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Yankees Locked Up the Best Catcher on the Market. Maybe.

Was Brian McCann the best catcher on the free agent market? Maybe. Carlos Ruiz has fairly strong claim as well.


SBN's Steven Goldman had a nice article on Sunday about the Yankees' signing of Brian McCann. His conclusion:

In short, did the Yankees just buy the best catcher on the market? You betcha. Is it going to be a good move in the short term? Almost certainly. His presence will mean fewer batting orders with three-out certitude like the Overbay-Ryan-Stewart combo that was gracing the bottom of Joe Girardi's batting orders in September. That in itself is a blessing. But do all those positives make the move a no-brainer, no-doubt-about-it positive? No. Time will tell on that one.

That all sounds about right, but let's examine that first question and answer -- WAS McCann the best catcher on the market?

We can look at the recent years' performance for the catchers on the market. Last year, Saltalamacchia was clearly the best:


But over the last two years, no one was especially close to Chooch:


Also over the past three years -- Ruiz was the best:


And over the past four years, at least according to rWAR:


Over the past five, McCann is ahead in fWAR, but based on rWAR, Ruiz still maintains a lead:


In the end, Ruiz has been the better hitter, and more productive player overall, over almost any recent set of years one looks at.


More to the point, we can use their recent performance, weigh recent years more heavily, factor in their age etc. to project what they might do going forward. Fortunately, the Steamer projections have already done that, if only for 2014:


Steamer projects 4.4 WAR for McCann, but that's based on 635 plate appearances. The most PA's McCann has ever had in a season is 573. Over the past three seasons, he's had 527, 487, and 402. Perhaps we can say that IF he's healthy, and IF he DH's when he's not catching, 635 is not out of the realm of possibility, but that could likely be said about any catcher who hits well enough to be a viable DH.

In terms of WAR per PA, these projections actually rate Ruiz higher. For example at 500 PAs, Ruiz would have 3.6 WAR to McCann's 3.5. Nevertheless, even adjusting for Ruiz's suspension, McCann has demonstrated he is somewhat more durable, and that's worth something.

When thinking about 2014 and particularly beyond next year, there are three possible concerns about Ruiz, but only one seems valid:

1) Ruiz's PED use: Chooch served a 25-game suspension at the start of the 2013 season because of Adderall use without a medical exemption. However he has since obtained that exemption and can resume using Adderall.

2) Wear and tear: Ruiz is five years older than McCann, but has actually caught fewer games professionally than McCann has:

Ruiz: 790 games caught in majors + 427 in minors = 1217 games total
McCann: 1046 games in majors + 210 in minors = 1256 games total

In fact, as Steve Goldman pointed out, only 13 catchers have ever caught as many games through age 29 as McCann.

3) Ruiz is five years older, and he will have to contend (to a greater extent than McCann) with age-related issues that all players are faced with regardless of position: bat speed, foot speed, and, most importantly, injury risk.

Had the question been "did the Yankees just buy the best fit for their team and park (and league)?" I think the "You betcha" is appropriate.

Or even "did they just buy the catcher who will be most productive over the next 6 years?" -- "You betcha" seems like the right response there as well.

And admittedly, maybe this is taking Mr. Goldman's words too literally, and one of the above questions is what he actually meant.

In short, McCann IS arguably the best catcher on the market. But it's also arguably too close to call between him and Ruiz -- certainly not a clear enough answer to warrant a "You betcha."


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