Though it has become quite common for players of all shapes, sizes and positions to show up early for Spring Training camps in Florida and Arizona, the "pitchers and catchers" concept is still sacred in this sport.
This got us thinking about, well, pitchers and catchers. Which ones unite to form baseball's best batteries? If you could combine the expected performance of a given pitcher with that of a given catcher and display it in a battery image like the one on your smartphone, which ones would look the fullest?
The way we're going to do this is to utilize FanGraphs' Steamer projections for 2016. Steamer, which is widely regarded as one of the most accurate predictors in the industry, uses past performance and aging trends to develop a future projection for players. We are going to combine Steamer's projected WAR totals for catchers and pitchers to determine the 10 best tandems in the game today.
Spoiler alert: d'Arnaud d'Ominates this list, and that shouldn't be terribly surprising given the relative strength of the Mets' starting staff. But d'Arnaud holds up his end of the bargain, with the sixth-highest projected WAR tally (2.8) of any catcher. Steamer sees him posting a .257/.320/.445 slash line with 16 homers and 54 RBIs in 426 plate appearances, while delivering terrific defense.
As for Syndergaard, he's pegged for a 4.1 WAR, thanks to a 3.14 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 176 innings over 29 starts in his sophomore season. Basically, Steamer expects him to continue to be a Thor(n) in people's sides again this year.
This projection assumes health for Tanaka, pegging him for a 197-inning season (his stateside high so far was last year's 154 mark), despite the current concern over his Opening Day readiness following offseason elbow surgery. Steamer has him down for a 3.35 ERA across 31 starts, for a 4.2 WAR.
McCann's 2015 was more indicative of the performance on both sides of the ball that the Yankees expected when they made a five-year, $85 million investment in him than 2014 had been. Steamer sees him posting another strong season in '16, with a 3.0 WAR built upon a .746 OPS, 22 homers and the seventh-best defensive mark among catchers in the Majors.
Let's be honest: Avila is basically just along for the ride here, because Sale, with a 5.9 WAR, accounts for 84.3 percent of this projected total. Steamer views him as a clear American League Cy Young Award candidate, with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP across 210 innings in 32 starts. The Sox would certainly sign up for that.
Avila, who has battled concussions, was brought aboard to share time behind the plate with Dioner Navarro. Steamer has him down for a .679 OPS in 229 plate appearances.
Our old friend d'Arnaud's back, and he brought his partner in lowercase clout with him.
deGrom followed up his 2014 National League Rookie of the Year Award-winning turn with a '15 showing in which he finished seventh in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Little wonder, then, that Steamer predicts him to contribute a 3.17 ERA in 203 innings over 32 starts, good for a 4.4 WAR.
Another instance of a catcher riding his starters' coattails -- not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, Ramos' projected 1.7 WAR would be a significant improvement over his 0.4 mark last year. Steamer sees him repeating his 2014 OPS (.698) in an 88-game sample rather than his 2015 mark (.616) in 128 games.
But this is really all about Scherzer. Understandably, Steamer projects him to be every bit as impactful in his second season with the Nats as he was in his first. OK, maybe he won't throw two no-hitters, but he is projected to post a 2.71 ERA in 212 innings of work, good for a 5.6 WAR.
Steamer, like a lot of pundits, views the Indians' rotation as downright Mets-like, and so it is represented twice on this list. Carrasco has had two magnificent second-half showings the past two seasons and is therefore viewed as a sleeper AL Cy Young Award candidate. Steamer sees him finishing with a 3.02 ERA in 31 starts for a 4.8 WAR, but with only a modest rise from last year's 183 2/3 innings, up to 188.
Gomes, meanwhile, is a big bounceback candidate for the Tribe after suffering an early season knee injury in 2015 and never truly recovering. Steamer isn't bullish on him returning to his Silver Slugger showing from 2014, but its projection of a .249/.293/.416 slash and 2.5 WAR in 108 games would still rate as improvement over his 95-game showing in '15.
Yep. Mets again. And Harvey is their projected rotation WAR leader, with a 4.6 mark that is just two ticks ahead of deGrom's tally.
The Mets quite famously slowed Harvey's innings progression toward the end of the regular season last year, and then he blew by the 200-inning mark in the postseason. Steamer sees him posting his first official 200-inning campaign (203, to be precise), with a 3.09 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 207 strikeouts.
Kluber's followup to his transcendent 2014 season has often been labeled a step back (it was too easy to be deceived by that 9-16 record), but many of his peripheral numbers were very much in line with -- or even improvements upon -- his AL Cy Young Award-winning season. He's no fluke, in other words, and Steamer has definitely bought in.
The projection system has the Klubot down for an even 3.00 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 211 innings. It all adds up to a 5.2 WAR.
That's a big leap from the third spot to the second. We are truly in brilliant battery territory here, and you'll have that when you're talking about a former MVP behind the plate and a World Series legend on the mound.
Bumgarner amazingly showed absolutely no ill-effects whatsoever from his 2014 October workload when he took the ball in '15. He was as good or better than ever, and Steamer is expectant of more excellence in '16, with a 2.76 ERA, 215 strikeouts and a 1.07 WHIP in 209 innings across 32 starts. Given those numbers, the projected WAR tally (4.3) seems conservative.
Posey amazingly finished with more walks than strikeouts last season. Steamer doesn't see him repeating that feat, but he's still in line for an impressive year. Posey is pegged for an .846 OPS, 17 homers, 29 doubles and enough defensive aplomb to earn him the highest projected WAR among catchers (5.4) by a long shot. The next-closest backstop is Russell Martin, at 3.3.
Subjectively, this is the best battery in baseball, for my money. But on this list, because Bumgarner's projected WAR does not rate quite as high on the Steamer scale as you might think, the Giants get beat out by their NL West rivals…
You won't be surprised to learn Kershaw has the highest projected WAR of any arm (7.3), and it's not particularly close. Sale is in second, a full 1.4 wins below the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner. If these projections are to be believed, No. 4 can't possibly be far behind, because Kershaw is slated to go 17-7 with a 2.07 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and an absurd 268 strikeouts in 217 innings over 32 starts. Only seven pitchers -- all relievers -- have a higher projected K/9 rate than Kershaw's 11.11 mark.
Grandal will be a big X-factor for the Dodgers in his second season with the club. Last year, he had a severe OPS split between the first half (.927) and second (.498) because of a shoulder injury. Steamer is essentially splitting the difference, projecting Grandal to post a .758 OPS with 14 homers, 17 doubles and 45 RBIs in 415 plate appearances. It adds up to a 2.6 WAR.