The Detroit Tigers opened the season with a catcher platoon with Alex Avila getting the bulk of the playing time against right handed pitchers and James McCann facing lefties, but a combination of injuries (Avila’s own and one for Miguel Cabrera) and perceived hitting ability saw McCann carry the load for much of the season.
What’s interesting about McCann and Avila is that they delivered identical batting value (on a rate basis) by being completely opposite-type hitters. Avila excels versus righties, McCann versus lefties. Avila drew walks at more than double the league average rate, McCann drew walks at half the league average rate. McCann’s batting approach is predicated on contact, Avila’s is on patience.
And yet, as different as they might be, they both delivered hitting value at exactly the league average rate (for catchers). Around Major League Baseball, catchers combined to hit for a wRC+ of 85. In 2015 Avila has hit for an 85 wRC+ and McCann for an 87 wRC+.
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A quick glance at batting average suggests that McCann was a much better hitter than Avila, that McCann is a league average hitter (overall, not just for catchers), and the Avila is an extremely poor (nigh unplayable) hitter overall. None of that is true. Both were below average hitters overall but perfectly acceptable for the catcher position. Neither was significantly better or worse than the other.
In terms of overall positional value, the Detroit Tigers have totaled 1.8 fWAR at the catcher position. All major league catchers combined have generated 55.5 fWAR — an average of 1.85 fWAR per team.
Individual player grades to follow.
Next: James McCann