The Determinator: Catchers: #1-5 + Honorable Mentions
Before every season, baseball minds across the sport test their skills with crunching numbers, diving deep into analytics, and reviewing game footage in order to determine who the best players are in the game. Often times they give their analysis fun names; one of the most notable being The Shredder from MLB Network.
Sometimes the results astound people- like in 2015 Hanely Ramirez was rated the top Left Fielder in the MLB before ever playing there. Other times, the results are unsurprising- spoiler alert, but Mike Trout was probably the best CF in baseball, and most likely will be again.
Starting today, and every weekday at 4:00 PM throughout the next few weeks, I will be posting my own analysis on who the top players at each position truly are.
Welcome to The Determinator.
Today I will reveal the Top-5 Catchers in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow, will be the #6-10 First Baseman in the MLB.
The Determinator: My General Methodology
The Determinator is a ranking system that is built upon the analyzation of 16 carefully chosen stats through a very simplistic system of comparisons. Some of these stats are more classical (Games Played, Home Runs, etc.), others are more advanced (wRC+, WAR, etc.). From this come 7 offensive stats, 4 defensive, 2 baserunning, and 3 general stats, set to contribute towards the importance of each part of the game.
The Offensive stats are: AVG/OBP/SLG, wRC, wRC+, HR, and Off (Fangraphs)
The Defensive stats are: Fielding, DRS, UZR (or Framing for Catchers), and Def (Fangraphs)
The Baserunning stats are: Stolen Bases and BsR (Fangraphs)
The Overall stats are: Games Played, Innings at Position, and fWAR (Fangraphs)
After determining this list of statistics, I then had to input each into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I sorted how each player did in each statistic from best-to-worst. If you were top 5 in a category, you got ranked as a ‘Green’. Top 6-10 was a ‘Yellow’. And, Top 11-15 was labelled as a ‘Red’. The number of each ranking was counted- so it was possible to come out with a score of zero- and given values of 5, 3, and 1 respectively.
Key Note: If player/s across a statistic had the same numbers across a border- for example the 5th and 6th players with the most Home Runs- then they would both be counted as the better ranking- in this case both ‘Green’ or 5 points- and replace one spot from the following ranking- in this case a ‘Yellow’ or 3 points. This could also stretch some statistics to include more ‘Red’ players who had equal stats to the 15th best.
Additionally, if no stats were recorded in a counting statistic that could fit into a ranking- as is seen with Catchers and Stolen Bases- then no ranking is given to those players. This would greatly increase the number of points given out, and lessen the value of each point. This is not true for advanced metrics that can produce negative values- as is seen with Catchers and BsR.
The results were then tallied, sorted from greatest to least, and a ranking was created.
Finally, player age, 2020 salary, and contract status, were all not considered in this experiment. This is entirely statistic-based.
The Determinator: Catcher-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 110 different players who played any amount of time at catcher during the season, I set-up two separate boundaries for catchers:
They must’ve had at least 250 PA’s during the 2019 season.
They must’ve had at least 500 innings at catcher during the 2019 season.
I understand that these boundaries are a little low, but catchers are the main position to be substituted and get injured so I didn’t want to leave anybody out.
This limited the number of catchers down to 32.
However, without further ado, let’s get to the Top-5 (of the Top-10):
If a catcher led a statistic, it will be bolded.
Number 5: James McCann, Chicago White Sox
Top-5: AVG, SB, BsR
Top-10: Games, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Innings, DRS
Total Score: 45Embed from Getty Images
James McCann is the first catcher on this list to have ranked in the Top-10 in every single offensive, as well as being one of only two catchers in the Top-5 in both base-running statistics. He also provided average defense, placing Top-10 in DRS, and this offseason is working to improve that by working with Jerry Narron. The 2019 season was definitely an outlier for McCann, as he posted a 109 OPS+, much higher than his career 76 OPS+ from 2015-2018, and most of his projections seem to think that this was high career peak, but still expect him to be around a league-average hitter. Like Contreras yesterday, McCann could be moved this offseason as the White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal to be the new starting catcher, and now is as good as any to capitalize on his value.
Number 4: Tom Murphy, Seattle Mariners
Top-5: AVG, SLG, wRC+, BsR, Off, WAR
Top-10: HR, SB, Fld, DRS, FRM, Def
Total Score: 49Embed from Getty Images
Tom Murphy? But he only played in 76 games, and only recorded 576 innings at catcher! How?
Murphy is The Determinator’s dark-horse candidate to be a top-tier catcher in the MLB. Even though his playing time was extremely limited, his pure ability to hit well, run well, and play defense well make him a desired catcher. In just under half a season, Murphy was able to be a Top-5 catcher in fWAR (3.2), and have great rate stats with an AVG of .273, SLG of .535, and wRC+ of 126. On top of this, he also accumulated great numbers for catchers in HR’s hit (18), DRS (6), and Off (10.5). Like Hanely Ramirez, this is a controversial pick by The Determinator, but the numbers back it up.
Number 3: Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
Top-5: Games, AVG, SB, wRC, WAR, Fld, FRM, Def
Top-10: SLG, HR, Innings, DRS
Top-15: wRC+, Off
Total Score: 54Embed from Getty Images
Christian Vazquez is a complete player. He failed to reach Top-15 status across catchers in only two statistics- OBP and BsR- but had the second most Top-15 finishes across all statistics at 14. While his offensive metrics came out around average for a catcher with an Off at -3.1, his stellar defensive (Top-10 across all 5 statistics) and ability to play in games helped him greatly with accumulating numbers. This was his first season as the starting catcher with the Red Sox, and it helped him game greatly. Interestingly enough, he also managed to get in time at 1B, 2B, and 3B during the 2019 season.
Number 2: Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox
Top-5: Games, OBP, HR, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Fld, Innings, FRM, Def
Total Score: 63Embed from Getty Images
If Grandal wasn’t a Top-5 player at a statistic, it (almost) doesn’t matter, because of how premier of a talent he is across the board. He failed to rank in 3 categories- OBP, BsR, and DRS- but due to his greatness at other statistics, it didn’t matter. He led all catchers in the MLB in Games Played (153), OBP (.380), and wRC (102), and was close in a variety of other metrics, most importantly placing 2nd in fWAR (5.2). It comes without question that Grandal is one of the best catchers in the MLB, and while his base-running is the one part of the game he could work on, his ability to hit, play defense, and stay healthy far outweigh that smaller detail to improve his game.
Number 1: J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
Top-5: Games, AVG, SLG, HR, SB, wRC, BsR, Off, WAR, Fld, Innings, DRS, Def
Top-10: OBP, wRC+, FRM
Total Score: 74Embed from Getty Images
J.T. Realmuto is far and away the best catcher in the MLB. He was the only catcher to record not just a Top-15 finish, but a Top-10 finish in every single metric across offense, defense, base-running, and general. Of those, only three statistics- OBP, wRC+, and Fld- was he only Top-10. Point to most any metric, evaluated here or not, and the case almost always remains true. He was the best catcher in terms of both base-running metrics of SB (9) and BsR (9.4), two of general metrics being fWAR (5.7) and Innings (1139.1), as well as Def (27.8). There is no doubt that Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball.
Before going into a question that I’m sure everybody is asking, I wanted to quickly point out some other catchers in the MLB who deserved recognition.
Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres – Catching Leader in FRM and Fld, Ranked 12th
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants – Scored 23 Points, Ranked Tied for 13th
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals – Scored 15 Points, Ranked in a 3-Way Tie for 19th
Brian McCann, Retired – Scored 5 Points, Ranked 28th
Jonathan Lucroy, Free Agent – Scored 0 Points (Only player to do so), Ranked 32nd
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees – Catching Leader in HR
…but how many points and what rank did Gary Sanchez get?
What About Gary Sanchez?
I did not go into mind with creating The Determinator in order to showcase how good the players on the New York Yankees are, but instead set about finding an easy-to-understand ranking system that combined some elements of basic sabermetrics as well as traditional statistics. If I could have and wasn’t reporting directly from the math of this operation, I would have probably ranked Gary Sanchez alongside James McCann, Willson Contreras, and Mitch Garver (Ranks #5-7).
Instead, Gary Sanchez came out with 23 points, tied with Buster Posey for the 13th position. Due, in large part to two different factors- playing time and defense.
His lack of games played- which is an average 106 per season since 2017- and his very poor defensive metrics- he failed to be Top-15 in any of the 5- sank his numbers greatly. That, alongside pretty average offensive stats- outside of HR’s and SLG- put into perspective that, while a great player, Sanchez may be overrated.
To play a game, in order for Sanchez to have upset Wilson Ramos (28 points, difference of 5) for 10th, the simplest way of getting to that would’ve meant Gary Sanchez needed to:
Play in 8 more games (+3 points) – Would’ve increased from 106 to 114, Tied for 10th
Record 1 Stolen Base (+3 points) – Would’ve increased tom 0 to 1, Tied for 9th*
*Note, because only 9 catchers recorded more than 1 SB in 2019, 1 SB would’ve push Gary Sanchez tied for 9th place, earning him a ‘Yellow’ and 3 Points.
As stated, Gary Sanchez is a great catching talent, and could have easily found himself amongst the top catchers in the game. But, he needs to show improvements across the board in order to do so.
The Determinator is a way I used to determine the best players at each position. Like any metric or formula, I am sure it has flaws. No statistical compilation is perfect. That being said, The Determinator, seems pretty effective at assigning player values. I’m pleased with what I have found using this method and hope this is a conversation starter for many.
Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #6-10 First Basemen in the MLB.