New era behind the dish begins for Braves

December 15th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There was reason for Braves fans to lament William Contreras being traded earlier this week. As the young catcher was belting his way to 20 homers, he was also doing things like unintentionally fueling the Braves-Mets rivalry by using Edwin Díaz’s entrance song as his walk-up song.

We’ll forever have the memories of Mets fans actually thinking Díaz had ownership of that song, and social media will allow us to always look back on those doctored posts of the Narco theme being changed to "Taps" after the Braves won the National League East.

Contreras helped create a lot of good memories during his one full season in Atlanta, and he might now create more for Milwaukee fans. He has the potential to annually hit 25-30 homers over the next few years. But as time passed, it became clear he didn’t have the potential to become strong enough defensively to eventually serve as a primary catcher.

Before you point out that Mike Piazza was a substandard defensive catcher who is now in the Hall of Fame, I think the game has changed. The catching position has always been valued. But we’ve reached a point where you could argue catchers are viewed much like shortstops before the mid-1990s. Yeah, today’s catcher has a little more power than yesterday’s shortstops. But the primary focus is on a player’s defense.

This brings us to the newly acquired Sean Murphy, who comes to Atlanta as one of the game’s top defensive catchers. The 28-year-old backstop ranked in the top five percent of catchers in pop time, and his framing was in the 86th percentile.

Quite honestly, Murphy is a lot like J.T. Realmuto, without all of the hype that surrounded Realmuto as the Braves, Phillies and many other clubs attempted to acquire him before the 2019 season. 

Realmuto averaged 16 homers per season and produced a 116 OPS+ over his final three seasons with the Marlins. Murphy produced a 113 OPS+ over his final three seasons with the A’s. 

Murphy ranked third among all catchers (min. 400 plate appearances) in 2022 with 5.1 fWAR, trailing only Realmuto (6.5) and Orioles rookie Adley Rutschman (5.3).

Quite simply, the Braves secured one of the game’s top catchers for the next three years. Yeah, they had to part with at least five years of Contreras, who is one of the game’s top young power hitters.

Time will tell whether Contreras extends the unexpected success he had during what stands as his only full big league season. But even if Contreras does prove successful as a catcher or designated hitter, Murphy should hit enough to prove this deal gave the Braves more than just premium defense at a premium position.