 0 0.6 0.5

I don't have much to say here.  Ruiz is pretty decent all around, though he doesn't knock your socks off in any area except plate discipline (and maybe defense).  And, Schneider, well... His walk rate is decent and his K rate is quite good.  Unfortunately, he hits for no average or power, so he's below average even by backup standards.  Of course, maybe he was the best backup available after the Mets signed all the other catchers on the market.

Here's the Phillies' graph:

4420203034_162edc7fcf_o_medium

The Phillies' catchers have the best combined plate discipline in the division, and probably the best defense, but those benefits are largely canceled out by their poor average and lack of power.

Washington Nationals

Finally, the Nats.

  Player Votes PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% HR SB UZR WAR
Starter Jesus Flores   17 378 .273 .334 .434 7.9% 26.1% 11 0  1.4 2.1
Backup Ivan Rodriguez 138 376 .249 .282 .366 4.0% 19.9%   7 2 -0.1 0.7

Flores is pretty much exactly an average catcher in every way.  Pudge, well... he used to be great!  Now, he's kind of like a poor man's Frenchy.  Rodriguez's only asset is the ability to play catcher, though his defense is nowhere near what it once was.  If the Nats were smart, they'd give Flores the lion's share of PAs and restrict Pudge to 1-2 games per week.  Pudge may have clubhouse value, but there is just no reason to play him over Flores.

Here's the Nats'  graph: 

4420203090_8dec4bfa40_o_medium

Ouch.  That is ugly, especially the walk rate.  Let's just move on.

Wrap-up

The fans at FanGraphs agree that the Braves easily have the best catchers in the division.  This is probably the team's greatest strength.  The rest of the division is mostly full of decent catchers whom nobody would predict to make an all-star team.  That gives the Braves a huge leg up on the other teams, and helps mitigate some of the team's weaknesses in other areas.

To see how huge, here are the WAR standings when you combine the figures from the starting pitchers, infielders, and catchers:

Team SP IF C Total
Braves 18.3 15.8 6.9 41.0 WAR
Phillies 16.2 19.8 3.1 39.1 WAR
Marlins 15.5 14.6 4.0 35.1 WAR
Mets 14.0 16.4 2.2 32.6 WAR
Nationals   9.7 14.1 2.8 26.6 WAR

Don't get too excited by these standings just yet, Braves fans.  The Phillies' outfield is going to project much higher than the Braves'.  But on paper, anyway, it looks like it will be a close battle between the Braves and Phillies for the division title.

Thanks for reading, everyone, as usual.  What do you think about the catchers in the NL East?  Who's the 2nd best behind McCann?  Which 2 of the 5 should the Mets choose?  Who have the fans under- or over-rated?  Just how much better is Brian Schneider's defense than Brian McCann's?

This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Talking Chop.

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