Now, you want to talk about a tricky position to evaluate? Catcher might be the most difficult. How do you measure a guy’s ability to call a game? How do you measure a guy’s leadership with the pitching staff? There’s so much more than numbers that goes into a catcher’s ability. But, in lieu of having numbers that can measure those intangibles, we’ll have to just go by what we can measure. Offensively, we’ll use much of the same stats we’ve been using for other positions. But, defensively, there are two important statistics that are unique to catchers: rSB & RPP. rSB measures a catcher’s ability to save runs be eliminating stolen bases. RPP measures a catcher’s ability to block pitches behind the plate. Both have the same standard: 0 is league average, and above or below that shows how well the catcher is doing compared to the rest of the league. So, here’s how MLB Network ranked them:
- Buster Posey (SF)
- Yadier Moline (STL)
- Carlos Ruiz (PHI)
- Miguel Montero (ARI)
- Joe Mauer (MIN)
- Salvador Perez (KC)
- Carlos Santana (CLE)
- Matt Weiters (BAL)
- Alex Avila (DET)
- A.J. Ellis (LAD)
I have some issues with this list because it appears to me that MLBN has not placed a significant enough value on a catcher’s defense, and because they’ve assumed a lot about a couple guys that don’t have much time put in at the position. And, that brings me to honorable mention: Alex Avila & A.J. Ellis. Avila has some nice offensive numbers the last three seasons: .781 OPS, 114 wRC+. But, his defense is simply not good: -2 rSB & -10.5 RPP (the worst of anyone I even considered). Ellis was a close call at #10. But, ultimately, the reason I didn’t go with him is because he only has one full season behind the plate, and he turns 32 in April – which tells me we may have already seen his best. So, here’s how I would rank them.
10. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL) – his offense has been pretty nice the last two years: .778 OPS, 12 HR, 112 wRC+, on average. His ability to hold baserunners isn’t very good (-4 rSB), but his pitch-blocking skill is already above average (4.1 RPP). Also, he has plenty of time to continue to improve, as he doesn’t turn 27 until June.
9. Salvador Perez – once again, MLBN is jumping the gun on a young, unproven player. Perez has just 115 games at the major league level. Granted, they have been a pretty impressive 115 games – .810 OPS, 14 HR, 119 wRC+, 8 rSB. But, we’ve yet to see a full season out of him, and his ability to block pitches behind the plate needs some work (-1.5 RPP). That being said, he does look to have the skills to be a force both offensively and defensively – and he turns just 23 years old in May.
8. Brian McCann (ATL) – so, exactly what is it that pushed him off this list? His .784 OPS? His 22 HR per year? His 111 wRC+ the last 3 years? His 15.2 RPP the last three seasons? I’ll give you the fact that his 0 rSB for three years is only “average.” But, if he’s above average everywhere else, I don’t see him completely missing the list. Especially when you can see pretty big holes in the game of some of the others.
7. Carlos Santana – a 122 wRC+ in his first two full seasons in the big leagues is really nice. He’s just going to be 27 in April, and he’s already averaging 20+ home runs per year with a .797 OPS. He’s already above average at holding baserunners (3 rSB), but his skills at stopping the ball behind the plate could use some work (-9.0 RPP). However, at his young age, and with just 223 starts behind the plate, I think that will improve significantly with time.
6. Matt Weiters – his defense is arguably the best in baseball (2 Gold Gloves in just 3 full seasons – 16 rSB & 13.5 RPP), and he doesn’t turn 27 until May. His offense is lagging behind, which is the only reason I have him this far down the list. Just a 108 wRC+ the last two years, and a .771 OPS. He has averaged 22 home runs the last two years, so I expect his offense to catch up with his superb defense. And, when it does . . . look out
5. Miguel Montero – well above average offense (.826 OPS & 120 wRC+ the last two seasons), and above average defense (6 rSB & 0.2 RPP) make this 29-year-old impossible to ignore. Granted, his defense isn’t that far above average, and that’s why I don’t think he belongs ahead of Mauer, whose offense is quite a bit better. But, if Montero keeps this up, he’ll find himself pushing into the top-3 soon.
4. Joe Mauer – he’s second only to Posey in wRC+ (130) and OPS (.862) in the two full seasons he’s played the last three years. But, the reason he slips down the list is because his defense is slightly below average (-4 rSB, -2.8 RPP). But, he doesn’t turn 30 until April, so he should have a few more “prime” years left in him.
3. Carlos Ruiz – I think it’s interesting (if not suspicious) that his career has really improved once he surpassed the age of 30. At the age of 33, he set career highs in avg., HR, RBI, and OPS. Should we expect him to continue to produce at the age of 34? I’m not sure. But, the fact of the matter is he’s had an .842 OPS and 128 wRC+ over the last three years. He’s also slightly above average at holding baserunners (1 rSB), while being one of the best at blocking pitches behind the plate (10.8 RPP).
2. Yadier Molina – I give him a slight edge over Ruiz because he’s younger (turns 31 in July), and because of his ability to stop baserunners (14 rSB). Molina is superb behind the plate (5 straight Gold Gloves) – he and Weiters set the standard. And, in recent years, his offense has caught up with his impressive D – .789 OPS, 14 HR, 8 SB, and 117 wRC+ over the last three seasons.
1. Buster Posey – easiest choice on the list. Take out the few games he played in 2011 before breaking his leg, and look at what you have: .911 OPS, 21 home runs per year, 145 wRC+, a catcher well above average in the field (top-5, I’d say), and a guy that has won a batting title, ROY, MVP, and 2 World Series. All in the only two full seasons he’s played, before he even turned 26 years old.