Braves: Ranking the Catchers of the NL East

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Welcome back to our segment on position player rankings of the National League East. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the rankings below.

Catcher is the most valuable defensive position, and there is more to it than the average fan notices — pitch framing and pop time, to name a few. Defense behind the plate is an article by itself. With that, these rankings may surprise you.

Travis d’Arnaud has become a fan-favorite in Braves Country in just one season, but some media outlets are not as bullish on him. This is primarily due to his sub-par defense. Despite a slash line of .321/.386/.533 with an OPS+ of 138 and an offensive WAR of 1.5 in 44 games, his overall WAR was only 0.8, solid for only 44 games, but not as elite as we may have thought by just looking at his offensive numbers.

Defensively last year, d’Arnaud posted -0.5 WAR, which is borderline terrible for such a small sample size. His past also shows us last season may have been an offensive anomaly. The five years before, d’Arnaud recorded an OPS+ of 97 and slash line of .258/.315/.426. If we look at his WAR per 162 games played over the last five years, he averages 1.15. He was on pace for 2.95 WAR in 2020, so fingers crossed last year was a breakout and not a fluke.

Yan Gomes is the man behind the plate for the Nationals. Oddly enough, he had as much WAR as d’Arnaud last year. Gomes is the opposite of d’Arnaud — excellent defensively but lacks offense. His OPS+ over the past five years is 81 with a slash line of .232/.294/.403. His defense has been outstanding, though, posting 4 dWAR in that same time span.

Jorge Alfaro is the starting catcher for the Marlins. He is a career 94 OPS+ hitter with a slash line of .262/.316/.416. Last year was well below average, though, recording an OPS+ of 70. Alfaro is decent but not great defensively, boasting a career dWAR of 0.4 in 304 games. 

J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies is the consensus best catcher in baseball. He is as fast as George Springer when it comes to sprint speeds. Pretty crazy, right? His career UBR is an insane 12.5, posting an UBR of 4 in 2019 alone. Over the last five years, he has recorded an OPS+ of 115 and a slash line of .282/.336/.466. Realmuto has not had a negative dWAR since his -0.1 mark in 2014. As far as DRS goes, he is a bit streaky. He has posted -4 DRS over the past five years. Realmuto does excel in an aesthetically pleasing aspect of defense — preventing stolen bases — saving 14 runs via rSB in his career. For reference, d’Arnaud has -16 rSB. Realmuto averages 5.76 WAR per 162 games played — insane.

Finally, we have James McCann of the Mets. For the past five years, he has recorded an 86 OPS+ with a slash line of .245/.301/.396. To be fair, like d’Arnaud, McCann seems to have taken strides forward because he has a much-improved 114 OPS+ with a .276/.334/.474 slash line over his last 149 games. His defense is good as well, posting a dWAR of 3.9 over the past five years and a DRS of 9 since 2019. McCann has averaged 2.2 WAR per 162 games played, but in 2020, he had 1.3 WAR in only 31 games. This pace would have equated to 6.79 WAR per 162 games played. Odds are, based on his history, he was in line for some regression.

For catchers, it is essential to factor in the entire body of work. Offensively, there is no doubt that Travis d’Arnaud is absolutely a stud. But, as we saw, he lags way behind the others on defense. Here are my rankings:

  1. Realmuto
  2. McCann
  3. d’Arnaud
  4. Gomes
  5. Alfaro

What are your rankings? Post in the comments.

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