Top 10 Catchers for 2020
The future is bright for the catcher position in MLB
Over the past few weeks, Rob and I have embarked on the journey of ranking our top 10 players at each position on the podcast. I will be uploading a written version of my rankings along with my explainations for each ranking here on the website. Today's upload is on catchers, if you missed our podcast on catchers, you can check that out here.
To evaluate the players for my list, I looked at the standard stats like home runs and the AVG/OBP/SLG slashline, as well as some more advanced stats like wOBA, wRC+, and pitch framing. The statistic I used for catcher framing is Runs Extra Strikes (RES), which is the stat that Baseball Savant uses when evaluating framing.
Now, before I get into the rankings I do want to first talk about a few players that just missed the cut on my list, the first being Tom Murphy. Murphy spent the 2019 season with the Mariners after spending 2015-2018 with the Colorado Rockies. Murphy appeared in 76 games, which more than doubled his previous high of 37. In 281 plate apperances, Murphy mashed the ball last season, hitting 18 home runs and posting a 126 wRC+. He also posted an RES of 5. So what's the problem, why didn't he make the list? For me, its the lack of experience. 2019 was the first season where he posted over 100 plate appearances. Until he gets some more playing time under his belt it will be hard to tell which Tom Murphy is the real one. The 2019 one who posted a 126 wRC+ in 76 games for the Mariners or the 2018 Murphy who posted a 50 wRC+ for the Rockies over 37 games.
The other two players who I came close to putting on my list were Omar Narvaez and Wilson Ramos. Both players have shown the ability to get the job done offensively in their careers. The problem is that neither player brings much to the game defensively. Pitch framing was a big influencer in how I made my decisions regarding this list and neither Narvaez or Ramos faired well posting a -5 and -4 RES respectively.
With the honorable mentions out of the way, lets get into the top 10:
10. Buster Posey (33) - San Francisco Giants
While he is not the MVP he used to be, Buster Posey is still finding ways to add value to the Giants roster. Offensively, Posey struggled last season, posting a .298 wOBA, a 85 wRC+, and only 7 HR. Despite that, Posey was able to accumulate 1.8 fWAR last season. When healthy, Posey has delivered quality play behind the plate. In 2019, his RES was 10, placing him 6th in catcher framing last season. While his offensive numbers aren't what they used to be, I think there is a possibility that they rebound a little bit. Posey did spend multiple stints on the IL last season which could contribute to his offensive downfalls. The biggest indicater of a small resugence though, is that his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was 26 points below his career average, suggesting that Posey was a bit unlucky at the plate last season.
9. Carson Kelly (25) - Arizona Diamondbacks
Carson Kelly was acquired from the Cardinals along with Luke Weaver for Paul Goldschmidt last offseason. 2019 was Kelly's first full season in the Majors and he did not disappoint. Kelly hit .245/.348/.478 which was good for a .339 wOBA and a 108 wRC+. Kelly showcased some pop at the plate as well slugging 18 home runs. Kelly held his own behind the plate as well posting an RES of 7. The Diamondbacks will hope that Kelly can build off of his strong first season and become the mainstay behind homeplate for years to come.
8. Will Smith (25) - Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers rookie Will Smith only played in 54 games last year at the MLB level, but boy did he make a name for himself once he arrived. In 54 games, Smith hit 15 HRs, had a .369 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 132. He was also able to accumulate 1.7 fWAR and 2 RES in his stay. Smith has the potential to blossum into one of the games premiere catchers if he can sustain that type of produciton moving forward. The question will be whether he can, or if this short stint in the Majors was just a fluke.
7. Christian Vazquez (29) - Boston Red Sox
2019 was the first season in which Christian Vazquez played in more than 100 games. His career has been marked with lots of inconsistancy but Vazquez began to put it together in 2019. His biggest jump came in the form of power, Vazquez slugged 23 HR besting a previous career high of 5. Vazquez also posted his first season with a wRC+ over 100 at 102 and was able to accumulate 3.5 fWAR. A big part of that war total came from his abilities behind the plate. In 2019, he posted a Runs Extra Strikes of 11, placing him 5th in all of the MLB. With the loss of Mookie Betts this offseason, the Red Sox will hope that Vazquez can continue this production forward as he will be taking a bigger role in the offense.
6. Roberto Perez (31) - Cleveland Indians
Roberto Perez put himself on the map in 2019 by finding his power stroke and playing stellar defense behind the plate. Perez tripled his previous career high in home runs by hitting 24 in 2019. Perez hit .239/.321/.452 and posted a wRC+ of 98, numbers that don't blow you away offensively, but that are serviceable for a big league catcher. Where Roberto Perez really stands out is behind the plate. In 2019, he posted an RES of 12, placing him forth in the league, and led the American League in Caught Stealing % (CS%) at 41%. These two things helped Perez earn his first Gold Glove. If Perez can find a way to improve his offense, then he has a chance to move up this list, but with being on the wrong side of 30 now, it will be interesting to watch moving forward if this was his peak, or if he can build on this season.
5. Gary Sanchez (27) - New York Yankees
Gary Sanchez's game is marked by one thing, power. In 2019, Sanchez hit 34 HR and slugged .525 in only 106 games. Last season though, power was the only strong suit in his offense, as he hit .232 with an OBP of .316. Couple that with subar defense and framing behind the plate, a -4 RES in 2019, and Gary has a lot of areas to improve on. The good news is that Gary Sanchez is only entering his prime at 27 years old and has all the tools necessary to become a top catcher in the game. Playing 81 games in Yankee Stadium will certainly help his offense moving forward but unless his defense improves, it will be hard for him to move further up the list.
4. Mitch Garver (29) - Minnesota Twins
Mitch Garver exploded onto the scene putting up great offensive numbers, becoming a big part of the Twins offense that broke the MLB team home run record in 2019. Garver hit .273/.365/.630 with 31 HR, he also posted a .404 wOBA and a 155 wRC+, elite level numbers. Defensively, Garver has much to improve on, framing was a problem for him in 2019 having a -3 RES. The question surrounding Mitch Garver is whether this is the real Garver. In 2018, Mitch Garver played 103 games but only posted a 104 wRC+ with only 7 HR. Garver is even harder to read because he is a lot bloomer, only in his third season at 29 years old, but there are signs that point to him being closer to the 2019 player than 2018. From 2018 to 2019, Garvers BABIP dropped 55 points, suggesting he was rather unlucky, but he was still able to put up crazy offensive numbers. If those numbers hold true, then Garver is a guy that will continue to shoot up this list in the coming seasons.
3. Willson Contreras (27) - Chicago Cubs
Willson Contreras doesn't put up quite the offensive numbers that Sanchez and Garver do, but Contreras is a solid contributor on both sides of the ball. In 2019, his wOBA was .368 and he had a wRC+ of 127, placing well above league average and in the top tier of catchers. Contreras only played in 104 games but was able to hit 24 home runs and 2.7 fWAR leading him to his second straight All-Star selection. At 27, Contreras is only going to improve in the coming seasons and will be a mainstay at the top of this list.
2. J.T. Realmuto (29) - Philadelphia Phillies
J.T. Realmuto is one of the most unique players in the game of baseball, breaking the mold of what you would typically expect from a catcher. The stereotypical catcher is less athletic and not known for their offensive abilities, but Realmuto is a true 5-tool player. In 145 games, he hit .275/.328/.493 with 25 home runs with a .340 wOBA and a 108 wRC+. Realmuto got it done defensively too with an RES of 8 tying him for seventh in the MLB. A real arguement could be made for J.T. Realmuto to be number one on this list but ultimately his lower wRC+, RES, and on base skills landed him at number two on this list.
1. Yasmani Grandal (31) - Chicago White Sox
Yasmani Grandal bet on himself in 2019 by signing a 1-year deal with the Brewers. It paid off handsomely as he signed a 4-year, $73M deal with the White Sox. Grandal hit .246/.380/.468 with 28 home runs on his way to his second All-Star selection. His .361 wOBA and 121 wRC+ placed him confortably among the leagues best offensive catchers while tying for second in pitch framing with an RES of 13. Grandal's pitch framing ability will be helpful for the young core of pitchers in Chicago and his switch hitting abilities will be a welcomed addition to the up and coming White Sox lineup as they look to entire a competitive window. Grandal's ability to hit from both sides of the plate, having good plate discipline skills, and elite pitch framing abilities gave him the edge, landing him at number one on the list.