Welcome to the position-by-position breakdown of the Mets relative to the rest of the National League East. We’ll start at catcher.
1. Atlanta Braves: Clearly, the best backstop in the division is Brian McCann. Now 28 years old, McCann has settled into a routine of posting an .800+ OPS with 20+ home runs, and there’s little reason to expect he won’t do the same in 2012. His backup, David Ross, has seen his numbers dip a bit in each of the past three seasons, but still gets on base and hits for power as well as any backup catcher in the league.
2. Washington Nationals: It may not be this year, but Wilson Ramos is on track to eclipse Brian McCann for best catcher in the division soon. Ramos put up a slash line of .267/.334/.445 last year, and entering his age-25 season, few catcher can be expected to out-produce Ramos. His backup, Jesus Flores, is still coming back from shoulder surgery that itself kept Flores from being a name said like an obscenity by Mets fans-Flores, remember, was stolen from Omar Minaya’s Mets in the Rule 5 draft.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: Carlos Ruiz continues in his strong, steady and unspectacular ways for the Phillies. He hit .283/.371/.383 last year, down a bit from his BABIP-aided 2010. He’s backed up be Brian Schneider, so he better stay on the field.
4. Miami Marlins: In John Buck, the Marlins have the polar opposite offensively of the Met catcher Josh Thole. Buck strikes out a lot, hits for a fluctuating batting average, but has some power. Josh Thole, of course, hardly ever strikes out, hits for a consistently mediocre batting average, and has no power. They even out to roughly the same value. But Miami’s backup, Brett Hayes, does exactly the same thing as Buck, while the Mets have a severe dropoff from Thole to Mike Nickeas.
5. New York Mets: What to expect from Thole? The projection systems have him right around his 2010 and 2011 levels, .270 batting average, .350 on-base percentage, .370 slugging percentage. A .720 OPS from a catcher is about average, so if his defense improves, the Mets will be average when Thole plays. Of course, Thole has yet to hit lefties, and his backup, Nickeas, has yet to hit MLB pitching at all, so the total is less than Thole’s production alone would suggest. Still, if Ruiz struggles to stay healthy or Thole progresses, the Mets could get as high as third in the division at catcher.