Each week, Matt Weyrich discusses the biggest question surrounding the Washington Nationals. This week? Which catcher will see the most playing time this season?
According to Fangraphs, Ramos accumulated a WAR of 3.5 in 2016, which tied for the third highest mark in the Majors among backstops. Derek Norris, Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, the three catchers on the Nats’ 40-man roster that saw playing time at the MLB level last season, combined for just 0.6 WAR.
The way thing stands right now, it appears that Norris and Lobaton will be splitting time behind the plate while Severino heads back down to the minors. The duo could be platooned, as Lobaton has historically had much more success against righties than lefties. However, I get the sense that the front office wants to gamble on Norris and see if he can resurrect his former All-Star self.
Norris, 27, is a former 2007 Nats’ fourth round pick. He’s played in the Majors for five seasons, making an All-Star appearance in 2014 as a member of the Oakland A’s. Norris is a well-known liability for holding baserunners, but his 11 defensive runs saved over the past two seasons indicate he’s at least a serviceable defender.
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At the plate, Norris strikes out a lot and hasn’t ever eclipsed more than 14 home runs in a season, but he did hit 33 doubles in 2015 and has a career OPS of .798 with runners in scoring position. He suffered an abysmal season in 2016, hitting .186 with a strikeout rate of 30.3 percent, but it’s not unreasonable to expect him to revert to his .233/.309/.380 career averages.
Lobaton could see an increased role as well, but the 32-year old Venezuelan native has never played more than 100 games in a season and his numbers over the past few years leave much to be desired. Severino was described as “the catcher of the future” by Nats GM Mike Rizzo earlier this offseason, but he still has some offensive issues to work out in AAA before he’s ready to take over full-time.
Norris may be the biggest wild card of the three, but he also presents the most upside offensively. Baker may decide to have him split time with Lobaton, but my guess is he’s going to be seeing the lion’s share of playing time.