By Ruthvik Avvari
Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every Monday and Wednesday for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 catchers.
MLB Network’s Top 10 Catchers
- Buster Posey [2018: 1]
- J.T. Realmuto [2018: 5]
- Yasmani Grandal [2018: 4]
- Gary Sanchez [2018: 2]
- Willson Contreras [2018: 3]
- Yadier Molina [2018: 8]
- Kurt Suzuki [2018: NR]
- Wilson Ramos [2018: NR]
- Mike Zunino [2018: 7]
- Salvador Perez [2018: NR]
Reaction to the Shredder
Here are three catchers and we’ll compare 3 important metrics: WRC+, DEF, and fWAR.
Catcher A: 126 WRC+, 7.9 DEF, 4.8 fWAR
Catcher B: 100 WRC+, 12.7 DEF, 2.6 fWAR
Catcher C: 106 WRC+, 5.3 DEF, 2.0 fWAR
A quick glance shows that Catcher A is the offensive stalwart of the group, while Catcher B is a much better presence behind the plate. Catcher A is JT Realmuto, who had a breakout campaign with the Miami Marlins and established himself as one of, if not the best, all around catcher in baseball. DEF metrics are compared to 0 being the league average, +4 as above average and +12 as great, so Realmuto is well in the above average category defensively, while providing elite production offensively.
Catcher B is Willson Contreras, who had a down year offensively. He posted a 0.249 BA and 22% K rate, but he still hit 31 HR over the last two years. Contreras has been driving in runs in an explosive Cubs offense, averaging 64 RBIs over the last two years. His 12.7 DEF puts him in the great category, and a whole point ahead of a defensive whiz in Martin Maldonado, who was second in the majors with 11.3 DEF.
Catcher C was Buster Posey, who had a subpar year due to some injuries, but if we are compiling a list of the best catchers right now, the decline over the last year has to be accounted for. Posey’s reign at the top remains for another year, because of his track record and above average offensive tools. Defensively, however, he is not the same catcher he was in his prime. His Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) is ahead of only Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos on this current list, and those guys are both on the wrong side of 30. Posey’s power also dropped drastically — after posting 12 HR and a 0.142 ISO in 2017, those numbers dropped to 5 HR and a 0.098 a year ago (albeit in 35 less games). He still hits for contact and walks well with a stellar 10% BB rate and 11% K rate, while the 0.284 BA and 0.359 OBP lead to a 106 WRC+, making him an above league average hitter. However, given the numbers, it feels like a stretch to call him a top-2 catcher in baseball.
Rounding up the top five, Grandal had a career year in terms of power and was steady behind the plate until the playoffs, but the small postseason sample should not dampen a performance worthy of a top 5 Catcher over the course of the season. His 3.6 fWAR is second in the league to Realmuto. Gary Sanchez had an abysmal year, hitting 0.186, but still drew walks at a 12.3% hitting in the heart of the dangerous Yankees lineup but only his 18 HR helped build a fWAR of 1.4, as his DEF value of 6.3 pales in comparison to most of the other catchers on the list.
Looking at the second half of the list, Suzuki and Ramos had offensive revivals this season, with Suzuki hitting for a 108 WRC+ and Ramos with a league best 131 WRC+. While their defense isn’t where it used to be in their primes, their offense keeps them at the top ten at a position where offensive production is lacking. Molina and Perez have been top ten catchers in the league for a few years now. Molina hit for a barely above league average 103 WRC+, and posted a 20 HR-season that helped him build a 2.2 fWAR. Perez had some struggles to the tune of a 89 WRC+, but he made up for that with a 10.7 DEF, proving his worth as one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Mike Zunino had a WRC+ of 84 which is mainly due to the abysmal 37% K rate; however, his stellar work behind the plate (10.8 DEF) and 20 HR led to a respectable 1.5 fWAR, and that power threat kept him on the top ten border.
Overall, this list looks to account for past achievements almost equally along with this past year, and while history should be accounted for, having a top ten RIGHT NOW list should not go back longer than one year at the most. Also, catcher is one of maybe three positions (SS and CF) where a player’s offensive inadequacies can be overlooked because of his defensive prowess, because pitch framing and the ability to throw out runners are arguably more valuable than a single or a double in a game. In which case, I would make an argument that not only is Buster Posey not the top catcher in the league, he is not even second. I will give the younger players an advantage over guys on the other side of the 30 because of the potential for improvement and less likely chance of regression, but there will always be players who prove me wrong with that concept (thanks Cervelli, Ramos and Suzuki).
M-SABR’s Top 10 Catchers
- J.T. Realmuto
- Yasmani Grandal
- Willson Contreras
- Buster Posey
- Gary Sanchez
- Yadier Molina
- Salvador Perez
- Wilson Ramos
- Kurt Suzuki
- Mike Zunino
The one thing that the Shredder and I both agree on is that these ten players are the top ten catchers in the major leagues right now. The only question is, which order? I made my argument earlier on why I don’t think Buster Posey is the best catcher in the league, but I may have also overreacted myself by placing him fourth. This is still an NL MVP and 3X World Series Champion that we’re talking about. Rather than focusing on Posey, I’d like to talk about the three guys in front of him.
First of all, they are all younger than him, so they still have their best ahead of them. J.T Realmuto produced a 4.8 fWAR on the rebuilding Marlins this year, and this was because of stellar offensive production on a team that ranked near the bottom of the list on almost every offensive category. Combined with his above-average defense, that makes him the best all around catcher in the league currently. Yasmani Grandal had a better DEF rating by 1.1, walked at a rate that was twice as good, got on base at a slightly higher rate, but is also almost 4 years older. Realmuto still has not hit his peak yet and is producing similar offensive numbers on a basement dwelling team, while Grandal just moved to a team with one of the deepest lineups in baseball. It is yet to be seen how much the change in scenery will effect Grandal; however, both catchers appear to have bright futures ahead of them.
Wilson Contreras had a stellar defensive campaign, but his offensive numbers dropped a lot from the year before (WRC+ 122 vs 100). His offensive ceiling is a top 5 catcher in the league as evident from the stellar 2017 season, and he is also one of the best defensive catchers already, after posting a league best 12.7 DEF in 2018. This makes him an extremely valuable player. Although this was a down year for him offensively, I would not be surprised if he jumps ahead of Grandal and Realmuto to take the crown next year with a resurgent offensive season in 2019. For now, I placed him at third with respect to the much better offensive stats for Grandal and Realmuto. This brings us to Posey at fourth. I still believe that a fully healthy Posey is a top 5 catcher in the league. We’ll just have to wait until next year to see if that’s true or not.
Gary Sanchez, at full power, is a threat to hit 40+ HR a season, something that is uncanny for a catcher, but he strikes out a quarter of the time and posts just above average DEF numbers (6.3). His batting average was below the Mendoza line but if he continues to play in pinstripes, the 40+ HR threat and 100+ RBIs keeps him in the top 10 in a position where offensive firepower is often lacking.
The bottom half of the list has 3 veterans playing at the top of their game offensively currently, and none showing signs of slowing down. Yadi has been a great defensive catcher and just won another Gold Glove award (that makes 9!) at age 36, while hitting 20 HR which is stellar. Salvador Perez had a down year with a 89 WRC+ but his position leading 27 HR and 10.7 DEF as a 28 year old gives us hope that he can improve in the upcoming campaign and places him ahead of the two other veterans on this list. Rounding out the top ten is swing happy Mike Zunino, who we can hope will find it easier to hit as a member of the Rays, but the power threat and defensive prowess keeps him as a member of this top ten list.