The Braves didn’t end up with JT Realmuto. Actually, 29 teams didn’t end up with him. Instead, we have Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers. And depending on which incarnation of the two we get, we could either have a very solid catching unit… or one of the worst.
In evaluating our catchers, it’s important to remember that there’s not a lot of good hitting catching in the league. In fact, as a position, only 5 teams boasted an above league average wRC+ last year. There were only 10 catchers in the league with at least 350 PAs (not exactly a lofty criteria for being around) that had an above average wRC+ compared to 24 third basemen, 22 first basemen, 14 shortstops, and 18 second basemen. You’d have almost a three to one shot in finding an average-hitting left fielder as there were 28 who did that last year.
So, like I said, it depends on which one you’re getting. From 2015-2017, McCann’s age 31-33 seasons, he averaged a .754 OPS and 21 home runs. Last year, he had a .640 OPS, spending 2 different stints on the DL and playing in 63 games, the least of his career.
There’s nothing wrong with what he’s signed for ($2M) as that’s just a hair more than they’ll pay guys like Dan Winkler, Sam Freeman, and Charlie Culberson this year. What’s wrong with the signing is whether he can be a capable replacement of Kurt Suzuki, who was actually one of the more valuable catchers in the game last year. McCann will be 35 this year, so while he will undoubtedly never be a 400+ PAs starting catcher, the Braves clearly think he can handle 300 productive PAs hitting exclusively against RHPs. Remember, after largely playing with catching tandems this decade, this is the first time we have a true lefty/righty platoon since McCann left in 2012.
After his first couple seasons in Atlanta saw him become a productive catchers for the first time in his career (.801 OPS across 601 PAs in those years), his .700 OPS last year resembled his career performance to date. So he’s a pretty hard player to evaluate; is he the player he was in the first two years of Atlanta, or is he the guy he was last year and the first 5 years of his career?
We all know that catchers bloom later than other positions, so when Flowers did his thing in his first two years here, it was a sign that his bat finally woke up. But I believe others who have said he was a little unlucky this past year; he posted one of the worst full-season BABIPs of his career. After roping balls in play to .366 and .342 clips in 2016 and 2017, it fell precipitously to .292 this past year. For what it’s worth, all of the projection sites see him rebounding to a difference between last year and the two previous years. That seems fair, and if he does, you’ll see a slightly above-average season, something closer to the 2 WAR he produced than the around 1 WAR he produced last year.
Uhh, no one. Ok, alright, we have two other catchers on our 40-man. We have Alex Jackson, who will only see the roster if both catchers miss extended time. But then there’s Raffy Lopez, who will be your 3rd-catcher-on-the-40-man type that guys like Anthony Recker and Chris Stewart have occupied in recent years. Assuming no other moves, he will cover an injury should one occur.