Five best Catchers in the game we call baseball.

As statisticians know, summing up what a catcher does is very difficult to do.  And separating what they do on a baseball field, aside from hitting, isn’t easy to evaluate from one catcher to the next.  For example, calling a game.  There really isn’t a way to measure that accurately, therefore it is simply easier to dismiss it in a ranking such as this.  Maybe I could do more research and base a lot of it on reputation, but then it will have a “loose” base, so I am better off avoiding it. 

The five best backstops in the game are…(With the 2008 OPS+ included)

  • Joe Mauer: OPS+137:   Perhaps when I am finished with these positional rankings, I will pursue a top ten players in baseball list, ranking the top ten from any position.  And I am interested where I will rank Mauer.  I have an idea, but more research always helps in matters like these.  How Joe Mauer does not get more MVP love is beyond me.  Sure, he finished 4th in 2008 and 6th in 2006, but come on, give the guy more love, he deserves it.  Both seasons he was a batting champ, and both seasons he has been on base at clips of .413 and .429.  And he is a freakin’ catcher!  It sickens me.  I would say he is underrated, but the “experts” that I rely on most respect the heck out of the guy.  And he IS getting a lot of votes, just not as many as he probably should.  Mauer should probably have an MVP by now, that is what I am trying to say.            
  • Brian McCann: OPS+ 134:  McCann has been a great hitter–and not just for a catcher–for two of his three full seasons at this level.  His bat is probably most comparable to Mauer’s of any catcher in the game.  McCann hits for average, gets on base, and hits for power.  When I say comparable to Mauer, I mean overall.  Mauer gets on base more, hits for a higher average, but less power.  But OBP>Slugging.  McCann isn’t as patient as Mauer, but draws enough walks anyway.   
  • Russell Martin:  OPS+ 106:  The first two catchers are clearly better at the plate than Martin.  But Russell is no slouch either.  I still wonder if the Dodgers were interesting in exploring a trade of Martin this off-season.  Or if that was just a fabrication.  Martin could potentially get better, as he is still only 25.  And Martin is incredibly patient at the plate, meaning that he should always get on base a lot.  They have a nice asset down in LA, more than one, but this one in particular.
  • Victor Martinez:  OPS+ 85:  Martinez was hurt and played in only 73 games last season.  Is it really fair to leave him off the list because of that down year?  Before that, in four consecutive seasons, Martinez posted OPS+’s of 121 or greater.  Ranging from that 121, all the way up to 130.  He was a great hitting catcher, period.  Somehow in 2005, Victor finished 18th in the MVP voting.  I have a feeling that he was more valuable than that, but the voters have their flaws, evident by the way they vote much of the time.  I expect Martinez to bounce back.
  • Jorge Posada:  OPS+ 103:  This may sound ludicrous to some, as Posada will probably be out of this if I rank the players after 2009.  But he too was injured in 2008, and that prevented him from playing well (although was still a decent hitter).  Granted, there is a distinct difference in age between he and Martinez.  So the likelihood that Martinez is great again is higher.  But Posada has been a good-great player for much of his career.  A catcher in Chicago, or perhaps Pittsburgh will make some noise this season.  But I feel that it is unfair to Posada to be left off because of injury, even if injuries may hinder him from performing for the reminder of his career (possible).

Apologies to: 

Geovany Soto-One great year doesn’t usually transfer into the “Statistican Magician’s” top five.

Ryan Doumit-  More playing time, and the same production might get you on the list. 

Just for the record, I feel that I have made it clear that projections for upcoming seasons don’t really play a role in these rankings.  I mean, Soto will almost definitely be a better player than Posada next season.  And I do value the current projection systems in place (Pecota, CHONE, Marcel, Bill James).  But my rankings are based on actual numbers that have been established.  Not numbers that may or may not be established.  If I was to rank the top five for 2009, then the rankings would be different, no doubt. 

21 Comments

Not a surprise not to see Tek on the list…sigh….

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Well, it is pretty clear that he shouldn’t be. Do you think otherwise? I do like Varitek by the way…

Other people have to have read this, right? Thanks Julia, but one comment other than mine? Yes, I am complaining :)

Well, I love Joe Mauer, but I’m a Twins fan so I am a little bit biased. And I read your blog all the time. I just don’t usually comment because you’ve usually done such a good job covering a topic that I have nothing interesting to add.
-Erin
http://plunking-gomez.mlblogs.com

McCann’s biggest downfall is his defense. He says that’s been the focus of his off-season regiment. Hopefully he will throw out more base runners and not compromise his skills with the bat. And he could stand to draw a few more walks, but he’s without a doubt the best power-hitting catcher out there right now, which is much more valuable to the Braves than OBP at this point. They’ve got decent OBP but slack SLG. And I know you can never have to much OBP, but where in general I’d always make a trade from SLG to OBP I wouldn’t be willing to in McCann’s case. Anyway, I’m glad he’s on my team.

Well I consider myself mostly unbiased, and I say Mauer is the best, Erin. :)

gomets, I don’t believe it was a fluke. I just think the lists, to be fair, have to have a greater sampling.

pwhjort, you have a very good catcher then if you are a Braves fan.

Joe,
Nope. Don’t think Dodgers were interested in a trade involving Martin. Who would we have then? I still don’t like that we let go of minor leaguer Carlos Santana. I don’t disagree with your choices.
.
I thought you lived in N.H. I’ve been going to N.H. about twice a year for work. Usually Peterborough and sometimes Laconia. New Hampshire is a beautiful state.
.
Emma
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com/

Why did you think I lived in NH? I lived there for 12 years but have been in Florida ever since. I like NH a lot more, although if I were living on the beach then I would prefer that over this.

Posada had a great 2007 and we’ll never know how he would have done in ’08 if he hadn’t injured his shoulder. So he’s a big question mark this year for the Yanks. Obviously, I hope he can bounce back.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

I’m hesitant to consider Soto over Posada just yet, Joe. Soto has youth on his side, but Posada’s bat is not to be underestimated. Plus, his OPS + of 103 was determined while playing injured the entire 51 games he was in last year. Plus, as far as defensive skills for catchers go, Victor Martinez quite frankly doesn’t belong on the list. He’s lousy behind the plate.
http://heartlandpinstripes.wordpress.com/

Victor actually has been improving upon his defense, I had heard. And in 2006 he was dead last in CS%, out of 18 catchers that qualified. In 2007 however, he jumped up to 3rd, in increase of 15%. Now, it is possible that he took the Pudge route and called more fastballs, but that seems unlikely :) I think Martinez is probably much better behind the plate than he once was. How good though? I don’t know, maybe the jump was more to do with the variables that go into it…

nice list and post -i’d have to agree with jason about V M though.

i’m really curious to see what comes of this new crop of catchers on their way up –wieters, posey, teagarden and soto…

i’d have to guess that you will rank joe mauer as #1 . and i can’t understand why he isn’t even considered the MVP of his team, let alone the league. it’s nuts.

haha, speaking of wieters. have you heard about his expected production yet? Pecota has him at .310/.400/.540. Talk about pressure…

Ya, someone at baseball prospectus wrote an article about how he, along with PECOTA, expects Wieters to have the highest EqA of any catcher in 2009, making him the best catcher in baseball. Only a little bit of pressure. But hey, this is the year to do it. Mauer is coming off Kidney Surgery and, well, something terrible has to happen to Atlanta (always does), why not a McCann injury?

My biased opinion wants to see Yadi up there. If he has a repeat of last year, perhaps he will, eh?
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

I want Tek to be up there too… :)

I don’t know how Bengie Molina is always left off these list. Im not saying this because Im a giants fan, Im saying it because he works as hard as any catcher in the game preparing his pitching staff…..and can swing with the best of them. The only argument people have about this guy is his speed, which no one can defend him on, but seriously……look at his numbers.
http://kmcleod.mlblogs.com/

Well I can’t put everyone on here. Only five of 30 starting catching positions. And all of these guys have been better than average hitters over their career, while Bengie has been below. I understand there is a lot of other stuff that goes into catching, but I addressed that at the beginning. It is so hard to evaluate, that this is predominantly based on offense.

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