Most would agree that there is no position in baseball harder than catcher. They’re responsible for so much — calling the game, managing base stealers, setting the defense — all while playing the most physically demanding spot on the field. Not to mention, they also have to hit. Having a successful catcher is important for a team’s success on both sides of the ball.
With the Marlins and Phillies swapping their starting catchers in a five-player trade on Thursday, every single team in the National League East division has a new catcher going into 2019. Let’s break it down.
1. Philadelphia Phillies - 4.1 projected fWAR
- J.T. Realmuto - 544 plate appearances
- Andrew Knapp - 96 plate appearances
No team in the division is projected to have a better catching tandem than the Phillies. A lot of this is helped by their acquisition of J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins, of course. He projects to hit .269/.325/.457 in 2019 — good for a 4.0 fWAR when adding in defensive and base running contributions. There’s a real argument to be made that Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball, explaining why the Phillies catapulted to the top of the division in terms of projected catcher production.
Also expected to get some playing time is Andrew Knapp, who is a career .226/.330/.341 (81 wRC+) hitter. Defensive metrics haven’t been favorable to Knapp, either; he was worth -5.4 fielding runs above-average (FRAA) last season. On the whole, Knapp isn’t expected to get nearly as much playing time as he was pre-Realmuto, and he should be a fine backup.
2. New York Mets - 3.2 projected fWAR
- Wilson Ramos - 384 plate appearances
- Travis d’Arnaud - 211 plate appearances
- Devin Mesoraco - 32 plate appearances
- Tomas Nido - 13 plate appearances
Wilson Ramos was signed as a free agent by the Mets this offseason, agreeing to a two-year, $19 million deal with a $10 million team option for 2021. Ramos has struggled to stay healthy in each of the past two years, but while on the field, he’s been quite good. He spent 2018 splitting time between the Rays and Phillies. In 2019, FanGraphs sees Ramos as playing in 91 games, amassing 384 plate appearances with a .261/.312/.439 slash line to along with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs. At age-31, Ramos is a pretty much a league-average defender at this point in his career.
d’Arnaud projects to be the Mets’ main backup, after missing nearly all of 2018 due to a torn UCL. He’s far removed from the best season of his career, a 2015 campaign in which he produced 2.3 fWAR, but he should still be a valuable piece. In 2019, d’Arnaud projects to hit .241/.302/.410 with seven homers and 23 RBIs. He also is very good behind the plate.
3. Washington Nationals - 2.6 projected fWAR
- Yan Gomes - 307 plate appearances
- Kurt Suzuki - 307 plate appearances
- Spencer Kieboom - 13 plate appearances
- Pedro Severino - 6 plate appearances
- Raudy Read - 6 plate appearances
The Nationals added two catchers this offseason, in Gomes and Suzuki, to serve as their main platoon. Interestingly enough, FanGraphs projects both Gomes and Suzuki to be worth 1.3 fWAR apiece, though as a result of different skillsets.
Gomes is a better defender than Suzuki, while Suzuki is a better hitter than Gomes. Gomes is projected to a post a .241/.295/.408 slash line (86 wRC+) to Suzuki’s .264/.322/.424 (100 wRC+). At the same time, however, Gomes has been significantly better than Suzuki defensively, amassing 47.3 FRAA over the course of his seven-year career. Suzuki has been worth -74.6 FRAA in his 12 years. It will be interesting to see how the Nationals play the two catchers off of one another, considering their strengths are so different.
4. Atlanta Braves - 2.5 projected fWAR
- Tyler Flowers - 352 plate appearances
- Brian McCann - 256 plate appearances
- Raffy Lopez - 19 plate appearances
- Alex Jackson - 13 plate appearances
The Braves are the only team in this division with a returning face likely to get the majority of plate appearances at catcher in Tyler Flowers. Flowers has had his spell of solid years (most notably putting up a 118 wRC+ and a 2.4 fWAR in 2017), but has otherwise provided a below-average bat with excellent defense. Over the past two seasons, Flowers has been worth a combined 45.7 framing runs above-average alone, ranking third in baseball in 2017 with +30.1 runs.
The Braves did not go without the addition of a catcher, nonetheless. On a one-year, $2 million deal, they brought back familiar face Brian McCann to serve alongside Flowers. McCann’s best days are undoubtably behind him, but he still made 55 starts last season, with a slightly below-average bat and glove. That shouldn’t preclude him from providing positive value next year; FanGraphs projects him to be worth 1.0 fWAR.
5. Miami Marlins - 1.4 projected fWAR
- Jorge Alfaro - 512 plate appearances
- Chad Wallach - 128 plate appearances
Lastly are the Marlins, who dumped their superstar catcher in Realmuto in this past week’s trade. Coming back in the deal was Alfaro, heading into his age-26 season. He had a solid year on both sides of the plate last year, but with his .262/.324/.407 line ballooned by a .406 BABIP, one has to wonder whether consistency is possible going forward, especially considering that he struck out at a 36.6 percent rate. Nonetheless, Alfaro remains an exciting young catcher with one of the best arms behind the plate and power potential that could push him into the 15-20 home run range. FanGraphs sees him regressing next year, moving from the 2.1 fWAR that he posted in 2018 to just 1.2 in 2019.
Backing up Alfaro is Wallach, who only has 63 plate appearances of big league experience in two seasons. FanGraphs sees him as posting a far below-average bat next year (68 wRC+), while being worth 0.2 fWAR due mainly to defense.
That’s the skinny on how the NL East catching situation looks heading into 2019. Each team has added at least one new catcher:
- Phillies: Realmuto
- Mets: Ramos
- Nationals: Gomes and Suzuki
- Braves: McCann
- Marlins: Alfaro
And perhaps amazingly enough, of those six catchers listed, four of them (Realmuto, Ramos, Suzuki, Alfaro) played in the NL East last year! While we have indeed seen a lot of catcher shuffling among the NL East teams, they’re mostly just trading catchers among themselves. Of course, some of those moves were purposeful, like the Realmuto-for-Alfaro swap, but some just happened through the natural course of free agency, like in the cases of Suzuki or Ramos.
At arguably the most important position in the game, each NL East organization went in a different direction this offseason, in hopes that a new face will propel them to the top of the standings come October.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.