Thursday, March 4, 2010

NL East Catching

Ok, I'll admit it... I've been slacking off a bit, and haven't posted since the end of January. What happened in the mean time? Nothing much, aside from a million inches of snow. Approimately.

In any event, Spring Training is in full swing and games are being played, which is far more interesting than potential arbitration cases or a stadium getting a new coporate name.

Between now and the start of the season I want to provide at least a thumbnail for each team, but I want to jump a bit deeper into each aspect of the division I follow most closely, the National League East. I'll rate each player offensively and defensively against others at their position (so a highly rated offensive catcher isn't compared to a highly rated offensive left fielder), with a five being Ted Williams (bat) or Ozzie Smith (glove), and one being Eric Bruntlett (bat) or Dan Uggla (glove). I guess you know what I'll be giving Uggla in the field when I get to second basemen. Oh well. Today I'll start with the division's catchers...

Atlanta Braves- Brian McCann and David Ross (backup)

The Braves boast the best all around catcher in the NL East in Brian McCann, an NL All-Star each of the past four seasons. He is far and away the most productive offensive catcher in the division, and he doesn't kill you defensively, although 12 errors last season are more than you want to see from your catcher. McCann's biggest problem might be that he's too important to the Braves offensively, and therefore has to play too much. Even with that, McCann has showed himself to be very durable, and another season of hitting around .300 while playing 135 games would surprise absolutely no one. Ross is the quintessential journeyman backup catcher, boasting a career batting average of .228, but throwing out 40% of attempted base stealers in his career, which is a good thing in a division where great base stealers live. Ross actually hit .273 with seven home runs and struck out 39 times in 128 at bats in 2009, which suggests that when he played, he was swinging for the fences. McCann turns 26 this year and Ross 33, so a similar performance from last year is anticipated

Offense- McCann- 5, Ross- 1... McCann is probably the best offensive catcher in baseball... Ross isn't
Defense- McCann- 2, Ross- 4... Clean it up back there, Brian... You had 4x as many errors as Carlos Ruiz

Florida Marlins- Josh Baker and Ronny Paulino (backup)

Baker, in his second season in the show, almost doubled his playing time and rewarded Freddy Gonzalez by hitting .271 and providing stability for the Fish behind the plate. The A's fourth round pick in 2002 garnered several mentions in Moneyball, but has turned into a solid pro for the even more cost-conscious Marlins. Baker is a big kid who threw out 20% of attempted base stealers last year, but I think he's better than that at controlling the running game because the Marlins almost always have young pitchers (and power arm Josh Johnson), and young pitchers (and power arms like Josh Johnson) usually stink at holding runners. Baker is a big guy, but if Baker is big, Paulino is fat. He appeared in 80 games in '09, and actually did a good job for a guy that was traded twice in spring training. He threw out 31% of would be base stealers, and didn't embarrass himself at the plate, hitting .272. Paulino is what he is at this point, but I think Baker improves his overall game moderately, but enough to take notice.

Offense- Baker- 2.5 and rising, Paulino- 2.5 and steady... seeing pitchers he knows can only help Baker
Defense- Baker- 2 and rising, Paulino- 2.5 and fat... Baker needs to get better throwing out runners

New York Mets- Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, Omir Santos (backups)

Maybe the Mets carry three catchers. Maybe they don't. The unifying theme for all four of these guys is that they can't play. You can also draw three-way themes of rotund (Barajas, Blanco and Santos) or old (Barajas, Blanco and Coste). Barajas will get the majority of the playing time, and has shown himself to be a below average hitter who will hit 15-20 out of the park. However, I'm skeptical he'll do this in the Mets' cavernous Citi Field. Numbers suggest that he's a decent defensive player, but his refusal to get dirty and take a hit for the Phillies in 2007 in a play at the plate is forever etched in my memory. Having said that, when Barajas doesn't play, the Mets will be drawing absolutely dead in the catcher's spot offensively, although Blanco has a well-earned reputation as a good receiver.

Offense- Barajas- 2, backups- 0.5... Barajas gets a two on power... the rest aren't hitters
Defense- Barajas- 2.5, backups- 3.5... backup score driven completely by Blanco

Philadelphia Phillies- Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider (backup)

Ruiz is a bit of a late-bloomer, having transitioned behind the plate while already in professional ball, and now enters his fourth full season in the bigs. A great handler of pitches in the dirt, Ruiz continues to improve behind the plate and with the bat. He hit .255 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 2009, and in the lineup he's in, he's the perfect eight-hole hitter. Landing Schneider as the backup is a bit of a coup for the Phillies, as he probably could start for several teams, and he always hurts the Phillies offensively. His value is in his glove, and his defense and even his modest hitting ability are significant upgrades over last year's backup, Paul Bako.

Offense- Ruiz- 2.5, Schneider- 1.5... unless it's the playoffs, in which case Ruiz becomes a 4.5
Defense- Ruiz- 3.5, Schneider- 3.5... Not great at throwing out runners, but stop everything near them

Washington Nationals- Ivan Rodriguez and Jesus Flores (backup)

In a step towards respectability after a 103-loss season that saw the Nats dispatch Manager Manny Acta, Washington signed legendary, if not aging, Pudge Rodriguez to backstop their club. It can be argued that Pudge is the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history, but in 2010 he's hardly at his peak. Despite this being his 20th season in the bigs, Pudge is still only 38 years old and comes off a decent 2009 campaign that saw him catch 115 games. The offensive numbers are down and now reside in the range of a normal catcher, but Pudge's arm is still as good as anyone, and he threw out 35% of base stealers last season. I really like Flores' potential, a catcher the Nats snagged from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2007 season. He has shown a bit of promise with both the glove and the stick, and at 25, has much room to grow into an excellent everyday catcher, particularly if he pays attention to anything he can learn from Rodriguez.

Offense- Rodriguez-2, Flores- 3... If it's five years ago or five years from now, both numbers could be much higher
Defense- Rodriguez- 4.5, Flores-3.5... Pudge's only down mark is his age... Flores could benefit greatly from Rodriguez' presence

NL East Catching Wrap Up

Best Catcher- Brian McCann
Best Team Depth- Phillies
Best Offensively- Brian McCann
Best Defensively- Ivan Rodriguez
Worst Offensively- Any one for the Mets not named Barajas
Worst Defensively- Ronny Paulino
Worst Team Depth- Mets
Best At Blocking Balls in the Dirt- Carlos Ruiz
Best Arm- Ivan Rodriguez
Best Fit on His Team- Carlos Ruiz
Best In Five Years- Jesus Flores
Best Backup- Brian Schneider

Up next... First basemen...

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