Off the top of your head — if you had to name the catcher who’s having the best season — which player would it be?
Your first guess might be Yadier Molina, considering he’s been such a steady, well-rounded player who posted five seasons in a row with more than +3 wins. But maybe it’s Joe Mauer, the guy who’s returning to form after his injury. Or maybe defensive stud Matt Wieters gets the nod? But don’t forget about Buster Posey, who is still young and has so much talent.
In fact, if you look at the offensive leaderboard, you’ll see these five hitters sitting at the top of the list:
There are actually a number of surprising things happening within that top five: McCutchen hitting for power? Trout being that good? But Ruiz being the fifth-best hitter in baseball through mid-July is about as unpredictable as it comes. His defense has also been above average, so he currently sports +4.8 wins and is on pace for nearly +7 wins — by far the best mark by a major-league catcher this year.
Because of his surge, Ruiz actually ranks as one of the best catchers in recent history, too. He’s had a total of +12.4 wins since 2010, again making him as the game’s best catcher.
So did you catch the flaw in my argument? Actually, I made a couple mistakes, which I hope you were quick enough to catch. I began by assuming that simply because a player has had the best results so far in the season, it therefore makes him The Best. I then cherry pickd a time frame that I knew would make Ruiz look favorable — only going back to 2010 since that’s when he had his best season. I constructed an argument that made a degree of sense, but I selectively picked my data to make a point and over-extended my argument.
It’d be more correct to say that Ruiz has been the best catcher in baseball so far this season, but it’s difficult to tell exactly how good we should expect him to be going forward. His .353 batting average will surely drop as his .368 BABIP stabilizes; and I find it suspicious that Ruiz’s home-run-per-fly-ball rate has surged from 8% to 18% at 33 years old. Mike Podhorzer says he found some reasons to believe that the surge might be legit — among them, Ruiz’s double rate has also jumped and his average home run distance increased from last year — but if I were a betting man, my gummy bears would be on regression.
So from this perspective, who’s the best catcher in baseball? ZiPS projects Ruiz to have a .360 wOBA during the remainder of the season, but it also projects Joe Mauer to post a .363 wOBA going forward. Yadier Molina certainly should be in the discussion, although he’s also seeing a large-and-debatably-sustainable surge in his home run rate. And can you truly ignore Brian McCann, despite his current slump? It’s not an easy question, and you could make a good case for any of these players — although it is true that Ruiz is significantly older than Mauer, Molina or McCann.
For once, though, let’s not worry about the future. In the here and now, Ruiz has been raking and is a bright spot on an otherwise forgettable Phillies season. That deserves a hearty tip of the cap and the acknowledgement that right now — at this precise moment in time — maybe he truly is the best.
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