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2022 Braves position evaluations: Catcher

2022 Braves position evaluations: Catcher

Monday, March 28, 2022

-Clint Manry

Each and every offseason, as its own version of a season preview, the great folks at FanGraphs put out a positional rankings series. Other than Prospect Week, it’s my favorite series that the site publishes. And it’s always a nice in-depth look at each team’s strengths and weaknesses, just before the regular season opens up. So now that I have my own thing going on here at Braves Farm, I’ve decided that I’ll simply follow along with FGs’ positional rankings column and use it to put out some evaluations (or grades) for each Braves position. Sort of like one would grade a team’s offseason transactions, in this series I’ll be evaluating each Braves position group, in the order that FanGraphs puts out its posts. My write-ups will obviously be what I think of each group, but by following FanGraphs, I’ll also be able to share how the industry experts and projections feel as well.

FanGraphs started with the catcher position today, so that’s where I’ll begin…

I highly recommend checking out FanGraphs intro post to better understand how it comes up with its rankings

Catcher

Last season’s results

The Braves may have won its first World Series in over 25 years, but make no mistake, it certainly wasn’t because of the performance of its catchers. I know the position definitely isn’t what it once was, but in Atlanta, it was a hot mess. A significant (and nagging) injury for starter Travis d’Arnaud, and a lack production from really anyone else, the Braves finished the 2021 regular season only ahead of the lowly Orioles in collective catcher WAR at minus-0.6.

Braves catchers in 2021: .192 AVG / 17 HR / 61 RBI / 58 wRC+ / -0.6 WAR

The catcher leaderboard for Atlanta was pitiful: because of the aforementioned injury, d’Arnaud played in just 60 games. And when he was on the field his bat was lacking as he hit just .220 and posted a 78 wRC+. Former prospect William Contreras showed some promise as his replacement, even getting hot for a bit. But ultimately, once opposing pitchers got the book on him, he struggled mightily to the tune of a .215 AVG in 52 games overall, although his eight home runs in 185 PA was more than d’Arnaud hit in 229 PA.

The Braves received some below-replacement level production from guys like Stephen Vogt (.167 AVG / -0.2 WAR) and Kevan Smith (.165 AVG / -0.5 WAR), as well as a few fill-ins from Jeff Mathis (3 games) and Jonathan Lucroy (2 games), but everyone they sent out there just simply struggled to make much of an impact.

There’s really nowhere to go except up in 2022. The catcher position was by far the worst position group for the Braves last season.

Changes & outlook for 2022

d’Arnaud is now healthy and thanks to his extension from last August, he should be the Braves backstop for at least another two seasons (counting this one). In terms of depth options, gone is Vogt, Lucroy, Smith and Mathis. And now Contreras is taking reps in the outfield(!). Atlanta signed veteran Manny Pina to a two-year deal so it appears it could be a d’Arnaud/Pina partnership for the foreseeable future, operating at 70/30 split in favor of the former. Adding Pina was a solid pickup, and with his sneaky pop, we could see the former Brewer get even more ABs this season if his bat gets hot.

Braves 2022 Catcher Projections

From FanGraphs catcher positional rankings series

A nice improvement from d’Arnaud (compared to 2021) and solid defense from Pina has the Braves looking pretty good at the catcher spot for 2022, or at least much better than last season. According to FanGraphs rankings from Monday, Atlanta’s catcher group comes in at no. 10 among all MLB teams. The kicker will be whether or not the team can have better health at the position.

Here’s the FGs excerpt on the Braves catching situation…

Travis d’Arnaud struggled offensively in a 2021 season that was truncated by a torn thumb ligament, hitting just .220/.284/.388 in 60 games. William Contreras did an admirable job filling in given that he only had a little more than a half-season of experience in the high minors, but he’s better served getting 100 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett than backing up d’Arnaud.

My Braves catcher grade: B

I pretty much agree with FanGraphs, although ranking-wise perhaps I’m not as high (maybe closer to 15th for me). This isn’t going to necessarily be a strength for the Braves, but if d’Arnaud can stay on the field I believe this will be a middle-of-the-road catcher group in 2022. I don’t know a lot about Pina, so maybe he’s more valuable then I’m anticipating. I am anxious to see what the team does with Contrereas, though. Will we see him behind the plate any this season?

8 responses to “2022 Braves position evaluations: Catcher”

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