Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and it's only 24 days until the season starts.
NL West comparison: the catchers
As I begin the fourth season of doing this newsletter, it's time to return to an old standby: Ranking the NL West teams at each position. The Dodgers are heavily favored to win the NL West title again this season. Let's look at how the teams break down at catcher.
A word on stats before we begin. OPS+ takes a player's on-base plus slugging percentage and compares it to the league average. It also takes into account the player's home field, so a hitter that plays in a pitcher's park gets a slight boost, and vice versa. An OPS+ of 100 means he was an average hitter. 110 means he is 10% better than average, 90 means 10% worse.
CS is simply the percentage of runners that a catcher threw out trying to steal. The league average last season was 27%.
As always, keep in mind that there is no one stat that gives you a full picture of a player and since I don't want to bore you by just listing a ton of numbers, I pick five or six that give you a general idea of what kind of player each person was last season.
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (.320/.400/.462/129 OPS+/CS: 38%). I think the only way Posey will stop being ranked first at catcher in our pre-season looks is when he eventually moves to first base. Posey does everything well, and is only 30 even though it seems like he's been in the league for 20 years. Most metrics show his defense slipping a bit last season, but slipping a bit still makes him above average on defense. It's easy to hate the Giants, but it's hard to hate Posey. One thing to keep an eye on: Posey has played in only one spring training game this year because the ankle he had surgically repaired a few years ago is bothering him.
2. Yasmani Grandal (.247/.308/.459/100/32%) and Austin Barnes (.289/.408/.486/137/27%), Dodgers. They both will get plenty of time behind the plate so I'm listing them both. Grandal lost the starting job at the end of last season to Barnes. Grandal is considered an elite defensive catcher, but I just don't see it. He has led the league in passed balls for three of the last four seasons, including a league-high 16 last season (to go with 29 wild pitches when he was catching). I don't think he's bad behind the plate, but I don't think his great pitch framing makes him elite. Barnes was better than Grandal in almost every way last year. It will be interesting to see how long Dave Roberts sticks with a platoon at catcher. Keep in mind that Grandal is a free agent after this season, so he has extra incentive to rebound from a rough 2017.
3. Alex Avila, Arizona Diamondbacks (.264/.387/.447/119/31%). The biggest flaw in Avila's game is that he doesn't hit lefties all that well, a problem when he faces the Dodgers and their four left-handed starters. Other than that, Avila has a good batting eye and a modicum of power and should be an overall upgrade for Arizona over Chris Iannetta.
4. Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies (.254/.354/.511/114/24%). Iannetta is 35 and had his best season last year. Of course, this is the same Chris Iannetta who hit .225, .252, .188 and .210 the four seasons before that. The odds of him repeating last season are slim, but he will be a serviceable catcher for the Rockies, tasked with mentoring a young pitching staff.
5. Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres (.214/.262/.398/74/37%). Hedges is the classic good-field, no-hit player. He has some power (18 home runs last season), but walks less than the Roadrunner. He's only 25 and hit well in the minors, so there's still a chance he can turn things around, but for that to happen he's going to have to develop a better eye for the strike zone. Behind the plate, he's Gold Glove-level at defense. If he figures things out on offense, he will rocket up this list next year. By the way, who holds the Padres record for most homers by a catcher? Mike Piazza, with 22 in 2006.
Tom Koehler, the only free agent the team signed to a major-league contract in the off-season, hurt his shoulder during a spring training game Friday and will not be ready for the start of the season.
Roberts said Friday that locks for the Dodgers bullpen are: right-handers Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Ross Stripling, and left-handers Scott Alexander and Tony Cingrani. That leaves three spots for an expected eight-man bullpen.
Ask Ross Porter
Former Dodgers announcer Ross Porter will be back this season to answer select reader questions. To send a question to Ross, email me and I will pass it on to him. Please include "Ask Ross Porter" in the subject line.
In case you missed it
How Kenley Jansen became one of the Dodgers' most respected leaders
Yasmani Grandal ponders his future free agency
Jim Ballard outlived his love for the Dodgers, but not the greed that took them from him
As I wrote earlier, this is the start of the fourth season for Dodgers Dugout, and none of it would be possible without all of you. This newsletter is considered one of the most successful The Times puts out, so I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for reading and for subscribing.