J.T. Realmuto vs. James McCann vs. Yan Gomes: Who’s the best C in the NL East?

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Matt Weyrich
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Realmuto vs. McCann vs. Gomes: Who’s the best C in the NL East? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With the NL East shaping up to be one of baseball’s most competitive division races, NBC Sports Washington’s Matt Weyrich is previewing the 2021 season by ranking each team at every position on and off the diamond. Points will be awarded to teams based on their spot in each ranking with a final tally released just before Opening Day.*

Up next in the series: catcher.

1. J.T. Realmuto (PHI) – 5 points

2019-20 stats: 192 G, 788 PA, .273/.333/.492, .825 OPS, 194 H, 36 HR, 42 doubles, 3 triples, 125 R, 115 RBI, 57 BB, 171 SO, 13 SB (2 CS), 42.9% runners caught stealing, 12 passed balls, 11 DRS (1,430 1/3 innings at C)

Realmuto is elite in nearly every facet of his game. He’s an above-average pitch framer, hits for power and throws out baserunners at an impressive clip. The Phillies signed him to a five-year, $115.5 million deal this offseason that gives him the highest annual salary ($23.1M) of any catcher in MLB history. He’s worth it, too.

In an era when catchers are producing offensive numbers at historically low levels, Realmuto stands out for his bat. Since his first full season in 2015, Realmuto leads all catchers in games played (709), hits (549), runs (313), doubles (109), walks (380), stolen bases (44) and RBIs (tied for first with 349).

2. James McCann (NYM) – 4 points

2019-20 stats: 149 G, 587 PA, .276/.334/.474, .808 OPS, 148 H, 25 HR, 29 doubles, 1 triple, 82 R, 75 RBI, 28 BB, 167 SO, 5 SB (2 CS), 31.8% runners caught stealing, 5 passed balls, 9 DRS (1,151 innings at C)

McCann took the offensive side of his game to a new level the last two years and he was rewarded in free agency for it with a four-year, $40.6 million deal with the Mets. He posted a career-high .896 OPS in the shortened 2020 campaign, a number that will likely decrease over the course of a full season but still reflects how he can produce in spurts.

But while his hitting is a recent development, McCann has been a steady defensive presence behind the plate for years. His career caught stealing percentage of 35.9% ranks fifth among active catchers and he prevents passed balls as well as anyone in the sport. The Mets are hoping his offensive surge continues. Even if it doesn’t, he’ll still present plenty of value in other areas of his game.

3. Yan Gomes (WSH) – 2 points

2019-20 stats: 127 G, 477 PA, .239/.317/.409, .726 OPS, 101 H, 16 HR, 22 doubles, 1 triple, 50 R, 56 RBI, 44 BB, 106 SO, 3 SB (0 CS), 27.2% runners caught stealing, 12 passed balls, 2 DRS (1,039 innings at C)

Gomes hasn’t played a full season since joining the Nationals due to the presence of Kurt Suzuki. Now, Suzuki is on the West Coast and Gomes has a clear path to everyday playing time. He’s two years removed from making the AL All-Star team with the Cleveland Indians and will have the opportunity to prove he can still be that player at 33 years old.

By “that player,” this writer means posting an OPS over .750 with double-digit home runs and solid defense behind the dish. That should be enough to put him over d’Arnaud, who won Silver Slugger last season in what looks like an anomaly enabled by the shortened schedule. Gomes is a safer bet to resume his pre-2020 production than d’Arnaud, earning him the No. 3 spot on this list.

4. Travis d’Arnaud (ATL) – 3 points

2020 stats: 147 G, 575 PA, .273/.336/.465, .801 OPS, 141 H, 25 HR, 24 doubles, 0 triples, 71 R, 103 RBI, 48 BB, 135 SO, 1 SB (1 CS), 22.4% runners caught stealing, 12 passed balls, -12 DRS (922 innings at C)

Now, d’Arnaud’s 2020 numbers were impressive. By OPS+ he was 38% better than the average hitter, making his Silver Slugger well-deserved. However, he was considered a below-average hitter by the same metric in each of the four years prior — 10% worse, to be exact.

The Braves’ backstop still has plenty of home run potential and could hit more than Gomes, but his game doesn’t suggest he’ll do much else. To make matters worse for d’Arnaud, he’s easily the worst defensive catcher of the group. He’s never thrown out runners well and started taking reps at first base in 2019. If he remains a catcher moving forward, his defense won’t get much better.

5. Jorge Alfaro (MIA) – 1 point

2019-20 stats: 161 G, 565 PA, .256/.306/.410, .717 OPS, 134 H, 21 HR, 16 doubles, 1 triple, 56 R, 73 RBI, 26 BB, 190 SO, 6 SB (4 CS), 29% runners caught stealing, 15 passed balls, -9 DRS (1,190 1/3 innings at C)

The youngest player of the group is Alfaro, who the Marlins acquired from the Phillies when they traded Realmuto over the 2018-19 offseason. Alfaro has struggled as a hitter, with his on-base percentage falling each of the last three seasons. He has thrown out a decent number of baserunners but the metrics say he wasn’t adding much value elsewhere.

The Marlins are continuing to roll with him as their starter, so he’ll have every opportunity to make the leap he was projected to when prospect evaluators considered him a top-50 player in the minor leagues.  After a rough 2020 campaign, Alfaro should bounce back. It’s just a question of where he goes from there.

*Scoring will be determined as follows:

Max total = 100 points

  • 5 points awarded for each of the best position players, 4 for second-best, etc.

  • 1 bonus point awarded for each of the five best position players in the division

  • 6 points awards for each of the top three starters, 5 for the next three, etc.

  • 1 bonus point awarded for each of the two best starting pitchers in the division

  • 5 points awarded for each of the top three bullpen arms, 4 for the next three, etc.

  • 5 points awarded for the best manager, 4 for second-best, etc.

  • 5 points awarded for the best GM, 4 for second-best, etc.

Scoring breakdown = 45 max points for hitting, 45 max points for pitching, 10 max points for coaches/GMs

Other NL East position rankings:

Right field: Soto, Acuña Jr., Harper, Conforto, Duvall

Left field: Ozuna, Smith, Schwarber, Dickerson, McCutchen

Center field: Nimmo, Marté, Robles, Pache, Kingery

First base: Freeman, Alonso, Hoskins, Bell, Aguilar

Second base: McNeil, Albies, Segura, Castro, Chisholm/Díaz

Shortstop: Turner, Lindor, Swanson, Gregorius, Rojas

Third base: Anderson, Davis, Bohm, Riley, Kieboom

Starting pitcher: deGrom, Scherzer, Nola highlight top 18 starters

Relief pitcher: Hand, Smith, Díaz highlight top 15 relievers

Manager: Girardi, Martinez, Snitker, Mattingly, Rojas

GMs & front offices – March 25

Composite rankings – March 26