Player Previews – The Catchers

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. 

Brian McCann

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. 

Tyler Flowers

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. 

Who Else?

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.

94 thoughts on “Player Previews – The Catchers”

  1. Thanks coop. I got pretty buzzed on a weeknight and wrote 2 of 3 these. It’s certainly not going to win a Pulitzer, but I’m pretty happy with the result under the circumstances. There were many typos, but I think they’ve been all revised.

  2. As a point of note, the small sample size hitting in Spring Training from Williams Contreras and Alex Jackson has been encouraging. I would think that if Contreras is 1) remotely close to as good as his brother Willson and 2) is as good as the Braves seem to think he is, we’re going to start hearing a lot about him this year. I know he’s near the top of my list for autographs as my geographical constraints require me to have a pretty good idea of who’s going to be a player when they pass through my town as far down the system as A+.

    And for the love of goodness, if Alex Jackson has magically learned how to hit and he’s around the “passable” mark defensively, then you’re looking at a September callup with him. More likely, he accidentally hit a ball hard and fair yesterday.

  3. And I would just like to complain about Bowman again. Why rail against Jackson saying he’s not a prospect anymore? Of course he’s a freaking prospect. There’s 6-7 catchers on any one top 100 prospect lists at any one time. There’s like 12 shortstops at all times. And he’s 23 years old, which means he could very well be on the 40-man for a few years before we just simply gave up on him.

    I’m just going to choose to make February 27, 2019 as the day I like the catching in our system, which hasn’t been the case for a long time.

  4. Rob @ 4,

    I have only seen Jackson once in person. And I am not an expert.

    But, I think a 45 hit / 60 game power for him is probably a 75 percentile outcome for him. Something like 40 / 55 is probably a 50 percentile outcome. And even at that, if he is average at defense, he is playable as a primary catcher.

    Average at defense is probably a 75 percentile outcome also. So, he is a reach, just not an impossibility.

  5. Boy, would I take, on the aggregate, a 50/75 percentile outcome on the, according to Bowman, the 20-30 “prospects” ahead of him in the system. That would be one of the best rebuild jobs in recent history, and Chief Nocahoma’s head would literally explode.

  6. Brian McCann is made almost entirely out of gummie bears and Jell-O pudding pops. The only portion of his physical being to not consist of some admixture of these two things is his spine, which is made out of the pupping pop’s stick.

    #whatwelostinthefire

  7. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    ::takes breath::

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    ::weezes::

    Hooo… hooo… hoo.

  8. @5 I agree, the Braves have some solid Catchers! I like it. At the ML level, McCann and Flowers are two dependable veterans. If one of them was being asked to carry the load alone, I’d be concerned about them breaking down; but as a tandem, they’re going to do fine, I think. McCann can still hit RHP, and Flowers is good enough with the bat to be a solid hitter against LHP. I believe both will be better than last season.

    I also don’t understand why Bowman would knock Jackson!? There’s so much involved with being a Catcher, and he’s quick to forget that this dude lost 3 seasons of development time there because the M’s moved him to the OF. He’s got plenty of time to mature into a dependable ML backstop yet, though.

    As far as his bat goes, if he develops the power, maybe he could grow into a Catcher in the mold of Mike Zunino. That wouldn’t be a horrible outcome at all.

  9. It’s way too early to give up on Alex Jackson. Good thing AA seems to think that too since he added him to the 40 man.

  10. Will the Phillies waste money on a closer they don’t need (they already signed one earlier this offseason), or will they save up for Trout?

  11. Rob at 7,

    You realize that the higher of those is like 1 in 16 and the lower like 2 out of 8. At least, that is the way I intended it.

    And I would say he has that 25 to 30 percent chance to be better than almost all of the 10 through 30 crowd. But, I doubt he is better than any of the others except for any pitchers who almost totally blow their arms out.

  12. Sorry, I should have paid attention in Probability and Stats. In my mind, I was taking all of the percentile likelihoods and basically saying that he’s got a 25% chance of being an above average catcher, which is what a 45 hit, 60 game power, average at defense catcher would be. And if that happened early enough in his arb cycle that you were getting all that for cheap, I would be ecstatic to have our supposedly “better” prospects pan out with any degree of a higher likelihood. Of course, you were not meaning a 25% chance, but much lower.

    But I would consider Alex Jackson to be a better prospect based on his upside relative to his age and level of competition than guys that Sickels likes like #17 Greyson Jenista (21 year old college pick who didn’t hit A+ pitching last year) or #20 Huscar Ynoa (international free agent, now age 20, who hasn’t gotten hitters out above A-).

    https://www.minorleagueball.com/2018/10/29/18040366/atlanta-braves-top-20-prospects-2019

    When it comes to having a catcher who’s not completely embarrassed himself and is in AAA at age 23, then I’m leaving him at AAA until he either becomes a big leaguer or retire. It’s like how salesman say they’ll keep calling you “until you buy or die.”

  13. Let’s at least see Jackson this year. If one has the thought of giving him a break on working harder on his defense and having his hitting plunge last year then he might turn it around this year. That kind of performance was exactly why the Mariners gave up on him and the Braves pushed him back to catcher from the OF. It’s possible his great hitting was from being relieved at not being an OF and his more recent poor hitting comes from working on defense. I get the feeling he’s not much of a multi-tasker.

    Also, give Flowers a shot at being an .800 OPS guy again. Remember that his worst stats came at the beginning of the year when he started injured. If he can start healthy this year then the .800 (or at least .750) might still be there.

    Also, some hitters of McCann’s history have a “one last hurrah” year with outstanding performance in a vastly reduced role. He could shock us much like Markakis did last year. Suzuki was good for us but he was all hit no defense. I hope McCann is reliable for better defense and “cross your fingers” hitting.

  14. https://www.mlb.com/braves/news/johan-camargo-showing-his-versatility

    “He has the ability, as we’ve seen, because that was his job a couple of years ago when we first brought him up, was to move him around,” Snitker said. “Now he’s back to doing that, and I’m going to get him some reps in the outfield this spring. He’s done a lot of outfield [work in camp], but I haven’t gotten him in a game yet.”

    Snit didn’t specifically say that Camargo will be in the lineup close to every day, which was slightly disappointing. I would have to think that if Camargo is passable in the outfield, and Ender still isn’t hitting lefties, then they may be in a creative platoon.

  15. Mike Petriello, taking into consideration his advanced stats, ranked Flowers the 8th-best catcher in the game. FWIW.

  16. It’s good to be reminded our catching isn’t much worse that most others. I’d rather have an advantage, but maybe it won’t be so much of a disadvantage anyway.

  17. At least it’s not hand, foot, and mouth disease or whatever Thor had.

  18. @25/26

    undercooked chicken
    please first allow the sauce to thicken
    you are only a Met
    but brown not green is the ideal get.

    Dear Peter Moylan, Good on yer mate.. The Jolly Swagman. Tie my kangaroo down, sport.
    Waltz with Matilda, wait till your billy boils. Under the kookaburra tree. Don’t lose that smile.

  19. @26 Peter Moylan – one of the best stories and guys since I started following baseball.

    Career Stats: 24-10, 3.10 ERA, 324 SO, 418 IP in 499 appearances.
    According to The Athletic, he’ll play some baseball in Italy this summer (of course he will) and compete for the Australian Olympic team.

    I think he was the first and probably only baseball player I ever followed on Twitter.

    That’s one guy I’ll miss. Thank you, Peter!

  20. Roger @29, there were only six teams in all of baseball that had 3 WAR from catcher last year. The Braves were one of them, then replaced Suzuki with McCann.

    Fangraphs stats: Team WAR at catcher

    (The year before, the Braves led baseball with 4.9 WAR from catchers; the year before that, they were 22nd in baseball with 1.0 WAR.)

    My point is, I think this target is going to be a lot harder to reach than you think it is. Getting 3 WAR from catcher would mean that we have better production than at least two-thirds of the teams in baseball, from 33-year-old Tyler Flowers and 35-year-old Brian McCann. Why do you feel that is a realistic target?

  21. Once, while taking batting practice, McCann accidentally touched a bag of Big League Chew next to the cage. The next batter to hit that day was Jason Heyward, who took a big wad of the gum before stepping in. This is what happened to Jason Heyward’s talent.

    #thingswelostinthefire

  22. There’s a nice piece on McCann in the Athletic this morning. (I signed up to read the AA/ McGuirk article and I’ve enjoyed it so far.)

  23. Liberty has released 2018 year end earnings. Braves revenue from baseball up 9 %. Revenue on Battery up 38 million. Debt down from 626 mill to 475 mill.

    All in all, a pretty good year, financially.

  24. And, that makes ML payroll about 27% of the 404 mill in baseball operating revenue. They are paying a good bit of interest, but still, they seem to be way under the usual (and low) player revenue numbers.

    Also, since Liberty is required legally to report and report accurately and since inaccurate reporting is subject to fines and criminal penalties, you figure that might be fairly accurate.

    Also, this will probably push the other owners to push Liberty to sell. They don’t want any publicly traded owners releasing info that undermines their position.

  25. @36, I was just really surprised that most of the shop spaces were still empty at The Battery last summer.
    Also, it looked like they had stopped to continue to build on the opposite side of the street where the big construction area is.
    Why are they struggling to fill the retail space? The footfall on seventy-something days of the year is fantastic. Does anyone know if anyone is visiting that area if the Braves are not playing? For sure, it looks like there are enough condos in the area? Anyone? Aren’t you a realtor, Rob?

  26. Timo @ 38,

    That construction you saw might have been the new office tower. ThyssenKrupp is building a research facility which I think will be at the northeast corner of the development (next to 75 and looking down at STP). Also, Liberty is building an office building next to that and ThyssenKrupp has already leased a good bit of that space. It should be the next site coming away from the interstate toward Cobb Parkway.

    Shaq did his big Super Bowl party at the Battery.

  27. Folty skipping a start because of a sore elbow. Gausman and Gohara still not pitching games because of sore shoulders.

    Good times!

  28. Was just about to post about that. Good thing we still have a bunch of pitching depth. But I have a 2014 vibe at the moment. (Medlen, Minor, Beachy)

  29. Anyone remember all the articles prior to the 2007 season about the Braves’ amazing pitching depth, and how well that all worked out for them?

  30. @36

    YESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I can’t wait to go get the tshirt and show my kid the banner they will raise on opening day!

    “2018 We Made Money!”

    Baseball players come and go, flags fly forever!

  31. It’s hard to adjudge in week one of spring training what is “oh god, his arm is exploding” versus “throwing a projectile overhanded at great velocity is completely unnatural.”

  32. The arm issues our pitchers have had since Leo left always makes me appreciate his strengthening philosophy by having pitchers throw between starts a little more often than other pitching coaches. As a former college pitcher I always threw a ton between starts and never had arm problems at all. If I recall Leo had great success with this type of program

  33. Gausman, Folty, Gohara all out with elbow/shoulder issues, Soroka not started throwing yet,Touki can’t get out of the first today… man it’s a good thing the front office made it a priority to attain some reliable starting pitching this offseason otherwise we’d be in trouble.

  34. Leo also preached pitching at 75-80% effort rather than 100% effort. Jaret Wright suddenly learned how to command his pitches that way.

  35. Rotation without Folty, Gohara, Gausman and Soroka.

    Newcomb
    Teheran
    Fried
    Wright
    Touki

    Others (Wiegel, Allard, Wilson)
    At least half a season away (Anderson, Muller, Wentz)

    Am I missing anyone? Still not terrible but the depth goes away in a hurry if you have 4 injured starters at the same time.

  36. @51 – it’s just a joke. I think arm irritation is part of the spring training routine. If those guys are still struggling in April, we may have a problem.

  37. In further DOOMEDness, Dustin Peterson (who apparently is on the Tigers now?) took Touki deep in the 1st today. Also Gordon Beckham is somehow still playing; he started at 2B for Detroit.

  38. Now Donaldson pushed back. Part of me wonders if we are just giving some excuses to shorten spring training a bit (which would actually make some sense), but we were pretty lucky injury wise last year, I’ve been kind of waiting for that to catch up with us.

  39. Leo had great success keeping Glavine and Maddux healthy, but not so much Smoltz or Avery. I’m a fan of the idea of being better conditioned by throwing more (and not always at 100% effort), but it’s hard to implement that at the ML level when everyone else is going the other way.

  40. 13 years? I thought that was a typo. Apparently not. Sure Harper is great and all but come on.
    Would not have wanted the Braves to do this deal.

    Full no-trade clause. Please.

  41. @31 First, it’s not so much a prediction as what I think we need to get out of them. Second, I think it’s about a minimum we need to get out of them to justify not having made a better pitch for Realmuto. Thirdly, Flowers has averaged 1.6 WAR over his three years with the Braves and is predicted for 1.4 WAR by FG – and last year he started injured. I don’t think 1.8 WAR will be a stretch if he stays healthy. McCann has made 2.2 WAR the last two years on about 600 AB. I don’t think 1.1 WAR over 300 AB is too much of a stretch, especially if he is better than last year. I also think he’s better than Suzuki. And if anything happens to those two, I’d love to see AJax offer up 0.2 – 0.5 WAR this year even after Sept 1st.

  42. IMO the people on here that meme about us being doomed are more annoying that those sharing opinions that we may actually be doomed.

    It’s February 28. You’re getting the mockery you very much deserve.

  43. I am shocked that Harper didn’t get a higher AAV, although if he gets injured the guarantee sure kicks that up. And maybe the length of the contract reduced the AAV. He may have negotiated a record number for next year and let it decline from there. With no opt-outs and a no trade clause, he is locked in for the rest of his career. Hope we enjoy that.

  44. My first, second, and third reactions are all that 13/$330 seems like an incredibly reasonable price for a 26-year-old with his track record. Even if he’s a 100-game-a-year DH for his last few years, he’ll have plenty of time to earn that money for Philly.

    I think the Braves should have ponied up the extra $324 million to upgrade over Markakis and I think that every owner in baseball who didn’t think Harper’s worth $25M a year is dumb. By the end of his contract, $25M is going to be the price of a league-average free agent starter.

  45. All that said, if the rumored 10/$300 million offer from Was was true, kinda funny we went through all of this so he could tack on another 3 years at $10 million per.

    I know the Wash deal could’ve included deferrals so that would make the difference greater.

  46. 74-Well we aren’t the Marlins….

    Could make an argument that the Nats offseason was worse. They lost Harper (and presumably Gio) and added Gomes and Suzuki at C, Dozier at 2b and A Sanchez and Corbin at SP.

    The Phillies, when looking at 2019 alone, clearly won the offseason.

  47. Well we aren’t the Marlins….

    We didn’t add the likes of Victor Victor Mesa and Sixto Sanchez to our next contender this offseason.

  48. @72 The $25m a year is very reasonable. If he had wanted 5 or 6 years, I’d be of the same opinion as many, that the Braves should’ve made a play there. Thirteen years though!? With a full no trade clause on top? I’m plenty glad the Braves passed on that. That deal’s going to be awful by the end of it. There’s just too many variables when you start inking guys for decades.

  49. @74 No, not at all.

    The Braves inked Donaldson, a former league MVP.

    The Marlins didn’t do much of anything. Sure, you can point to the fact that they acquired some prospects- but the big league club this year is still worse for them.

    The Nationals are positioned to take a step back. I know they added Corbin, but they also lost Harper. I just don’t see what some see there.

    The Mets were active, and I like some of what they did. They still need to keep everyone healthy for a full season however, which has been that franchise’s Achilles heel. They’ve already lost a man to chicken.

  50. Just look at it as a $330 million contract over 10 years. That’s barely higher than what the Nats initially offered him. The last three years can be a write-off and anything he gives them as a pinch hitter or even a starter can be a bonus.

  51. Glad this is over. Bryce Harper is the biggest douche in baseball. I will continue in my considerable hatred for him as he moves to Philadephia. With Harper and Werth gone and Zimerman soon to follow, the Nats seem downright likeable.

  52. Good job Braves. You’ve put me into completely casual fan mode now. The whole point of fielding a team of cheap young players is so that you can sign Harper. Now we know that the goal all along has been to just have a team of cheap young players. I quit.

  53. I certainly didn’t want to be in a place where maybe we could find ourselves back in the playoffs because we were more or less as good as three other teams in our division and things just went in our favor — and I’ve spent the last month complaining about this situation — but maybe it’s worth doing a Rob and putting a little more emphasis on the “things could break our way” part of the equation.

    Not how I would’ve drawn it up. Also not impossible that we see another fringe-y playoff team in the playoffs. And there’s something to be said for enjoying a division that should be pretty competitive.

  54. Wait. Does the Harper signing mean we can snark at you boys about DOOOOOOM even if Chief has to change his adult diapers?

  55. The path to this team winning 90 games basically requires very good years from either Albies, or Camargo/Swanson/Inciarte; and good-to-very good years from at least two of Fried, Gohara, Soroka, Toussaint, Wilson, and Allard.

    It’s definitely possible, but a lot of things broke right last year, and at least as many things are going to have to break right this year.

  56. The Fangraphs projections have been updated and they improved the Braves to a 84 win team tied for the second wild card. We don’t have to do a whole lot better to win the division. If Donaldson thrives and other things don’t break too badly then this team should have a shot at 94-95 wins.

    OK, scratch that sort of. Now Harper is included and Braves are 4th at 83 wins. But I still think the potential is there for the 94-95 wins.

  57. @86 and 88–this offseason certainly is not how I would have drawn it, and I agree completely that several players will have to exceed expectations for the Braves to win the division or even be a strong contender for the wild card.

    But what the hell, tomorrow is March 1, and I can’t help but be hopeful at this time of year. I am every March. I can’t explain it and I’m not necessarily apologizing for it; it’s just the way I am at this time of year. I choose to believe that some of the young pitchers will take dramatic steps forward, Albies will be much closer to last year’s first half than the second, that Ronald will be even better in his sophomore year, that Swanson’s healed wrist will make us all realize why he was an overall #1 pick, and that Donaldson will be healthy and MVP caliber once again. Stranger things have happened.

    And just as I can’t help but be hopeful, I also can’t choose not to follow the team and root for them. I can’t stand current ownership, but after 50 plus years of rooting for this laundry, I know that boycotting out of frustration with management is not an option for me.

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