NL East Preview: Ranking The Catchers

(Photo: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

As pitchers and catchers report in both Florida and Arizona, Philly Baseball News starts our preview of the NL East with a look at which team has the best catching tandem.

Earlier this winter, Chipper Jones talked about the Braves chances of contending in the NL East and admitted that he didn't have a good year and also termed the season that McCann had as simply "solid". "I don't think he would say he had a great year," said Jones of the Braves backstop. That's kind of scary when you look at the year that McCann had (21-94-.281-.349-.486) and think about him being able to do better. The truly scary part is that McCann likely can do better; after all, he hit .301 in 2008 and has hit as many as 24 home runs in a season during his career. While McCann is perhaps the best in the division as far as offensive stats for catchers, his defense isn't at the top of the rankings. In fact, his fielding percentage in 2009 was slightly below the league average of .993 at .988 for the season. He was also slightly lower than the league average at throwing out basestealers (.288 league-wide vs. .240 for McCann) and he was tied for the league lead in passed balls.

Backup David Ross did a nice job in his first season with Atlanta last season, hitting .273 with 7 home runs, giving Atlanta possibly the best one-two punch of catchers when they're at the side of the plate, not behind it. Ross is strong defensively - .998 fielding percentage and 48% success rate throwing out base-stealers - and has done well working with the young pitchers on Atlanta's staff.

Offensive Stats - 2009

Year Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 McCann 138 488 63 137 35 1 21 94 49 83 .281 .349 .486 .834
Year Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Ross       54   128 18 35   9 0 7 20 21 39 .273 .380 .508 .888

Fielding Stats - 2009

Year Player G GS Inn Ch E DP Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 McCann 127 124 1078.2 994 12 7 .988 8.19 .993 7.77 7 24%
Year Player G GS Inn Ch E DP Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Ross       52    36 354.0   352 1   6 .997 8.92 .993 7.77 5 48%

 

John Baker is quickly becoming one of the better catchers who nobody really knows about - yet. The 29 year-old is coming off of his first full season as the Marlins starting catcher and he put up nice numbers for Florida, while hitting out of the two spot in their lineup. The left-handed hitting Baker has actually taken pretty well to hitting second and his .349 on-base percentage last season was decent enough for the Marlins to figure on leaving him there again this season. Defensively, he's good behind the plate, but his arm is suspect and he threw out just 20% of would-be base-stealers.

Ronny Paulino was a Phillie for a short time last spring, before being dealt first to San Francisco and then to the Marlins. Paulino was a starting catcher for the Pirates for a couple of seasons, but went into a tail-spin and never truly recovered. It didn't help his chances that the Pirates had Ryan Doumit to turn to, either. With Florida, Paulino was in more of a comfort zone and he started to look much more like the guy who was a phenom with the Pirates, hitting .272 with 8 home runs backing up Baker. Defensively, Paulino has always been strong and didn't disappoint at all last season, posting a .996 fielding percentage and throwing out 30% of the base-stealers that tried to run against him.

Offensive Stats - 2009

Year Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Baker    112 373 59 101 25 0 9 50 41 89 .271 .349 .410 .759
Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Paulino 80  239 24 65   10 1 8 27 25 48 .272 .340 .423 .762

Fielding Stats - 2009

Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Baker   105 99 864.0 796 6 .992 8.23 .993 7.77 5 20%
Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Paulino 77 63 582.1 559 2 .996 8.61 .993 7.77 3 31%

 

The Mets catching situation is still very much a question mark. The latest news is that they're pursuing Rod Barajas, who could potentially be their starting catcher for the 2010 season and could be an upgrade over what they've got right now.

Right now, it looks like Omir Santos could be the starting catcher, with free agent signee Henry Blanco holding down the backup duties. Neither is viewed as a true starting catcher, but they're likely the best of the bunch that the Mets have to run out there right now. The Mets don't really need a long-term solution behind the plate, since rookie Josh Thole proved that he could hit at the major league level last season, but still needs work defensively before he would be ready to take over the starting job in New York. That doesn't mean we should rule out Thole, especially if Barajas doesn't accept the offer - which is currently just a minor league deal - that the Mets have thrown his way.

Santos started 74 games last season behind the plate for the Mets and showed himself to be decent, but likely isn't a starting major league catcher. He hit .260 and was slightly over league averages defensively for the Mets, so his performance wasn't a complete debacle. There are some holes in his game though and the Mets would rather not put him out there as their number one catcher if they don't have to.

Blanco is a veteran catcher, who knows how to call a game and handle pitchers. Blanco's true strength is his defense; both blocking pitches in the dirt and throwing out baserunners attempting to steal against him. Last season, he threw out 40% of the runners attempting to steal against him and over his career, he's gunned down 43% of would-be basestealers. He's not going to give a club much offensively, but his defense makes him a more than adequate backup catcher for any major league club.

Offensive Stats - 2009

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Santos 96 281 28 73 14 1 7 40 15 44 .260 .296 .391 .688
Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Blanco 67 204 21 48 12 0 6 16 26 50 .235 .320 .382 .703
 

Fielding Stats - 2009

Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Santos 91 74 680.1 531 3 .994 6.98 .993 7.77 3 30%
Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Blanco 60 58 508.0 472 0 1.000 8.36 .993 7.77 2 40%

 

The Phillies catching situation is locked in for the next couple of seasons. While Carlos Ruiz isn't the offensive genius that Atlanta's Brian McCann is and his defensive skills aren't exactly up to the level of a Henry Blanco, Ruiz is perhaps the best catcher in baseball when it comes to working with his pitching staff. Even veteran Jamie Moyer has hailed Ruiz as one of the best catchers that he has ever worked with, which says a lot. Ruiz also has a way of coming through at the plate in key spots, especially in the postseason. Over the winter, the Phillies avoided arbitration with Ruiz by signing him to a three-year deal.

Manager Charlie Manuel can't say enough good things about new backup Brian Schneider. Manuel insists that he and the front office made signing Schneider - a native of nearby Northampton, PA - a priority for the offseason and they moved very quickly to get him signed on a two-year deal. Schneider is also not an offensive powerhouse, but he is strong defensively and has accepted the role of being a backup after spending a chunk of his career as a starter.

Ruiz and Schneider could provide for the best defensive duo of catchers in the NL East and throughout much of baseball.

Offensive Stats - 2009

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Ruiz         107 322 32 82 26 1 9 43 47 39 .255 .355 .425 .780
Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Schneider 59 170 11 37 11 0 3 24 18 21 .218 .292 .335 .627

Fielding Stats - 2009

Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Ruiz         107 100 882.1 759 3 .996 7.71 .993 7.77 1 27%
Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Schneider 57 52 437.1 355 1 .997 7.29 .993 7.77 1 34%
 

With injuries robbing young Jesus Flores of valuable time on the field over the past couple of seasons, the Nationals decided to look to free agency for veteran help behind the plate and they found a good one; Ivan Rodriguez. "Pudge" will give the Nationals a strong veteran presence who is more than capable of working with young pitchers and getting a lot out of them. He'll also be able to help continue grooming Flores, who still has some developing to do on his game.

The catching situation in Washington should be perfect for their club. Rodriguez is past the point where he can catch as many games as the usual starter and Flores hasn't been able to stay healthy over a long season, so shuttling the two of them back-and-forth could work wonders for the club. It's very possible that they'll team each catcher up with certain pitchers and look to maximize their investment in Rodriguez, while still getting a decent amount of playing time for Flores.

Offensive Stats - 2009

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Rodriguez 121 425 55 106 23 2 10 47 18 92 .249 .280 .384 .663
Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 Flores        29   93 13 28   3 2 4 15 11 26 .301 .371 .505 .877

Fielding Stats - 2009

Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Rodriguez 115 108 962.0 845 7 .992 7.84 .993 7.71 7 35%
Year Tm G GS Inn Ch E Fld% RF/9 lgFld% lgRF9 PB CS%
2009 Flores        24    23  205.2 150 1 .993 6.52 .993 7.77 2 42%

Ranking the catching in the National League East...

1. Atlanta Braves - The combination of McCann and Ross give Atlanta both solid offense and defense. It also doesn't hurt that they're both veterans who have been around the block a time or two.

2. Philadelphia Phillies - Perhaps the best defensive combination in baseball, Ruiz and Schneider won't give the Phillies as much offense as the boys in Atlanta, but they can chip in here and there and make up for it with their defense.

3. Florida Marlins - Baker and Paulino are a good combination. If Paulino continues to hit, their offensive numbers should be pretty good and defensively, they're both solid, although they could improve a little on throwing out baserunners.

4. Washington Nationals - Rodriguez was a perfect fit for the Nationals and vice versa. Fewer games will allow Flores to - hopefully - stay healthy while still getting him enough time behind the plate to continue to develop with Pudge as his mentor.

5. New York Mets - Even if they do sign Barajas, the Mets just don't have a strong catching corps. Once Thole is ready, that could change, because he would seem to be a strong catcher for the future in New York.

All statistics and tables provided by Baseball-Reference.com.


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