Top Ten Catchers

Up until the start of the regular season, I’ll be putting together my top ten lists for each position. First up is catcher, a position that isn’t what it used to be, but still has talented veterans to go along with a few up and coming stars. Without further adieu, let’s get started.

#10 Robinson Chirinos, Houston Astros

robinson chirinos
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Projected Stats: .225/.341/.434 (.775 OPS) -5 drs 1.9 WAR

Starting off the list at #10 is the new catcher of the Astros, Robinson Chirinos. Houston signed the 34-year-old to a one year deal this offseason, and assuming they don’t trade for JT Realmuto, he’ll be their starting catcher this season. Chirinos had a down season last year after posting a .866 OPS in 2017, but a .757 OPS is still not bad by any means. Furthermore, he raised his hard contact rate to 44.1% and also raised his line drive rate to 21.3%. From that regard, an offensive bounce back is likely for Chirinos, but he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts (32.9%) to maximize his talents offensively. Defensively, Chirinos is below average in pretty much every stat. He had -5 defensive runs saved (drs) and -11.2 framing runs, which prevents him from ranking any higher than #10 on this list. Still, he’s an above average catcher who also had a relatively high Wins Probability Added (1.97), so he definitely deserves a spot in the top ten. It definitely wouldn’t be a surprise for him to be ranked higher in the future, especially if he bounces back with his new team next season.

#9 Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

MLB: JUL 02  Indians at Royals
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Projected Stats: .253/.287/.466 (.753 OPS) 1 drs 2.5 WAR

Speaking of veterans, Salvador Perez remains a top ten catcher for yet another year. The 28-year-old is the remaining piece of Kansas City’s 2014 and 2015 pennant winning teams, with six all-star appearances and five gold gloves. Still, Perez is still a little overrated, to say the least. He’s never had a season with an .800 OPS, and he hasn’t had a three WAR season in each of the past four years. Though of as an excellent defender, Perez ranks 112th out of 117 qualifying catchers in framing runs (-9.9), and 90th in blocking runs (-0.6). Still, there’s still reason to be optimistic about his offense. Despite posting a 45.9% hard contact rate, Perez’s batting average balls in play dropped to .245, indicating he was a victim of bad luck. In fact, that hard contact rate is the highest out of anyone on this list, and it can’t be forgotten he plays in a very tough ballpark in Kansas City. If Perez can get his walk rate up (3.1% BB rate last season), then he may have better fortune in 2019. If not, then the 2015 World Series MVP will be in danger of falling off this list.

#8 Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays

mike zunino
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Projected Stats: .221/.298/.453 (.751 OPS) 8 drs 2.6 WAR

Another player who’s switched teams this offseason, at #8 is Mike Zunino, now of the Tampa Bay Rays. The third overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, the 27-year-old was a disappointment for the Mariners, posting just one season with a WAR north of two. This season was a disaster for Zunino offensively, as he posted a .669 OPS and an 84 weighted runs created plus (wrc+). A big part of his struggles is with his plate discipline; he stuck out 37% of the time but walked just 5.9% of the time. Still, when he does put the ball in play, he does so at a high quality (39.6%). Considering his BABIP was just .268 last year, it can be expected for him to have some more success this season even his discipline doesn’t improve. What gets overlooked with Zunino is his superb defense. Both his 7.5 framing runs and eight defensive runs saved are elite, so he still provides value without his offense. With 20 home run power and that outstanding defense, Zunino earns a spot in top ten. The potential that made him the #3 overall pick is still there, and with a change of scenery, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he finally puts it together and is able to  climb into the top five of this list next season.

#7 Yadier Molina, St.Louis Cardinals

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals
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Projected Stats: .268/.315/.429 (.744 OPS) 4 drs 1.9 WAR

At #7 is the oldest player on this list, Yadier Molina. Now 36-years-old, there’s not much else that Molina has to prove at this point. He’s won nine gold gloves, made nine All Star games, and has won the World Series twice. At this point, Molina is average both offensively and defensively. He hasn’t posted an .800 OPS in the last four years, but he’s had at least a .750 OPS in each of the past three seasons. With a 44.4% hard contact rate, his quality of contact was still high last season, which wasn’t justified with a .264 BABIP. He struggles to take his walks (5.8% BB rate), but he still makes plenty of contact (13.1% K rate). On defense, Molina isn’t what he once was, but he still ranks in the top half in framing (2.3 framing runs, #27) and blocking (1.2 blocking runs, #12). Molina may not longer be an elite catcher, but he’s consistent and has been the leader of the Cardinals for a long time. His intangibles plus his production keep him on this list, though at this point of his career, #7 is the highest he can rank on this list.

#6 Wilson Contreras, Chicago Cubs 

League Championship Series - Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two
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Projected Stats: .250/.349/.444 (.793 OPS) 0 drs 3.4 WAR

Usually, young players tend to climb up on these types of lists. That’s not the case with Wilson Contreras, however. Entering the season, Contreras looked to be a star in the making and ranked top three on most people’s lists. He backed that up in the first half, posting a .815 OPS, earning his first All Star Game appearance. However, he struggled to the tune of a .585 OPS in the second half, lowering it to .730 for the season. This was discouraging to say the least, as he had an .850 OPS through his first two seasons. It’s clear to see where Contreras’ struggles came from. His hard contact rate dropped to 28.9%, nearly hit twice the amount of ground balls as he did fly balls, and struck out 22.2% of the time. His offense could definitely rebound in 2019, but defensively is what is most concerning for the 26-year-old. While he’s a tremendous blocker (1.9 blocking runs, #5) and he has an outstanding arm, he ranked dead last with -17.8 framing runs. Therefore, it’s not a surprising his Wins Probability Added dropped to -1.88. It’s clear Contreras wore down last season, and that he’s still more like the player he was in the first half than he was in the second half. For now, he drops to #6, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to vault back into the top three if he proves that the second half was the fluke.

#5 Wilson Ramos, New York Mets

MLB: Game Two-New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies
Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Projected Stats: .279/.330/.463 (.793 OPS) -5 drs 2.1 WAR

Now playing for his fourth team since the start of the 2016 season, Wilson Ramos comes in at #5 on this list. The 31-year-old had a stellar season offensively, posting a 131 wrc+ with a .845 OPS. He turned that into a two-year deal with Mets, and he’ll be a focal point on that new look team. Ramos did post a solid hard contact rate of 39.1%, but he definitely should look to launch more balls this season (2.23 GB/FB). On defense, Ramos ranks about average in framing (0.3 framing runs, #48) and blocking (-0.1 blocking runs, #71). That’s good enough considering his consistent offensive production, which is why his Wins Probability Added (0.55) ranks in the upper half for the players on this list. Ramos may have hit his ceiling last season with a 2.7 WAR, especially since his durability is an issue considering he has caught over 130 games only once in his career. His lack of upside at this point in his career keeps him from ranking higher, but his consistent production when healthy makes him deserving of being in the top five.

#4 Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

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Projected Stats: .237/.326/.475 (.801 OPS) 3 drs 2.8 WAR

Sticking in New York, no player was more of a disappointment this past season than Gary Sanchez, and for good reason. After averaging a .954 OPS to start of his career, he regressed to a .697 OPS and a 1.2 WAR. Still, there’s plenty of reason to be confident in a bounce back season this year. The 26-year-old had a solid 35.5% hard contact rate last season, yet his batting average balls in play regressed from .304 to .197. He also only played in 89 games due to injury, so being back for a healthy season should help. While his strikeout rate is still a concern at 25.1%, his walk rate was a solid 12.3%, so plate discipline isn’t a major issue with him. Baseball Reference has Sanchez bouncing back to a .807 OPS next season, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was higher. Defense is where Sanchez is criticized the most, yet he’s not as bad as you would think. His three defensive runs saved was only one worse than Molina had, while his 3.3 framing runs is also above average. His blocking (-4.3 blocking runs, #114) is definitely an issue, but that seems to be the only major flaw in his game. He’s still a critical part of the Yankees’ future, and his bounce back may be what puts them over the top in 2019. He ranks #4 for now, but he could definitely challenge for the top spot very soon if he returns to form.

#3 JT Realmuto, Miami Marlins (For Now)

jt realmuto
Photo Cred: MLB Trade Rumors\

Projected Stats: .274/.336/.464 (.800 OPS) -5 drs 4.0 WAR

On of the most talked about players this offseason has been JT Realmuto, as it’s inevitable that the rebuilding Marlins will trade the 27-year-old. The hold up in a trade has been Miami’s enormous asking price, and for good reason. Realmuto’s 2.25 Wins Probability Added is by far the highest on the list, and high-end catchers are very rare on the trade market. So, what will Realmuto’s new team be getting. They’ll get an above average producer offensively, as he posted a .825 OPS and a 126 wrc+ last season. It’s unclear how much more upside Realmuto has offensively, but that type of production is more than enough for a catcher. On defense, Realmuto definitely has room to grow. He posted negative 5 defensive runs saved last season, and while he ranked in the top twenty in blocking, he’s below average as a framer (-0.4 framing runs). Realmuto is a rare athlete behind the plate, and I definitely believe he’ll continue to improve behind the plate. He could propel into an MVP type talent with his new team, similar to how Christian Yelich did, which means he’s got a great chance of earning the top spot next season with continued improvement. He’s not a good enough fielder to rank above the top two catchers for now, but his hitting and athleticism earns him at spot in the top three.

#2 Yasmani Grandal, Milwaukee Brewers

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Projected Stats: .240/.328/.457 (.785 OPS) 12 drs 2.8 WAR

The fourth, and most likely the fifth player on this list to switch teams this offseason comes in at #2. After being traded to Dodgers following the 2014 season, Yasmani Grandal has established himself as one of the game’s premier catchers. He’s had four straight seasons with an OPS over .750 and an OPS+ over 100. 2018 may have been his best season so far. He posted an .815 OPS and a WAR of 3.3, and there may be more to come. His hard contact rate rose to 40.8%, yet his BABIP of .278 did not reflect that.  Furthermore, his walk rate remained elite at 13.9%, and his ground ball, fly ball, and line drive rates all remained steady. Offense isn’t even what Grandal’s best at. The 30-year-old is an elite defender, as he posted nine defensive runs saved last season. To boot, he also rated as the best framer last season with 15.7 framing runs a season ago. Grandal may have been atrocious in the postseason, but that can’t overlook how great of a catcher he is normally on both sides. On just a one year deal, it’s safe to say that the Brewers got a steal when they signed him this past season.

#1 Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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Projected Stats: .295/.373/.419 (.792 OPS) 6 drs 3.5 WAR

He may be starting to slow down, but Buster Posey is still the best catcher in the MLB. The 2012 NL MVP seems destined for the Hall of Fame, as he’s a six-time All Star, three-time World Series Champion, and a four time Silver Slugger. Still, 2018 was a struggle for the 31-year-old. Dealing with a hip injury that caused him to miss most of August and all of September, Posey regressed to a .741 OPS and a 2.9 WAR. He had surgery to fix his hip, which is important considering it clearly affected his power, as he posted just a .382 slugging percentage. Assuming he regains some pop with a better hip, that part of his game should bounce back naturally. Either way, he’s still an elite contact hitter who walks (10% BB rate) nearly as much as a strikes out (11.8% K rate). On defense, Posey isn’t what he once was, but he still ranked in the upper half in both blocking (0.7 blocking runs, #27) and framing (.9 framing runs, #39). It’s honestly a toss-up between him and Grandal, but Posey’s consistency and his resume earn him the top spot, though he definitely has a shorter leash than usual.


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