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2024 Fangraphs Diamondbacks Projection: Catcher

What can we expect from Gabriel Moreno and... /handwaves vaguely.

Baltimore Orioles v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images
  • Total production: 3.4 fWAR
  • Total MLB rank: 11th
  • Everyday player: Gabriel Moreno, 3.2 fWAR
  • Backups: Tucker Barnhart, Jose Herrera

Fangraphs 2024 Projections: Catcher

Gabriel Moreno 467 .281 .341 .415 .329 3.3 -1.5 5.1 3.2
Tucker Barnhart 128 .222 .294 .304 .268 -5.6 -0.4 1.4 0.2
Jose Herrera 45 .226 .306 .314 .279 -1.6 -0.1 -0.5 0.0
Total 640 .265 .329 .386 .314 -3.8 -2.0 6.0 3.4

On first glance, it seems like Fangraphs has gone all Rodney Dangerfield on Arizona at this position, ranking them basically in the middle of the pack, despite the sterling work done last year by Gabriel Moreno. But there are a couple of points to factor in here. Firstly, there’s the lack of a track record for Moreno. He barely lost his rookie status in 2022, and all told, even including the post-season, has only 513 career plate-appearances in the majors. That’s still a small sample-size from which to extrapolate, and it makes sense for projection systems to prefer those with more data. Give Gaby another year at the same level, and this will be reflected in the 2025 projections.

However, it’s also worth noting that fWAR and bWAR for catchers might be the position where there’s the biggest discrepancy. In Moreno’s case, it’s dramatic. bWAR has him the best catcher in the majors last year, worth 4.3 wins. fWAR has Gabriel all the way down in fifteenth place at 1.9 wins. On that basis, a 3.2 fWAR projection for this season is actually a significant upgrade for him. There’s a belief that “bWAR doesn’t include framing at all”, but looking at their breakdown, it says the defensive component for the position includes “Catcher handling of the pitching staff via things like pitch framing and pitch calling.” However, I do think there is a difference in how defense gets counted is involved.

The above chart (courtesy of Jack) breaks both down and demonstrates that the bulk of the difference comes from the fielding component. They simply use different metrics. Per this article: “Fangraphs uses a statistic called Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), while Baseball-Reference uses a statistics called Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)... UZR takes into account 3 years of players’ data as well as MLB data to determine these percentages, whereas DRS uses essentially 1 year of data. Therefore, some rookies will have drastically different UZR and DRS stats.” There may be other factors. On offense, both Moreno and Jonah Heim had an identical wRC+ figure of 108. But Moreno scored -4.0 on Off, while Heim was at +5.1.

However, I don’t want to get too bogged down in last year’s numbers. For 2024, it’s also worth noting that, while the D-backs may be 11th as a team, there are only five catchers with a higher projected fWAR than Moreno’s 3.2: Adley Rutschman (4.8), Will Smith (4.0), William Contreras (3.5), Heim (3.5) and Sean Murphy (3.4), What drags the D-backs down to mid-level is that their backups, Barnhart and Herrera are predicted to be worth only 0.2. Of the ten teams above them, nobody is expected to get less production than Arizona out of their backup catchers. Indeed, you have to dive almost to the bottom, to the 26th-ranked Nationals, to find the only side who does.

Partly it’s because they just don’t get much opportunity. His expected 467 PA is already upper-tier among the Fangraphs projections. Rutschman (474), Smith (486), and J.T. Realmuto (499) are the only with more. Including the post-season last year, Moreno ended up at 450 PA, and didn’t appear particularly to be flagging in the playoffs, with a .749 OPS there. He was perhaps thrown in at the deep end due to the early loss of Carson Kelly. Over one stretch in April, Moreno played eight straight days, six of them being complete games behind the plate. He did miss three weeks in July-August with a shoulder issue, and given the drop-off, we’d like to avoid that if possible in 2024.

Fingers crossed, we’ll get to see Moreno put up at least one of the top three seasons by a catcher in franchise history. At the moment, that category is entirely dominated by Miguel Montero: he was worth 3.3 fWAR in 2014, 5.6 in 2012, and a franchise-best 5.9 fWAR in 2011. So it has been a long while since the Diamondbacks have had strong production out of the catcher’s position. The top pair of seasons might be a bridge too far, but the figure above represents the 50th percentile of expectations for Moreno. If he can remain fully healthy in 2024, I would be inclined to wager on him surpassing projections, and moving onto the podium for best catcher years in franchise history. That should help Arizona move into the top ten across MLB at the position.


Over/under on Moreno’s PA in 2024 (467)?

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