2011 NL East Preview: Catcher Power Rankings
As we head toward the start of the 2011 MLB season, it’s time to start previewing the NL East.
Instead of just giving a projection for each team, I’ll rank all of the projected starters at every position, leading up to the final predictions.
The catchers are up first, and as with the division in general, the Braves and Phillies are battling for the top spot. Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz were 1-2 in the National League in WAR for catchers this past season (and Ruiz actually had a higher wOBA), but who will perform better in 2011?
The WAR data used is from FanGraphs and all 2011 projections are from Bill James (via FanGraphs)
1. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
2010 Stats: .269/.375/.453, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 5.3 WAR in 566 Plate Appearances
After another strong year in 2010, Brian McCann left no doubt that he is the best catcher in the National League. He led all qualified catchers (both NL and AL) in WAR over the 2010 season and improved defensively by setting a career high while catching 30 percent of would-be base stealers.
Despite his ISO dropping a bit from 2009, McCann raised his walk rate and ultimately finished the year with a .361 wOBA. If he can combine his .200-plus ISO from 2009 with his increased walk rate, McCann could be in for a monster year in 2011.
Even if the Braves don’t get the best-case scenario, McCann will again be the best catcher in the league and should hit out of the middle of the Braves order.
Projected 2011 Stats: .280/.366/.493, .372 wOBA, 24 HR, 94 RBI in 579 Plate Appearances
2. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
2010 Stats: .302/.400/.447, 8 HR, 53 RBI, 4.1 WAR in 433 Plate Appearances
Ruiz actually finished 2010 with a higher wOBA (.366) than Brian McCann. A career .260 hitter, Ruiz set career highs in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, wRC+, BB% and Plate Appearances.
Despite the amazing season Ruiz had, he still ranks second on this list because of an unsustainable .335 BABIP. Ruiz has proven to be a good catcher at the MLB level, but will struggle to get into the elite category with a rather pedestrian ISO.
Sure, there’s a chance Ruiz continues to take steps forward, but he is already on the wrong side of 30 and likely will regress toward his career norms in 2011. His ability to handle the Phillies' vaunted pitching staff will be much more important than the offense Ruiz provides.
Projected 2011 Stats: .270/.360/.413, .341 wOBA, 9 HR, 51 RBI in 435 Plate Appearances
3. Josh Thole, New York Mets
2010 Stats: .277/.357/.366, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 1.4 WAR in 227 Plate Appearances
Thole is the projected Mets starter going into 2011 and will likely be settling into his first full season in the majors. He played well in his rookie season, accumulating 1.4 WAR despite playing in less than half his team’s games.
Thole isn’t a typical catcher as he will hit for very little power but produce a solid batting average in his career. Even in the minors, his highest ISO was .164 and he never hit more than five home runs in a single season.
That being said, Thole does a good job getting on base and could produce numbers similar to Paul Lo Duca when he was with the Mets. He caught 44 percent of runners stealing in 2010 (although it was a small sample size) which will be fantastic for the Mets if he can keep it up over a full season.
Projected 2011 Stats: .278/.351/.378, .326 wOBA, 2 HR, 24 RBI in 267 Plate Appearances
4. John Buck, Florida Marlins
2010 Stats: .281/.314/.489, 20 HR, 66 RBI, 2.9 WAR in 437 Plate Appearances
Despite his breakout season in 2010, I have Buck ranked pretty low on this list. The power that he showed last season is definitely real. He hit 18 homers in 2008 (in 399 plate appearances) and had double digits in three other seasons despite never playing in 120 games.
The reason Buck is ranked so low is that he got lucky in 2010 (.335 BABIP) and can’t draw a walk to save his life (3.7 BB%). His 2010 wOBA was a solid .345 but when his luck starts slipping he will have to fight just to keep his OBP above .300. In his career, he has a slightly better walk rate (6.5 BB%) and will need to get back towards that to save any value when his batting average falls off.
Buck did a decent job throwing out 28 percent of would-be base-stealers last season, but is likely headed for a major fall offensively in 2011.
Projected 2011 Stats: .248/.302/.439, .319 wOBA, 17 HR, 60 RBI in 429 Plate Appearances
5. Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
2010 Stats: .266/.294/.347, 4 HR, 49 RBI, 1.0 WAR in 421 Plate Appearances
Although he was once a top flight catcher, Pudge shouldn’t be starting in the majors any more.
His OBP has been under .300 for the last two years and his wOBA was just .279 in 2010. Never good at taking a walk, Pudge also posted a career low ISO last season and has lost the power and speed that once made him a five-tool player.
His defense is still good, but not like it used to be. In 2010 he caught 34 percent of would-be base-stealers, which is below his career average.
Pudge will be playing this season at 39 years old, so it’s hard to see any kind of bounceback coming. He still posted a .307 BABIP last year, so it’s not like he was just getting unlucky. With Wilson Ramos ready to contribute to the major league team, I can’t see Pudge lasting a full season at catcher in 2011.
Projected 2011 Stats: .266/.301/.373, .296 wOBA, 7 HR, 45 RBI in 417 Plate Appearances