The Cubs Catcher Spot Projects Quite Poorly in a Statistical Set of Power Rankings
It’s only fair to present the other side of the coin, eh?
For as much as we discuss the unquantifiable “soft factors” the Chicago Cubs were clearly targeting at the catcher position by letting Willson Contreras go, and instead pairing Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart back there, it’s only fair to discuss the things we CAN quantify. The things that say the Cubs are going to be taking a big statistical step back this year.
For example, Dan Szymborski at FanGraphs kicked off the site’s positional power rankings at catcher, and the Cubs rate out as having the 28th best (read: third worst) catcher spot.
Evaluating the depth charts by projected WAR – offense and defense (which, for catchers, does include framing, but necessarily wouldn’t include game-calling, game-planning, work with pitchers, etc.) – has the Cubs at just 2.4 total, and the writeup is borderline scathing:
Tucker Barnhart has long had a better reputation than his defensive numbers suggest he’s earned, and he had a nice run as a starting catcher with the Reds. Brought in during the 2021-22 offseason to stabilize Detroit’s catching situation after the Jake Rogers injury, Barnhart had an abysmal season at the plate, a performance that would have gotten more attention if most of the rest of the roster hadn’t been dealing with a similar experience last year. Barnhart signed a two-year deal with Chicago this past December. He’s a pure stopgap for the Cubs, who didn’t have a good immediate replacement handy after Willson Contreras hit free agency.
Yan Gomes had struggles similar to Barnhart’s in 2022 backing up Contreras in Chicago. But he has actually hit in recent years, enough that the projections generally see some sort of bounce back as likely. My hypothesis is that we’ll see a fairly even timeshare in 2023 as the team sorts out if either of its veteran catchers still has anything left in the tank. By the time the Cubs are back in serious contention, it’s doubtful that either of them will play much of a part in it.
The criticism there is mostly about the bats, which do not project to be especially great – nor are the Cubs expecting them to be. Again, the Cubs are making a very different bet at the spot, and it’s one that’ll be difficult to evaluate in the same way you’d be able to evaluate whether Cody Bellinger has bounced back at the plate. (That isn’t going to be a reason not to try, but I’m just bracing myself in advance, because I hate when I can’t evaluating things objectively.)
For context, the relative differences here are not necessarily enormous. The Cardinals, whose catching situation we necessarily care about more than most, rank right in the middle of the pack at 15th, with a projected WAR of 3.3. Less than a win more than the Cubs. Will the “soft factor” difference be worth more than a win? Again, the Cubs sure think so. Then again, will the Cardinals be able to help Contreras with that stuff in a way the Cubs never could? TBD.
The top of the heap, by the way, resides in Toronto, where the Blue Jays project to get a whopping 5.7 WAR from the catcher spot (and that *is* an enormous difference from the Cubs). The Orioles, Dodgers, and Braves are very close behind, with the Phillies and Rangers just behind, and coming up just shy of a 5.0 WAR projection at catcher.