Spring training is less than five weeks away and it's time to start preparing for the new season by looking at each position on a league wide basis, we begin today with catchers.
Depending on whether you use runs created or on-base plus slugging as your end all metric either Jorge Posada or Victor Martinez was the best offensive catcher last year. The league average catcher hit .256/.300/.390, and below we see the trend for the 30 catchers with the most at-bats: Posada, Martinez, Martin, Mauer, Varitek, Snyder, McCann, Bard, Johjima, Zaun, Buck, Ruiz, Molina, Valentin, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Pierzynski, Molina, Paulino, Estrada, Torrealba, Redmond, Lo Duca, Ross, Olivo, Schneider, Ausmus, Navarro, Laird, Kendall
This chart tells us that roughly 3/4th of the catchers receiving playing time are better than their positional average, with Posada, Martinez, Russell Martin, and Joe Mauer being at least .100 points better and Jason Varitek, Chris Snyder, Brian McCann, Josh Bard, Kenji Johjima, and Gregg Zaun being at least .050 points above.
Examining Posada's season a bit more in depth it's pretty amazing that at 35 Posada posted what amounts to a career season; I've heard of late bloomers but hitting .338/.426/.543 is pretty amazing. Of course part of that amazing happening - pardon my lifting of the NBA motto - would be his .389 BABIP which was roughly .040 points above his expected BABIP. It's pretty obvious to say Posada isn't going to repeat his performance, and the Yankees are more than likely going to regret giving him 13.1 million annually until 2011 ends, but if a team can afford to overvalue a player it would be the Yankees - after all they've been following this method of overvaluing since 2000, particularly with their own.
Below the .700 mark are where most of the past off-seasons movers land, including Johnny Estrada, Paul Lo Duca, Yorvit Torrealba, and Miguel Olivo; suggesting that teams are willing to throw many different forms of crap against a wall in hope of it sticking. The only catchers to fall .050 points below league average were Gerald Laird and Jason Kendall - who was promptly rewarded with 4.25 million dollars on the free agent market. When most of these options fail teams can look forward to Johjima, Ivan Rodriguez, Varitek, Valentin, and possibly Ross, and Zaun becoming free agents. Another scenario would be a team like the Mariners with Jeff Clement could dangle either him or Johjima at the deadline for a bounty if they felt inclined to do so.
Kendall was unlucky last year, but even if he reverts to his .709 OPS in 2006 wouldn't be worth the money he'll get paid. I won't say that back up Mike Rivera could out-hit Kendall this year, sense I don't particularly value either too highly, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens, and this is a catcher with a career .790 minor league OPS. Eric Munson doesn't provide much defense, but again if he were to get Kendall's at-bats I'd expect a line at least similar to Kendall's and for millions less.
A few up and comers who just missed the at-bats cut-off include Mike Napoli, Kelly Shoppach, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Kurt Suzuki - each of which, minus Shoppach, figure to get the primary amount of at-bats for their teams next year, I'd expect each to top a .690 OPS.
Dioner Navarro was amongst the worst catchers last year, but he's going to be a popular break out pick due to his second half and presumably a stable personal life for the first time since 2006. After an abysmal first half .177/.238/.254 Navarro worked into a groove with hitting coach Steve Henderson and finished strong with .285/.340/.475, the medical problems with his wife and child are hopefully over, and Navarro should come into the season in far better physical and mental condition than last year.