Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

For an explanation of this series, go ahead and read the introduction. All the posts in the series can be found here.

We’re going to kick off the series with a look at how teams fare behind the plate. The catcher position is one of the most important on a team, and it’s unfortunately one of the toughest to evaluate given our limitations in measuring defensive value. Ranking teams at the position proved interesting since some of the best overall players who happen to catch are not going to derive their entire value from behind the plate. Mike Napoli might tally 5 WAR this season, but how much of that comes from time spent DH’ing or at first base? Teams also get boosts from having solid backups, as the goal here isn’t to rank the 30 starters, but to determine how much overall value is expected out of the position itself.

30. Los Angeles Dodgers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter A.J. Ellis R 400 .240 .356 .317 -1 1.0
Reserve Matt Treanor R 100 .220 .312 .301 -1 0.0
Prospect Tim Federowicz R 200 .236 .289 .345 1 0.5

The Dodgers made a conscious decision to get younger behind the plate this season, implying that they will allocate the bulk of the playing time between Ellis and Federowicz. Treanor will play on occasion but the Dodgers are going to spend the year seeing what they have in these two youngsters.

Ellis has always displayed a patient eye at the plate, even translating to an 11.5% walk rate in ~200 major league plate appearances, but he doesn’t offer any power. Federowicz has shown more power in the minors, but too much remains unknown about he and Ellis to get a handle on who will play and how they will perform. Conservative projections aren’t too keen on either standing out, so while the Dodgers might rank towards the top in other areas, nobody should expect much out of their backstops this year.

29. Pittsburgh Pirates

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Rod Barajas R 450 .251 .291 .440 -1 1.0
Reserve Michael McKenry R 250 .227 .294 .355 1 0.5

Barajas is going to do what he always does: hit 10-15 home runs, field relatively well for someone his size, and struggle to get on base. He hasn’t caught over 100 games in three seasons, so McKenry will likely play more than a typical backup. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Pirates, who are essentially bridging the gap until Tony Sanchez is ready. Barajas is perfectly serviceable as a one-year stopgap but he is 36 years old and can’t be expected to sustain his power — his only real major league skill — forever.

28. Seattle Mariners

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Miguel Olivo R 425 .225 .263 .374 -1 0.5
Reserve John Jaso L 225 .249 .336 .359 -2 0.5
Reserve Jesus Montero R 75 .257 .322 .438 -3 0.5

Olivo is a lot like Barajas in that his home run output makes him seem like a better hitter. Olivo has a career 4.1% walk rate, .279 OBP and .299 wOBA, but he has hit 12+ dingers for the last six seasons and typically rates well in the field. He isn’t going to platoon with Jaso — even though they bat from the opposite side and each has a case for starting — so the Mariners have to hope he hits similarly to his 2008-10 numbers instead of the putrid .273 wOBA produced last year.

The wild card is Montero, who might already be the best major league hitter on the Mariners roster. The problem is he won’t catch much this season, and his value is primarily attributable to his DHing and a few games here and there at first base.

27. Tampa Bay Rays

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jose Molina R 350* .237 .296 .353 2 1.0
Reserve Robinson Chirinos R 200* .237 .309 .358 0 0.0
Reserve Jose Lobaton S 150* .228 .305 .345 1 0.5

The Rays have a strange catching situation. Joe Maddon put a 90-game cap on Molina to avoid fatiguing his starter. On top of that, there is no sense of whether Chirinos, Lobaton, or even Gimenez will log backup duty, which requires more playing time in this case given the limits imposed on Molina. Unfortunately, none of these catchers, including Molina, is all that talented or worthy of playing time. The Rays have a very inexperienced group of backup catchers set to backup a career backup thrust into starting duty. Perhaps one of the youngsters sets himself apart from the rest, but the more likely scenario is catcher representing a significant weakness on an otherwise solid team.

26. Houston Astros

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jason Castro L 400 .235 .309 .335 -1 0.5
Reserve Chris Snyder R 250 .226 .341 .389 -3 1.0
Reserve Humberto Quintero R 100 .236 .264 .323 3 0.5

Hey! The Astros aren’t dead last in something! The team is committed to giving Castro every opportunity to prove that he can start, but one has to wonder if they can resist the urge to start Snyder if he struggles out of the gate.

With a smartypants like Jeff Luhnow steering the ship, it’s likely that the Astros will stick with Castro through thick and thin, which bodes well for both Castro and the organization. He missed the entire 2011 season after tearing his ACL but is still penciled in as the everyday starter. With no expectations whatsoever for the player and the team, this is the perfect situation for the Astros to see what they have in Castro.

25. Oakland Athletics

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Kurt Suzuki R 550 .259 .315 .393 1 2.0
Reserve Anthony Recker R 150 .220 .286 .354 0 0.0
Prospect Derek Norris R 50 .177 .333 .322 1 0.0

Suzuki has effectively defined the league average over the last two seasons by being a starting catcher and by not being awful. Oakland isn’t the easiest place to produce offensively but it feels like ages ago that he posted 3.5 WAR and was on the verge of becoming one of the best catchers in the game. Signed through next season, and with a relatively inexpensive option for 2014, Oakland will keep him through his prime years, but there isn’t a lot to love with their catching situation.

If Norris or Recker can prove they are capable of starting, Suzuki becomes a valuable trade chip as an expendable piece on a mediocre team.

24. Chicago White Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter A.J. Pierzynski L 525 .277 .309 .394 -2 1.5
Reserve Tyler Flowers R 225 .215 .328 .393 1 0.5

Pierzynski doesn’t have much left in the tank but it’s hard to argue with his projection. Since joining the White Sox, he has posted 1.9, 2.1, 1.1, 1.1, 2.1, 1.2 and 1.4 WAR. Unless he completely falls off of a cliff, another season in the 1.5 WAR vicinity is reasonable. His consistency suggests he won’t break out or plummet, and while he won’t produce 1.5-2 WAR forever, he should prove somewhat effective this season. The White Sox don’t seem to have a long-term answer at the position, but Kenny Williams is nothing if not creative.

23. Florida Marlins

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter John Buck R 525 .239 .309 .391 -3 2.0
Reserve Brett Hayes R 225 .229 .276 .356 0 0.5

Buck is similar to Barajas and Olivo, except he hits for more power and has a better walk rate. That isn’t to say he is a patient hitter, as he has a career .303 OBP, but he isn’t a complete and utter OBP sinkhole like the aforementioned backstops. He has averaged 2.5 WAR and a .253/.315/.424 line over the last two seasons.

Even if his walk rate drops this year — he isn’t going to get intentionally walked seven times again — he should still produce another 2 WAR. Hayes is your generic backup catcher: light-hitting and a better defender than the starter. With so much money invested elsewhere on the diamond, this tandem suits the Marlins well, but it’s important to note that hitting 20 HR doesn’t automatically render a catcher valuable.

22. New York Mets

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Josh Thole L 500 .271 .342 .363 -3 2.0
Reserve Mike Nickeas R 250 .225 .295 .295 1 0.5

Thole has always seemed like a backup catcher forced into starting duty. He is a talented player — you don’t consistently post .350+ OBP marks by accident — but there is just something missing from his game. He doesn’t strike out and he has a good eye, but he doesn’t run or field all that well and he has virtually no power whatsoever. He seems more suited for a catching platoon, but enters the season as the undisputed starter given the lack of other options more than his own skills.

21. Toronto Blue Jays

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter J.P. Arencibia R 525 .229 .281 .442 -3 2.0
Reserve Jeff Mathis R 150 .209 .262 .321 1 0.0
Prospect Travis D’ Arnaud R 75 .253 .299 .421 1 0.5

The Blue Jays are in a tricky position as far as catchers go, as Arencibia is a starter with offensive limitations and d’Arnaud is the up-and-comer in need of some more minor league seasoning. While Arencibia is certainly a useful starter, red flags are raised when no projection system thinks he is capable of OBP’ing over .300.

It’s too early to put stock in Arencibia’s poor fielding mark last season as being indicative of his true talent level, but 2012 will be an interesting season for Toronto catchers. By this time next year we’ll know whether or not Arencibia falls into the Buck/Olivo/Barajas bucket, or if he is a legitimate long-term solution.

20. Colorado Rockies

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Ramon Hernandez R 400 .279 .336 .418 1 2.0
Reserve Wilin Rosario R 300 .252 .285 .431 0 0.5

Hernandez is a perfectly solid league average catcher whose limitations were somewhat masked in Cincinnati due to his splitting time with Ryan Hanigan. The Rockies will look to use him in a similar capacity, with rookie Rosario playing two or three times per week. Rosario is a wild card here, as his readiness will determine whether or not the Rockies should have fared more favorably in these rankings. Hernandez could start on an everyday basis, but as his 2010-11 seasons with Reds showed, he is more effective at this stage of his career in a time share.

19. Milwaukee Brewers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jonathan Lucroy R 550 .254 .313 .375 1 2.0
Reserve George Kottaras L 200 .239 .316 .401 -1 0.5

Lucroy isn’t a household name but he’s capable of a league average slash line. Throw in well-reputed defense and that’s a recipe for an everyday starter. Kottaras has him beat in career walk rate, isolated power, slugging percentage and wOBA, but his defense isn’t as strong. Lucroy probably shouldn’t play as much while Kottaras probably deserves to play a bit more. A platoon might extract maximum value out of both players, but until that happens, Lucroy is entrenched as the regular starter. While that isn’t the worst thing in the world, it does hold the Brewers back here.

18. Boston Red Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Start v. R J. Saltalamacchia S 425 .228 .294 .410 1 1.5
Start v. L Kelly Shoppach R 250 .214 .309 .376 0 1.0
Prospect Ryan Lavarnway R 75 .243 .316 .405 0 0.5

The Red Sox catching situation is very interesting in the aftermath of Jason Varitek‘s retirement. Bobby Valentine will look to platoon Salty and Shoppach, but Lavarnway is knocking on the door. The platoon is a novel approach here, especially since Saltalamacchia creates his own platoon advantage through switch-hitting.

This is a situation where projections don’t tell the whole story given the context in which the players will produce. Shoppach has a career .389 wOBA against lefties with respective marks of .397, .442, .366 and .349 over the last four seasons, and a poor .289 career rate against righties. Salty has a career .336 wOBA against righties, but has struggled against lefties. Though splitting time reduces their individual values, the aggregate value has the chance to exceed the 3 WAR projected above. Then again, both players could falter in their roles and lead the team to recall Lavarnway.

17. San Diego Padres

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Nick Hundley R 500 .243 .306 .406 2 2.5
Reserve John Baker L 200 .224 .317 .339 -1 0.5

Hundley hit .288/.347/.477 for a team with a combined .237/.305/.349 line last season. He even managed a .395 wOBA at home, including a gaudy .562 slugging percentage in a home run suppressing park. Among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances last season he posted the fourth highest wOBA.

Some regression is in order but Hundley is the very definition of a sleeper. Baker is a solid backup catcher that could probably produce decently as a starter on a bad team. Ranking the Padres #17 is somewhat conservative, as Hundley has the chance to become a consistent 4-WAR catcher. Injuries are a concern, as he hasn’t played more than 85 games in a single season, but if he puts it all together and stays healthy, the Padres will rank much higher next year.

16. New York Yankees

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Russell Martin R 550 .249 .346 .382 2 2.5
Reserve Francisco Cervelli R 150 .255 .321 .343 -1 0.5

Martin plays a lot and the concerns remains the same: can he continue to produce with such a strenuous workload, and can he stay healthy for a full season given his prior ailments? Cervelli spits in the face of Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense by being a light-hitting backup who Yankees fans know to be a poor fielder. The Yankees are better off playing Martin less in the regular season to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but in doing so they would make a noticeable sacrifice in overall catcher value.

15. Kansas City Royals

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Salvador Perez R 550 .274 .303 .393 4 3.0
Reserve Brayan Pena S 200 .267 .310 .380 1 0.5

Perez signed an extension that will keep him in Kansas City through at least 2019, but while he has the potential to become a special catcher, he still needs to develop at the major league level. His .361 wOBA was inspiring, but he barely walked and is unlikely to sustain a .360+ BABIP. That isn’t to say he can’t or won’t make adjustments, but rather that it’s worth a step back before we anoint him the next elite catcher. There is far more long-term potential here than absolute value in the coming season.

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Carlos Ruiz R 525 .269 .360 .383 4 3.5
Reserve Brian Schneider L 175 .233 .309 .327 1 0.0

Carlos Ruiz has the reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. When arguably the best rotation in the game constantly lauds his work, it’s easy to see where that comes from. The numbers back up his reputation but where he has really surprised observers is with his patience at the plate. Then again, his OBPs have been inflated due to his spot in the lineup: he is intentionally walked an inordinate number of times relative to his skill level since he bats in front of the pitcher.

Regardless, Ruiz is a consistent 3-WAR catcher. Schneider doesn’t have much of anything left and is primarily used to help youngsters like Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley. While Ruiz has plenty of value, his and Schneider’s injuries have forced replacement level catchers like Dane Sardinha into action for more than a cup of coffee, which deflates the Phillies overall value here.

13. Chicago Cubs

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Geovany Soto R 500 .244 .336 .429 2 3.0
Reserve Jason Jaramillo S 150 .232 .297 .323 0 0.0
Prospect Welington Castillo R 100 .243 .294 .395 1 0.5

Soto is tough to peg, as he has two very good years out of his four as a starter, and has been average in the other two seasons. If we’re following trends, then his 2012 season is going to prove very productive. Trends like that aren’t actually trends, however, so averaging his last two years is far more reasonable than expecting 3-4 WAR because that’s what happened in 2008 and 2010. Castillo is one of the few catching prospects expected to contribute at the major league level this year, and Jaramillo is likely more of a placeholder than anything else.

12. Washington Nationals

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Wilson Ramos R 500 .266 .338 .453 2 3.0
Reserve Jesus Flores R 200 .226 .266 .366 1 0.5

Ramos is a legitimate breakout candidate and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he hits the 4-WAR mark this season. He has all the requisite tools to succeed for a very long time. He tallied 3.5 WAR as a 23-year old last year, hitting .267/.334/.445 and throwing out almost one-third of opposing base-stealers.

Flores is a big question mark, as he has shown flashes in the past mostly erased by the annual news of a new injury. He has a career .141 ISO and certainly has pop, but the former catcher of the future will now look for success as a backup.

11. Cincinnati Reds

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Devin Mesoraco R 425 .248 .322 .432 -1 2.0
Reserve Ryan Hanigan R 325 .267 .358 .355 2 2.0

The Reds boasted one of the more underrated catching tandems over the last two seasons with Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez, both of whom could start on a number of teams, but who complemented each other nicely and helped mask the other’s limitations. Hernandez has moved onto Colorado, but the Reds will look to replicate the platoon by replacing him with the rookie Mesoraco. Given regular playing time, Mesoraco has all the tools to produce at the major league level. Don’t be surprised if, by season’s end, this is no longer a platoon and Hanigan is instead backing the rookie up. Regardless, the duo is capable of surpassing the 4-WAR threshold if expectations are met.

10. Los Angeles Angels

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Chris Iannetta R 600 .223 .348 .390 1 3.5
Reserve Bobby Wilson R 150 .245 .296 .353 1 0.5

I have long drank the Iannetta kool-aid, and once again firmly believe that he will put it all together with consistent playing time. The only potential dent in that plan is Mike Scioscia, who once thought that Jeff Mathis was a more useful starter than Mike Napoli.

9. Detroit Tigers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Alex Avila L 550 .254 .348 .420 -2 4.0
Reserve Gerald Laird R 200 .237 .298 .340 1 0.5

Avila essentially came out of nowhere to produce 5 WAR last season and will look to establish that his production wasn’t fluky. His .366 BABIP leaves room for regression, but even a slightly lesser version of last year’s success would make him one of the best starting catchers in the game. His minor league walk rate translated to the majors and the various systems believe in his power, projecting ISOs in the .170-.200 range. His defense has never rated favorably but perhaps working with Laird will improve his behind-the-plate skills. Laird won’t provide much aside from that, but Avila’s talent gets the Tigers in the top ten.

8. Baltimore Orioles

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Matt Wieters S 600 .268 .334 .429 5 4.5
Reserve Taylor Teagarden R 100 .197 .264 .345 0 0.0

Wieters probably won’t ever become the offensive monster many once foresaw, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t, and can’t continue to be, a very valuable player. Regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game, he finally took a step forward offensively, hitting 22 home runs and posting a .339 wOBA. At just 26 years old, he may continue to improve at the plate. If those improvements are realized and he sustains his defensive wizardry, then he will live up to the hype bestowed upon him, despite getting there by different means.

7. San Francisco Giants

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Buster Posey R 575 .287 .358 .440 4 4.5
Reserve Eli Whiteside R 175 .219 .274 .344 -1 0.0

The Giants were one of the tougher teams to rank. They are clearly the Posey show behind the plate, but while he is one of the best in the game, it’s too early to tell if last season’s injury will hamper his production. Then again, when 4.5 WAR represents a relatively conservative estimate, we’re clearly dealing with an elite player. The issue with Posey as it pertains to these rankings is just how much of his overall value is derived from catching. Given the injury, the Giants will likely start him at first base throughout the season, making it entirely possible that he is a 5-WAR player and a 3-3.5 WAR catcher.

6. Texas Rangers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Mike Napoli R 450 .272 .361 .538 -2 4.0
Reserve Yorvit Torrealba R 300 .263 .309 .370 1 1.0

Ron Washington has said he is going to use Napoli behind the plate more often and for that reason alone the Rangers catching unit ranks in the top six. Without Washington’s statement, Napoli remained a tremendous player, but only a portion of his value was attributable to catching. If he catches for 500-550 PA instead of 400-450, the Rangers likely move up, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where he becomes the exclusive starter behind the plate.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Miguel Montero L 575 .265 .336 .438 2 4.0
Reserve Henry Blanco R 150 .243 .307 .388 4 1.0

While Montero clearly gets the Diamondbacks towards the top of the list, we’re getting into the area where backups can make a big difference in the rankings. Despite playing for what feels like 312 seasons, Blanco is still a valuable backup catcher with strong defense and some pop to boot. Montero is a great all-around talent, but last year was the first season he surpassed 3 WAR and played in more than 130 games. He still has some question marks regarding durability, though there is no question at all about his talent.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Yadier Molina R 550 .284 .340 .397 8 4.5
Reserve Tony Cruz R 200 .237 .287 .352 0 0.5

Molina may go down as the best defensive catcher in history when all is said and done and his improved offense bumped him from defensive wizard/offensive liability to one of the top players, let alone catchers, in the sport. Even the +8 fielding mark might be too conservative, and few would bat an eye if that read +10 or +12.

3. Cleveland Indians

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Carlos Santana S 500 .246 .361 .449 1 4.5
Reserve Lou Marson R 200 .231 .313 .319 4 1.0

Santana hit 27 home runs, posted a 15% walk rate and managed a .350 wOBA despite a .263 BABIP. Yeah — he’s a stud. His value behind the plate won’t really take a hit, either, as with Casey Kotchman at first base there will be fewer games to play Santana at a non-catching position. But when he does play first or DH, Marson is a perfectly capable backup catcher and a very strong defender. He can’t hit, but he does plenty right behind the plate.

2. Minnesota Twins

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Joe Mauer L 500 .302 .380 .432 3 4.5
Reserve Ryan Doumit S 75 .256 .319 .404 -3 1.0
Reserve Drew Butera R 150 .216 .263 .311 1 0.0

Mauer is only going to catch 70 percent of the time this season, but the Twins made a concerted effort to ensure they still get some value from their backstops by acquiring Doumit. While he, himself, is going to DH more often than he catches, the combination of these three players makes for one of the best catching units in baseball.

1. Atlanta Braves

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Brian McCann L 550 .270 .354 .458 4 5.0
Reserve David Ross R 200 .239 .333 .413 4 1.5

McCann can stake a claim as one of the best, if not THE best, offensive catchers in baseball. Despite his portly nature he is also an excellent and underrated defender. When he rests, the Braves get to play the best backup catcher in baseball, who has tallied 1.9, 1.6 and 1.4 WAR as a backup over the past three seasons, without ever topping 180 PAs. Previously locking up McCann — he even has a $12 million option for 2013 — and complementing him with a top-notch backup has helped ensure that the Braves extract more value out of their catchers than any other major league team.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

82 Responses to “Positional Power Rankings: Catcher”

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  1. Dan Holland says:

    I know David Ross doesn’t want to admit it, but he might be a top 12 catcher in baseball if he played a full season and had 500 appearances. I know he is valuable to the Braves, but it would make sense that he would be way more valuable to a team with a need at catcher. Could he be a trade candidate?

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    • Louis says:

      Would he hold up for a full season though? Maybe the reason he does so well in a part time role is that he gets to rest so much and then is fresh for the games he does come in. I don think he’s probably a league average catcher, but he seems to really like his current job.

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    • some guy says:

      He’s never been an every day catcher, and someone would ask him to start doing it age 35?

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      • Paul says:

        Ross also took a sort of “hometown” discount to sign an extension with Atlanta. He’s from Georgia and played at nearby Auburn with Tim Hudson. I believe had he hit FA there would have been suitors who wanted him as their everyday C.

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    • Colin P says:

      He had a shot with the Reds, posting one big power year, but the next year he hit around the Mendoza and they unloaded him.

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    • Anon21 says:

      My sense as a Braves fan is that he’s happy to be making less in exchange for the lifestyle and health benefits that he realizes by not being a full time catcher.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        Exactly…it appears for him that the extra wear and tear on his knees just isn’t worth the additional money he could make as a starter.

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  2. Randy says:

    You should have probably included Yasmani Grandal for the San Diego Padres. I hear he isn’t ready offensively or defensively, but I suspect he’ll get some time this year given the current options.

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  3. No way Mauer gets close to 500 PA’s or 4.5 WAR as a catcher.

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  4. Thomas says:

    Some of these defensive numbers, particularly Napoli, seem a bit conservative. Napoli is almost certainly costing his team more than 2 runs on defense, at least I would think he is.

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  5. Bobby A says:

    Red Sox appear underrated, especially if they use Salty and Schoppach as a Lefty/Righty platoon.

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    • Shane says:

      The Red Sox threesome could be the most surprising of the bunch or they could be the most dissapointing. I don’t know what to expect. If you could somehow combine the best attributes of all three of them you would easily have an all star catcher.

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  6. Steve Balboni says:

    Astute observation about Scoscia. By springs end he may agitate to clear up his OF/DH surplus by trading Bourjos to get Jose Molina, Jeff Mathis, Henry Blanco, etc. You had to live through the daily Mathis/Napoli kerfuffle to see why that is not a ridiculous worry. (Also, Micky Hatcher butts heads with take & rake types like Ianetta, he prefers “making things happen” and “putting pressure on the defense”.)

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    • Keystone Heavy says:

      If they actually traded Bourjos to get Jeff Mathis back in an Angels uniform, I would literally- LITERALLY- die of laughter!

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    • Baltar says:

      What would he do with all those catchers?

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  7. Rex says:

    Perhaps Hank Conger should be included.

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    • Angelsjunky says:

      Yup. I’d bet good money that Conger will end up with more at-bats than Wilson. People are writing Hank off too soon – he’s still got a potential .800 OPS bat.

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  8. TMW says:

    Question: why is John Buck scheduled for a higher WAR than Pierzynski? They’re basically the same hitter aside from Buck’s lower contact rates and Buck appears to be worse defensively.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      Buck has way more power, makes way less contact, and is right handed. Maybe they equal out to the same thing in terms of WAR, but they’re definitely not even close to the same hitter.

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  9. Jon Weisman says:

    A.J. Ellis’ ZIPS OBP is higher than any catcher in the No. 15-No. 29 slots. You lose points for his relative lack for power, but a ranking at No. 30 seems low.

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  10. Ben Duronio says:

    The importance of having a quality backup behind a top notch starter at catcher is something often overlooked. The quality of the lineup when transitioning from Posey to Whiteside in comparison to McCann to Ross is much different, and since they often — at least in the NL — play about 130 or so games at catcher it is an undervalued asset.

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    • some guy says:

      Having a quality backup is just as important whether the starter is top notch or not.

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      • Ben Duronio says:

        If your offense revolves around McCann or Posey, it’s more essential. You can have a Thole to Whiteside drop and it not hurt your offense nearly as much. Obviously it is nice to have a quality backup regardless of the quality of the starter, but it is important to have insurance policies behind your best players.

        I.E. The Colts would have been wise to have a top notch backup behind Manning, while a team that relies on the running game more could get by with a lower quality backup and not be hurt as much if the starter goes down.

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      • gonfalon says:

        I agree with Some Guy… the Pirates burned through 8 catchers last year when the top 3 C on their depth chart were injured at the same time, and the dropoff from Ryan Doumit to Dusty Brown was almost traumatic.

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      • Jason B says:

        “The Colts would have been wise to have a top-notch backup behind Manning.”

        Yeah, there was probably lots of top-shelf talent lining up to hold the clipboard behind the guy who rarely missed a game over 12-13 seasons. It’s hard to pick between Brees, Brady, and Rodgers to fill that back-up role.

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      • Keystone Heavy says:

        I agree with the sentiment of Some Guy, but there are a couple of things about that. There probalbly aren’t enough “quality” catchers in baseball for every MLB team to have one, and the guy you expect to have 100-200 PAs isn’t a top priority when assembling a team.

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      • Heathbar09 says:

        Not really sure if you got the point Jason B. He wasn’t pointing out the likelihood of quality QB wanting to back Manning, just that there was an obvious drop off in talent at that position. Atlanta needs a quality backup more so than the Mariners or Astros. Much of Atl’s offense is dependent on the catcher position (McCann), so having a quality backup is more important to them than a team without an All-Star catcher. Much like having a quality backup QB would have been more important to the Colts than say the Ravens who depend more on their defense and running game.

        Or maybe you did get it, but just wanted to make fun of the football reference.

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  11. Terry McLeish says:

    The Twins should have had the amazing catcher duo of Mauer and Ramos if not for the idiotic trade our former GM did sending Ramos to the Nationals for reliever Matt Capps, which we in Twins Territory will be regretting for years to come.

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  12. fan says:

    Eli Whiteside will likely not be the Giants backup this year that job will probably go to Chris Stewart or Hector Sanchez

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  13. Hoof says:

    Who are the Florida Marlins?

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  14. Here’s to hoping J.R. Towles pulls the rug out from under Drew Butera

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    • Ben Petrick says:

      Have we started the annual “Towles breakout watch”? I remember playing that game every year, too… *sigh*

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      • I Agree Guy says:

        The sad part is, he could be horrible, and still be better than Drew Buterrible.

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  15. jim says:

    i believe colorado’s plan is for rosario to start the year in AAA and have jordan pacheco as the MLB backup

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  16. Jason says:

    Has Jesus Montero ever played first base? Why would his value be at first base? Why not left field? Or, say, catcher?

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      …because he’s going to DH and play a little first and only get 50-100 PA max at catcher, like I explained in the blurb.

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      • Ben says:

        Where did you hear this? I have not heard anything about Montero playing first base. I would be curious to know where this information is coming from.

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      • Jason says:

        You explained nothing in the blurb. You made a declaration. That is why I asked.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        He’s going to be the primary DH and may play a few games at first. He’s not going to catch much this year, so his value isn’t tied into catching.

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      • Jason says:

        Is Montero playing first base in ST? From what I’ve seen, the Mariners have him catching. I really just want to know how you know the Mariners are planning to convert Montero to 1B so that I can evaluate how much stock to put in it. I realize you do not owe us this, however, since you’ve taken the time to thrice make the declaration without providing evidence, it might clear things up. cheers.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        No declarations are being made. Montero is going to be the Mariners primary designated hitter. He may play a few games at first, here and there, and he’s going to catch a little during the season, but his primary position this year is DH. They are probably playing him there in ST to get a better sense on his abilities behind the plate.

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      • Jason says:

        As far as I can tell, Montero has played no first base this spring, nor have the Mariners discussed with him the possibility of him playing first base during the season (not in depth research, just a few minutes googling). For the Yankees, Montero was nothing except for a catcher and a DH. They had him work out a few times at first base, but never played him there in any games. As far as I can tell, the first base rumors are coming from journalists and bloggers, and not from any real evidence.

        I think it is most likely the case that Montero splits time between DH and catcher. How much and how little he catches will depend on his defensive competence obviously (so the most likely scenario is that Montero gets few at bats as a catcher as Seidman suggests. I just see no evidence for any at bats at first base).

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      • VivaAyala says:

        If a Mariner catcher plays first, it’s most likely going to be John Jaso, actually. Montero is probably going to catch 20-40 games if he’s anywhere competent behind the plate, so double those plate appearances at catcher.



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      • Woodrum's UZR Article says:

        Eric, it’s pretty clear Jason is asking for a quote or source for you declaring Montero’s playing time at certain positions, and it’s even clearer you’re intentionally avoiding giving a source… this leads one to believe you don’t have one.

        He isn’t being difficult, he’s asking for an explanation, and even in multiple responses, you haven’t given one other than “cuz i said so”

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Not purposely avoiding anything. All I said is that Montero won’t catch much and will be the primary DH and that it wouldn’t be surprising if he plays a few games at first base at some point. Nowhere at all did I make that sound like it’s an absolute truth. I thought it was pretty clear it was my hunch. If it wasn’t, I apologize.

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      • bstar says:

        I’ll use your same “just a hunch” theory and says Montero does play 100+ games at catcher this year. Why? Because I have declared it so.

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      • Slugger27 says:

        “…because he’s going to DH and play a little first and only get 50-100 PA max at catcher, like I explained in the blurb.”

        he’s asking for a source. you don’t have one. it’s as simple as that. as a rangers fan, i follow the mariners quite a bit, and have heard them saying nothing about where he’s getting his at bats, and the only indication we have to go on is where he’s playing in the spring, and that’s catcher. you’re just pulling a dave cameron now.

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  17. Andrew says:

    Alex Avila is a poor defender? Huh?

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    • the fume says:

      i was wondering that too. plus i will eat my shorts if avila has a ISO of .166 or below.

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    • Fangraphs dings him for his blocking ability (which was just added). Fangraphs hasn’t added pitch framing stats into their defensive metric calculations yet (which had Avilanche among the league’s best in that regard).

      Suffice it to say, we are still a long way from really accurate defensive stats for catchers. And the eye test might be more friendly to Avila than our current stats.

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    • Craig says:

      Alex Avila is a god. Avila is still relatively new to catching. He started catching in 2007, his junior year of college so last year was only his 5th season behind the plate. He is still on the upward slope of the learning curve. And Avila’s offensive numbers last year came at age 24 while being grossly over played. (He was the only catcher on the roster during much of August.) I don’t think many people realize how historic his season was. His OPS+ of 143 has been matched by only a select few catchers under the age of 25. Mauer, Fisk and Bench being three examples. Berra, Carter, Cochrane, Dickey, Hartnett, etc. only approached this high an OPS+ in their prime, if they did at all. I can accept the possibility of some regression in his offense, but with his talent he could also improve. And defensively, he certainly should get better. A 4.0 WAR is under estimating Avila.

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  18. NJQ says:

    Great article can’t wait for the others.

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  19. Big Baby says:

    Is pitch framing still too unclear of a science to have made it into these rankings?

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  20. Robbie says:

    you’re selling AJ Ellis short

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  21. Baltar says:

    This is a great article–an auspicious beginning to the series.
    A fine point regarding Buster Posey. The Giants have indicated that he will play 1B some of the time. Perhaps he will have a purely catcher WAR of about 3 and 1B WAR of about 1.
    Some combination of Whiteside, Stewart and Sanchez in the backup catcher role might be worth another .5 WAR.

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  22. yussif ridgerator says:

    Boy, it’s a good thing that the Dodgers traded Santana away for Casey Blake.

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  23. Richard says:

    I don’t have a problem with the overall placement for Carlos Ruiz and the Phillies’ catchers, but it’s often said that Ruiz’s OBP is inflated because he bats in front of the pitcher, as you do here. He was intentionally walked 10 times last year, 6 times in front of a pitcher. Does that qualify as an inordinate amount?

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Richard, I do believe that is an inordinate amount of IBBs for someone with Ruiz’s skill level. And from watching every Phillies game there were definitely unintentional-intentional walks mixed in. He is a patient hitter without the IBBs, but he is not a true talent .380 OBP hitter. He’s a very patient hitter whose OBPs turn gaudy due to his batting ahead of the pitcher.

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      • Neuter Your Dogma says:

        Eric, let me say that I enjoy your writing and thoughtful analysis on this and other sites. However, this isn’t one of those times. What you “believe” matters not. It is what the stats reveal. And in this case, you provide no statistical support. Also, a quick review of Ruiz’s numbers do not support your statements.

        First, your comment that Ruiz “is intentionally walked an inordinate number of times relative to his skill level since he bats in front of the pitcher” contains an inaccurate assumption, which is that Ruiz always bats before the pitcher. However, in 2011, Ruiz batted 6th 118 times, 7th 179 times, and 8th 114 times. His highest OPS was when he batted 6th in the lineup.

        Second, what is the OBP impact of 10 IBBs on a guy who has 472 PAs?

        Third, there is no comparative analysis to show that his OBP is inflated relative to the others with similar offensive skill sets.

        It may be that Ruiz benefits more from the BB than others, but again, maybe it is due to his skill and not his position in the order.

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  24. Justin says:

    “typically rates well in the field.”

    Is this something that you actually wrote about Miguel Olivo on this fangraphs blog? Did you mean the opposite of “typically”? I notice that it isn’t April 1 so I am not sure what is going on.

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    • BIP says:

      I think he meant to say “Olivo catches the ball about as often a garbage can would if you laid it down facing the pitcher.”

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  25. Barkey Walker says:

    This is an amazing way to look at this, very insightful! Thank you.

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  26. wes says:

    re the Phillies ranking “his [Ruiz] and Schneider’s injuries have forced replacement level catchers like Dane Sardinha into action for more than a cup of coffee” Really? Sardinha had 43 PA last year and 40 in 2010. 83 AB over two seasons is evidence of injury problems forcing replacement level players to get too many at bats?

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  27. Drew says:

    I really like the way this is framed, and it’s a huge help having this all this information organized and distilled into rankings for fantasy purposes.

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  28. dbake005 says:

    Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps looks better and better to me every day. Twins wish they could have that one back, in a big way.

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  29. rea says:

    I’m not sure why you think Avila came out of nowhere last season–everybody in Detroit knew about him, after his big debut in ’09.

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  30. Gregory says:

    I think you’re underrating Tyler Flowers. If he gets a chance I think he can equal Iannetta.

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  31. AA says:

    Where is Hank Conger in this equation for the Angels?

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  32. FredMertz65 says:

    Watch out for Arizona. Loaded with talent with an Underrated pitching staff.

    After watching the D’backs take apart the Giants, Montero needs to be given a lot of the credit. The Giants are loaded to win. Buster had a shakie game, as you thought he would, but he is still my favorite.

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  33. d says:

    AJ Ellis.

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  34. rankings are fun says:

    Noticed that rankings claimed AJ Ellis is both young and bad. Just sayin.

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  35. obp says:

    aj ellis.
    not the worst catcher in baseball.

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  36. AA says:

    This post was a joke made in opposite land :-P

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