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Catchers: Moving On Up or Moving Out?

The release of the monthly positional rankings and subsequent position tiers always spurs a lot of discussion here on the site.  Some people like them, some people hate them and some people just have questions as to why they are the way they are.  So while Eno and the boys get ready to compile the rankings for the month of June, I figured I’d open up the catchers discussion early and see if we can’t help influence some of the decisions.

Here are the catcher rankings for the month of May and here are the position tiers.

I’m going to throw out a few names of catchers who had a significant month (either good or bad), some key numbers and a thought or two as to how I think they should move and then ask you to share some of your thoughts.  Maybe it’s a player you follow more closely.  Maybe you noticed something in the data that you think others have missed.  I’ve been writing here long enough to know that you all have your opinions and aren’t afraid to share them, so let’s see if we can’t put it all to good use and maybe give the Rankings Lords something to think about.

Carlos Ruiz, Phillies

May Rank 19
Position Tier U.S. Commercial (5)
May Batting Line .410-15-4-19-2

Steady growth from April to May, fantastic 9.4% strikeout rate, lower than usual 5.5% walk rate, unusually high .406 BABIP for May raises his overall BABIP to .366, LD% is comparable to past two years but a significant spike (+7.9%) in GB%, two home runs away from matching a career high and it’s not even June.

I just don’t see it lasting.  There’s a lot of luck with these ground balls finding holes, the walk rate will stay down due to heavy increase in Swing% and there’s an even more significant spike in swings outside the zone.  When the luck runs out, it’s just hacking.  Bump a few spots for productive month, but the expected regression keeps him from moving too much higher.

A.J. Ellis, Dodgers

May Rank 29
Position Tier U.S. Cutter (7)
May Batting Line .338-13-4-16-0

Ridiculous 17.0% walk rate, significantly high .374 BABIP, .194 ISO is 60 points higher than his career-best on any level, much better than average contact rates but a Swing% much lower than league average, FB% stays the same while GB% decreases with a proportional increase in LD%.

The only thing I don’t see Ellis sustaining is the power.  His plate discipline has been outstanding and his pitch selectivity while in the box is forcing pitchers to throw him more strikes which obviously means better pitches to hit.  His walk rate has been as good now as it has been throughout his career at all levels and he’s no stranger to high BABIP totals.  Some regression is probably inevitable, but not enough to keep from bumping him up in both ranking and tier(s).

J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays

May Rank 12
Position Tier U.S. Standard (4)
May Batting Line .289-16-8-19-0

Huge increase in power this month raising ISO to .231, high strikeouts, almost non-existent walk rate, significant spike in monthly BABIP, 6.7% monthly increase in LD% with an insane 33.3% HR/FB.

The high Swing% will help keep the walks away and the SwStr% right around its usual 12.0%.  He won’t hit 8-10 (still got a few days left) home runs every month which means we’ll see plenty of time with lots of Ks and few home runs.  His end of season totals should be comparable to last year’s, therefore, I think he stays exactly where he is in the rankings.

Mike Napoli, Rangers

May Rank 1
Position Tier U.S. Prime (1)
May Batting Line .221-13-1-6-0

Major drop in production from April to May, walk rate returns to 2009-10 totals, strikeout rate at a career-worst 33.1%, significant increase in GB%,  lower contact rates, particularly from inside the zone.

He had a May swoon like this last season, plodded through June and saw a major upswing in the second half after injuries kept him in the lineup regularly.  Will Ron Washington continue to play him throughout the second half if he’s hitting like this and the Rangers stay healthy most of the way?  Looks like he’ll put up totals closer to his last two years with the Angels than to last year’s numbers with Texas.  Not sure if I would drop him a tier yet or whether I just combine the first two tiers for one giants super-tier with Napoli sitting a little further down that where he is now.

Devin Mesoraco, Reds

May Rank 23
Position Tier U.S. Utility (6)
May Batting Line .143-5-2-5-0

Walk rate is great, strikeout rate is solid, horribly low .216 BABIP is keeping that batting average and OBP down, solid plate discipline numbers, 75 plate appearances for the season.

Dusty, Dusty, Dusty.  You’re killing us here.  With more consistent playing time, I’d bet Mesoraco sees a BABIP increase which would help the rate stats and subsequently the counting stats even more.  But Ryan Hanigan is hitting well, although for less power and Dusty likes the way he plays defense and handles a pitching staff.  Without the playing time, I can’t justify Mesoraco’s place in the rankings right now.  If we were talking keeper rankings it would be a different story, but as far as in-season rankings go, he needs to drop.

So if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear from you now.  Obviously the discussion isn’t just limited to these players I’ve mentioned.  If you’ve got something to say about a different backstop and where he should or shouldn’t be ranked, then by all means, go ahead.  I just thought these guys would make for a good starting point.