If you're reading this, you're probably all too conscious of two facts. First, that the Braves' pitchers and catchers report in (only?) 41 days. And second, that those areas of the team are the ones least in need of improvement.
The Braves' pitchers carried the team in 2011, and the catching tandem was perhaps the best in MLB. Most of the rest of the offense struggled to keep up with their peers around the league, however.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking a closer look at the Braves' offense, position by position. The goal is to see how the Braves' players compared to the rest of the NL in '11. In addition, I'll look ahead using projections (and my own two cents) to see how much improvement we can reasonably expect from each position this year.
The main metric I'll be using in these posts is Weighted Runs Created, or wRC. If you aren't familiar with wRC, don't worry. Just think of it as a fancy--and more accurate--version of runs or RBIs. It's on the same scale as those stats, so you know that 70-80 is decent and 100 is very good. You can also read the FanGraphs glossary entry on wRC here.
We'll start on a happy note, with the Braves' best position: catcher. The infographic below sums up the offensive performance of the Braves' catchers in 2011, compared to the rest of the NL. You're going to want to click on the graphic to expand it.
Long story short: even with McCann having somewhat of a down year, the Braves' catchers were still clearly one of the top two groups in the NL.
Both Brian McCann and David Ross performed at a well above-average rate for their position. Given a full season of 700 PAs (yeah, catchers never get that many, but anyway), McCann would be about 25 runs better than an average NL catcher. Ross would be 13 runs better than average over 700 PA.
Among the 35 NL catchers with at least 100 PA, McCann's rate ranked tied for 5th* and Ross was 14th. The Braves' average of 94 wRC per 700 PA ranked 2nd in the NL behind the Diamondbacks.
* You'd never guess who was #1: Henry Blanco, with 106 wRC per 700 PAs. Yeah, that Henry Blanco.
Overall, the Braves' catchers posted a total of 95 wRC. McCann had 73 wRC, Ross had 21, and J.C. Boscan chipped in with 1. That total was the highest of any NL team, edging out the D'backs (who had 94).
McCann's 73 wRC was low for him; the past 3 seasons, he had been worth 83, 80, and 97 wRC. Though he was probably a bit disappointed with his production, McCann still put up the 2nd-most wRC of any NL catcher (Miguel Montero had 77).
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, most people seem to think that McCann will bounce back to his normal levels. Bill James projects McCann to be worth 82 wRC. The Fan Projections at FanGraphs think he'll be even better: 84 wRC. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system doesn't list wRC, but it thinks McCann will hit about the same as in 2011 (.270 / .354 / .458) but with about 30 more PAs. So that'd be around 76-78 wRC, probably.
As for Ross, James thinks he'll take a bit of a dip offensively, but that he'll still be above average. Given Ross' age, that makes sense. I don't expect him to get 300+ PAs like James projects, though (most bench players are projected for more PAs than they're likely to get). ZiPS thinks Ross will hit .239 / .333 / .413, which is a bit higher than James projects but a bit worse than Ross did in 2011. If Ross gets 150-200 PA, he'd be at around 18 to 20 wRC by either system.
Add that up and, barring a major injury, the projection systems think the Braves' catchers should be just as good in 2012 as they were in 2011. They're probably a bit more likely to improve than to decline, too.
That sounds about right to me. I know that McCann is capable of producing far more than those projections, but you have to balance those hopes with injury concerns. I could see McCann topping 100 wRC, but I could also see him missing a couple months and struggling to get past 50. Regardless, I'd say that the Braves are in very good shape at catcher, and are very likely to rank at or near the top of the pack in 2012.
What do you guys think?
Coming up on Wednesday, I take a look at 1st base, where Freddie Freeman certainly held his own in his rookie season.