Kicking off our NL Central position rankings, we look at catchers, a place where the St. Louis Cardinals have a Hall of Famer.
While the St. Louis Cardinals’ season is delayed, there is a lot more time we have to analyze the rest of the division. The majority of whatever games the Cardinals end up playing will still be against the Pirates, Cubs, Reds, and Brewers.
With this known, we are going to dive in and see how the Cardinals stack up at each position against the rest of the National League Central.
Let’s first look at the catcher position, somewhere the Cardinals have someone very special.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
This may become an unfortunate theme of this article series as the Pirates are not very strong at a lot of positions heading into 2020. For the Bucs, they have a tandem of veteran catchers behind the plate slated for 2020.
No matter how you shake it, whether it’s Luke Maile or Jacob Stallings behind the plate, catcher will likely become a weak point for the Pirates in 2020. Stallings had the best 2019 of the two as the 30-year-old played in 71 games, hitting for a .708 OPS and six homers (82 wRC+). For Maile, the 29-year-old played in just 44 games for the Blue Jays, putting up just a .440 OPS (14 wRC+).
Stallings will likely be the leader on Opening Day, but catcher won’t be a strong position for the Pirates in 2020.
4. Cincinnati Reds
Tucker Barnhart does have one Gold Glove to his name (from 2017), but since then, his glove hasn’t quite been the same caliber. With his defense being his best asset, that’s not a great sign.
The 29-year-old did have a solid 2019 though with 5.0 DRS and ranking 43rd in pop time from the catcher’s spot. He also managed fine (for a catcher) with a .708 OPS and 11 homers (81 wRC+) with the bat.
While Barnhart certainly isn’t awful, there’s just not much about his game that is particularly exciting. He does offer more certainty than the Pirates’ catcher situation.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
We all love Yadier Molina, but the whopping 16,327 regular season innings that he has on his knees seem to be catching up with him. In 2019, Molina lost the extra-base power that he had shown the last three years. After averaging 44 extra-base hits from 2016-2018, Molina had just 34 last season.
His batting average was still acceptable at .270, a 5.1% walk rate and just an 87 wRC+ is less than ideal compared to what we’ve seen in the past from the St. Louis legend. Behind the plate, the 37-year-old was still at +2 DRS, ranking 22nd in pop time and handled the pitching staff as good as ever.
Molina may not be the best catcher in baseball anymore, but his leadership and knowledge is invaluable to this club.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
After allowing Yasmani Grandal to walk this winter, the Brewers traded a low-level prospect and a draft pick for Omar Narvaez of the Seattle Mariners. the 27-year-old Narvaez has a very odd batting profile as he doesn’t hit the ball hard, but still had a very good .813 OPS and 22 homers in 2019.
The numbers might catch up to him eventually, but for now, Narvaez is coming off of a 119 wRC+ season at the age of 27.
When I say that Narvaez is offensively minded, I mean it more in the sense that he is awful on defense. By DRS, he was a horrendous -18 defender last season. He caught just 18% of runners (league average was 27%) and ranked 68th in pop time for catchers.
His bat will keep him on a team, but he is the definition of a defensive liability.
1. Chicago Cubs
Willson Contreras had an awful 2018, but in 2019, the 27-year-old had his best season yet. While it didn’t propel the Cubs into the playoffs, Contreras’ .888 OPS and 24 homers were a career-high and that all came together for a near-elite 127 wRC+.
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For a guy making just $684,000, that is a great bargain. His salary is jumping up to $4.5M in 2020, but he’s now among the best catchers in the league.
While Contreras had -1 DRS in 2019, his pop time was only behind J.T. Realmuto (looking at catchers with at least 10 attempts). Contreras caught 29% of runners, 3% better than the league average.
I hate to make this admission, but there’s no way to deny that Contreras is the best catcher in the NL Central. He is a fixture in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. Despite reported attempts to trade him in the winter, the Cubs hung on to Contreras and he’ll be dangerous to face this season once again.
The Cardinals definitely don’t rank as bad as they could with this list, it’s just an unfortunate result of Molina’s age. These rankings will be coming out daily but thank you for reading our first look.