We’re nearly a decade-and-a-half away from the glory days of the Braves’ divisional dynasty. There isn’t much linking today’s Braves to the halcyon days of winning the division as if it was something to be taken for granted, but there’s one thing that's inexplicably been a constant for the Braves since those days — reliable production at the catcher position.
Seriously, I want you to think about this; When’s the last time the Braves had a bad situation at catcher? You could argue that A.J. Pierzynski’s final season in a Braves uniform would qualify, but that was cancelled out by Tyler Flowers delivering quality production once he took over as the starter last season.
That was preceded by Pierzynski inexplicably being a top-10 catcher in his age-37 season in 2015, and that was preceded by the Braves getting a good season out of Evan Gattis in his only full season as a starting catcher in the National League.
Gattis was given the reigns after the Braves decided to part ways with Brian McCann after McCann gave them eight full seasons of great production from the backstop. McCann became the starter in 2006 after the Braves gave the job to Johnny Estrada for a couple of bridge seasons in 2004 and 2005. Estrada was the bridge to McCann from Javy Lopez, who was the man behind the plate for the Braves for the vast majority of the divisional dynasty.
In fact, the last time that the Braves had situation that you could consider “bad” at the catcher spot was all the way back in 1993. That was when Damon Berryhill followed up a -0.3 fWAR season with a “rebound” year of 0.9 fWAR. Greg Olson contributed 0.0 fWAR in what ended up being his final season, and Javy Lopez managed to compile 0.3 fWAR over just eight games played that year. Clearly that was a sign of good things to come for Lopez.
Still, the point is that you have to go back a quarter of a century to find a time where the Braves could’ve even come close to something resembling “panic mode” when it came to their catcher. That brings us to today, where the Braves have somehow come upon the winning combination of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.
Now, it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch to believe that Tyler Flowers could replicate the season he had last year — which he has, and he’s also improved defensively which explains his jump in fWAR from last season (1.1) to this year (currently 2.1). What’s astonishing is the fact that Kurt Suzuki has hit as well as he has. He’s only made 60 appearances this year, but he’s currently hitting .269/.345/.543 over that span. His wRC+ is 127, which is absurd when you realize that his wRC+ for 2015 and 2016 was 64 and 85, respectively.
There was no reason to expect this out of a player heading into his age-33 season, and the only logical explanation is that the Braves have access to a magical potion that turns catchers into good players and sometimes it works magnificently and other times you end up with Christian Bethancourt. But in all seriousness, even if the success of the Flowers/Suzuki platoon has been inexplicable, it’s still a testament to the fact that the Braves have somehow managed to turn the position into a strength — even in lean years such as these.
Even now, the most recent knock on the catcher spot would have been the fact that the long-term aspects didn’t look good. Yes, Flowers and Suzuki have done a great job holding down the backstop, but it’s not like they’re viable long-term solutions. Fortunately, it appears that the Braves have done a good job of adding players like Brett Cumberland, Kade Scivicque, Alex Jackson, and Lucas Herbert to their organization as depth.
That’s not to say that we should expect those guys to replicate any of the production of the players that I’ve previously mentioned, but the fact that the Braves actually have a decent handful of prospects at catcher now puts them in a better position than they were at this time last year.
Even if none of the prospects pan out, there’s little reason to believe that the Braves just won’t magically find a way to bring in a catcher on the cheap and get some positive production out of him for a year or two. Apparently that’s just how the Braves roll as an organization.
A lot has changed for this franchise over the years and especially in recent times, but one thing that has remained a constant is the fact that the team has managed to stay out of a truly bad situation at the catcher position. It sure would be nice if that continued into what is hopefully a bright future for the club.