2009 Replacement Level: Catchers

As most of you know, the Win Values we present here on FanGraphs are wins above a replacement level player. Replacement level, essentially, is the expected performance you could get from a player who costs nothing to acquire and makes the league minimum. That’s the baseline that players add value over – performance over their no-cost substitute.

However, I know examples can be extremely helpful, so today, we’re going to start looking at some players who currently personify replacement level, and what their respective organizations should expect from them in 2009. We’ll go through all the positions in order to look at what a replacement level player currently looks like at each spot.

Catcher

This has been the off-season of the low cost catcher, as 14 of them have signed contracts as free agents, and only Jason Varitek received more than $1.5 million per year, and of the low cost guys, only David Ross got more than a one year deal. Seven of the 14 signed minor league contracts, so they’re the ones that we’re really interested in as replacement level catchers. The list, along with their wOBA projections from CHONE:

Jamie Burke, Seattle, .282 wOBA
Kevin Cash, New York (AL), .264 wOBA
Toby Hall, Houston, .292 wOBA
Robby Hammock, Baltimore, .287 wOBA
Adam Melhuse, Texas, .271 wOBA
Chad Moeller, Baltimore, .254 wOBA
Vance Wilson, Kansas City, No Projection – Didn’t Play in ’08

The average of the wOBA projections is .275. However, besides Burke and Cash, these guys aren’t renowned for their glove work. Hall and Melhuse, especially, are seen as fringe defensive receivers. Overall, we’d probably have to describe this group as below average defensively, so their total value is going to be a bit less than their .275 wOBA might indicate. Let’s knock it down to .270 and run it through the run value conversion.

((.270 – .330) / 1.20) * 600 = -30 runs per 600 PA.

So, we’re looking at replacement level catchers being worth something like -30 runs below an average hitter over a full season. Add in the +12.5 position adjustment, and we’re calling this group something like 17.5 runs below an average catcher over a full season. In reality, the gap will be a bit smaller than that, since catchers don’t get 600 PA. Given the reduced playing time, the gap between average and replacement level for a starting catcher is more like +15 runs, or about +1.5 wins.

So, here are your examples of replacement level catchers – guys like Burke, Hall, and Hammock would be expected to be something like 1.5 wins below an average catcher in 2009.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


7 Responses to “2009 Replacement Level: Catchers”

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  1. Tyler Dillon says:

    Why is Seattle carrying a third catcher? Don’t they have Johjima and then Clement? Given the change in regime, I’d think that this spot could be filled as another good bench bat.

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    • Chris Miller says:

      I think it depends on what the M’s do. Burke will be AAA depth if the M’s want Clement to catch part time. Clement could end up traded or they may decide he needs to learn another position. WRT Rob Johnson, I’m thinking he has little or no future with the M’s. Any one of them Kenji, who has no value relative to his contract right now, could end up trade bait.

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  2. Jeff says:

    Mr. Cameron, I think it might be time to change your byline or ending note as it may be. After all you have been writing, on USSM, the new regime is creating a provocative case for being a “well run team”.

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  3. Rich says:

    I think Jose Molina (career wOBA = 270) firs this analysis pretty well, He is above average defensively, which probably makes him slightly above replacement level.

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  4. This is great stuff, I’ve been waiting for something like this, keep up the good work!

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  5. Tim Dierkes says:

    So replacement level for catchers is based on 6 guys? What was the wOBA in years past?

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