The Determinator: Catchers: #5-1 + Gary Sanchez
Welcome back to The Determinator!
Today I will reveal the #5-#1 Catchers in the MLB as well as highlighting Gary Sanchez’s season and why/how he missed the rankings. Tomorrow, I will announce the #10-6 First Basemen in the MLB. For a background about The Determinator, see my article about my methodology, changes for 2021, and schedule, here.
The Determinator: Catcher-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 134 different players who played any amount of time at catcher during the past two seasons, I set-up two separate boundaries for catchers:
They must’ve had at least 350 PA’s over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
They must’ve had at least 750 innings at catcher over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
This limited the number of catchers down to 31.
However, without further ado, let’s get to the first half of the Top-10:
If a catcher led a statistic, it will be bolded.
Number 5: James McCann, New York Mets
Top-5: AVG, SLG, SB, wRC+, BsR, Off
Top-10: OBP, HR, wRC, WAR, DRS
Total Score: 46Embed from Getty Images
Coming into the offseason I firmly believed that James McCann was going to be one of the best bargain players to get for a team looking for a catcher without breaking the budget. I believe I’ve been validated with the New York Mets signing him to a 4/$40M deal back in mid-December. While it took until 2019 for McCann to break a 100 wRC+, one large factor that likely helped influenced this was his trade from the Detroit Tigers to the Chicago White Sox. I believe they were able to identify some flaws to make his offensive profile more prominent. While he does have the lowest WAR (3.7) of the remaining catchers in the Top-5, nor is he a defensive powerhouse, he has comfortably kept the #5 catcher ranking for the second year in a row.
Number 4: Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
Top-5: OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, BsR, Off, WAR
Top-10: Games, AVG, SB
Total Score: 50Embed from Getty Images
After speculating that Contreras may have been moving on from the Cubs last year, and just about everyone else expecting it this offseason, there is no surprise as to why. Though most of his value comes almost entirely from his work at- not behind- the plate, there is something to be said about having a Top-5 ranking in every offensive metric but AVG. However, after two seasons with negative defensive value that did change over 57 games in 2020, even if not displayed by The Determinator. His 2020 season also helped to move him up from 6th place to 4th place while securing higher scores with cumulative wRC (100) and WAR (4.4), showing no signs of slowing down for the 28 year old. There is still time for a trade at the deadline or next offseason to capitalize on his value, but in a division that is likely to be very competitive a trade now seems unlikely.
Number 3: Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
Top-5: Games, AVG, SB, wRC, WAR, Fld, Innings, FRM, Def
Top-10: SLG, HR, wRC+, DRS
Top-15: OBP, Off
Total Score: 59Embed from Getty Images
Continuing to hold the #3 catching spot from last year, Christian Vazquez is a complete catcher on both sides of the ball. With 16 total statistics that The Determinator evaluates, he ranked across all but baserunning and in the Top-10 in all but OBP and Off. Interestingly enough, his offensive values continue to come up unfavorably when compared to other metrics like wRC+ of which the best two years have been above average (102 and 115) and as he led catchers in BA (0.278) over the past two seasons. He also plays a very very solid defensive game with consistent positive numbers, as such his high rankings seem to be sustainable over the next few years as well.
Number 2: Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox
Top-5: Games, OBP, HR, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Fld, Innings, FRM, Def
Total Score: 64Embed from Getty Images
With the catching position, there are two above all other stand outs in Yasmani Grandal (and our #1 player who I am sure you can all guess). While Grandal only placed in 14 metrics (not in AVG or BsR), he placed Top-5 in 12 of them while leading all catchers in Games (199), OBP (0.373), wRC (129), and Framing (+21). While there are no bonus points for leading a statistic (which may be an interesting change to consider for 2022), he has a very very balanced game which helped to earn him a 4/$73M contract from the White Sox last year while also starting above James McCann (#5 the last two years). He did add DRS to his rankings, which he failed to do prior to 2020, which again adds to his depth and abilities. However, as good as he is…
Number 1: J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
Top-5: Games, AVG, SLG, HR, SB, wRC, BsR, Off, WAR, Fld, Innings, Def
Top-10: OBP, wRC+, DRS, FRM
Total Score: 72Embed from Getty Images
There is a guy named J.T. Realmuto who has been the undisputed best catcher in the MLB for likely the past 4 years. He has kept his #1 title spot with The Determinator yet again, and during this past week had agreed to a 5/$115.5M contract to stay with the Philadelphia Phillies through 2025. The catching leader in stolen bases (13), baserunning (+7.4), Offense (+20.4), WAR (+7.5), Innings (1430.1) and Defense (+32.5), there are seemingly no flaws in his game. Just 8 points off a perfect score, his 72 scoring is the 3rd highest announced from The Determinator, sitting behind only Cody Bellinger (CF with 74 points) and himself (C with 74 points) from last year. There is no doubt who the best catcher in the MLB is, and there shouldn’t be going into 2021 yet again.
Gary Sanchez and his Ranking 13th:
As we saw yesterday in our honorable mentions, Gary Sanchez was the catchers leader in Home Run’s with 44 over the past two seasons. Yet again, he came close (but fell short) of the Top-10 list. Ultimately ending ranked #13 with 22 points, “Yo Soy” Gary was 8 points below a tie in 9th place. Are there are easy-to-see fixes for him to get there?
Of the 16 statistics we evaluate, going into this season Gary Sanchez failed to qualify in AVG, OBP, SB, Fielding, Innings, DRS, Framing, and Defense. Split into the groupings we see the following:
Offensive: AVG, OBP
Defense: Fielding, DRS, Framing, Defense
Base Running: SB, BsR
Obviously one stand-out of where Gary Sanchez could find success in making a Top-10 list would be to improve his defense. (On the flip-side, he could also hope and pray that other catcher’s play worse defensively too.) Now, this isn’t a clear cut thing and as we have seen as fans watching Gary’s development, “fixing defense” is a commonly thrown-around way to highlight mistakes without understanding this is nowhere near a simple fix. The important thing to highlight, however, is that Gary Sanchez has actually rated favorably on defense by Fangraphs in every season except 2019. So, there is hopes that these changes could be coming around soon.
With playing Top-15 in each of the above defensive metrics, there would be a need to “find” 4 more points for Gary across offense, base-running, and overall (innings). With health, I would anticipate that these things would fix themselves naturally. When playing hurt, it definitely makes it harder to play a full game, and if Gary played an extra 100-ish innings over the past two years he would’ve made the Top-10 of that statistic and 1 point away from the Catching Top-10. Add in just 1 stolen base, and *boom* Gary Sanchez is a Top-10 catcher.
Again, these are not easy changes to make, nor simple fixes to expect for 2021. But, they aren’t completely unreasonable to hope on him improving from these past two years.
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.