NL Central Preview: Catchers

The first in my series of previews of the National League Central Division. The system, I will use to determine the best team in the division will be to rank the starters at each offensive position, including top-5 starters and the closer. The best will receive 6 points, and down to just 1 point given out to the worst starting player at that position in the division. At the end I will total the points up to see who is the best team (and whether this system is actually a viable preview method). So let’s go find out!

I will look at the catching position to start the series. The catching position is difficult to equate because it isn’t all offensive ability, though that plays a large part. A players defense will also be taken into account and might give a player an advantage over another. I used a three-year average to get a grasp on players who may have had a career year versus a slump year.

After looking at rosters, the current starting catchers in the NL Central are expected to be the following: Geovany Soto in Chicago, Ramon Hernandez in Cincinnati, Humberto Quintero in Houston, Jonathan Lucroy in Milwaukee, Ryan Doumit in Pittsburgh, and Yadier Molina in St. Louis.

Taking a look at wins above replacement, it’s very quick to notice that Geovany Soto and Ryan Doumit possess the best bat of the catchers in the NL Central with Soto posting a 2.5 and Doumit posting a 2.2 with their bats.

Meanwhile, Yadier Molina is by far the best defensive catcher in the NL Central with his 1.1 defensive WAR while Humberto Quintero in Houston is the only other starting catcher with a positive defensive WAR with a 0.5.

Ranking simply by WAR is a little unfair to players who didn’t quite play as often as others. Quintero and Lucroy have the fewest games played with Quintero playing just enough to be considered the primary while Lucroy was a rookie last year. So that is taken into effect when deciding between two close players.

Following a look at a balance between offense and defense, I’m ranking the NL Central catchers in the following order:

Yadier Molina, STL (6 pts, 2.5 WAR)
Geovany Soto, CHI (5 pts, 2.4 WAR)
Ryan Doumit, PIT (4 pts, 1.5 WAR)
Ramon Hernandez, CIN (3 pts, 1.0 WAR)
Jonathan Lucroy, MIL (2 pts, -0.2 WAR)
Humberto Quintero, HOU (1 pt, 0.2 WAR)

Yadier Molina was the gold standard on defense and the only player who posted positive WAR both on offense and defense. He’s hit .286 and averaged 6 HR a season for St. Louis and posted a 94 OPS+ in his 133 games per season.Geovany Soto was the best hitter in the NL Central at the catcher position with his 2.5 offensive WAR. He hit .264 and averaged 17 HR a season for the Cubs and posted a 111 OPS+ in his 116 games per season.

Ryan Doumit was the second best hitter, but his defense dropped him below Soto and I considered moving him behind Hernandez as well simply for the defense, but his offense was really nice. He hit .277 and averaged 13 HR a season for Pittsburgh and posted a 107 OPS+ in his 105 games a season. However, Doumit’s numbers are bouyed by his .313 he posted in 2008. He has two consecutive seasons hitting in the .250s, despite that his power has remained.

Ramon Hernandez was a solid all around catcher. Had some bat and didn’t give up much on defense. He hit .269 and averaged 9 HR a season for Cincinnati and posted a 95 OPS+ in his 104 games a season.

Jonathan Lucroy was a rookie last season for Milwaukee and got the most playing time at catcher. His season was rather successful too. He hit .253 with 4 HR last year for Milwaukee along with a 71 OPS+ in his 75 games. With the lack of playing time, yet being close to Quintero for everything else, with a full season, I would give the edge to Lucroy between the two.

Finally, Humberto Quintero split a lot of time at catcher in Houston. He hit .232 with an average of 3 HR a season for Houston along with a 61 OPS+ in his 69 games per season. Last season was his first as the primary catcher in Houston.

So the totals thus far:

St. Louis — 6 pts — 2.5 WAR
Chicago — 5 pts — 2.4 WAR
Pittsburgh — 4 pts — 1.5 WAR
Cincinnati — 3 pts — 1.0 WAR
Milwaukee — 2 pts — -0.2 WAR
Houston — 1 pt — 0.2 WAR

I’ll likely take the week off for Christmas and resume next Monday with the NL Central first basemen, which is quite the power position with guys like Albert Pujols, reigning MVP Joey Votto, and Prince Fielder. Should be a fun one.