In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.
Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.
Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.
Let’s start with catchers! Here’s the original post for you to refer to: The Nine Best Catchers for 2013. (Numbers reflect start of play on June 22).
57. Ryan Hanigan, Reds (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 0.0 WAR)
Hanigan made my original list largely based on his excellent defensive work and his ability to get on base. The defense has been strong as usual, but his .278 OBP has been horrible, especially compared to his .365 mark a year ago. As a result of his poor offense, he’s receiving much less playing time than I expected and isn’t accumulating much value. I don’t think he’ll be replacement level the entire year, but it’s likely too late for him to make any sort of run at a top nine spot. MISS
51. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 0.1 WAR)
Ruiz missed the first 25 games with a suspension, which I knew about going into the season, so I anticipated his value would be backloaded. However, he also got hurt and has only appeared in 19 games to date with 67 PA. He hasn’t played well in that span, but that’s such a small sample that it’s really too hard to tell how he’ll play for the whole season now that he has come off the DL. Even if he matches his career year pace the rest of the way, I think it will be pretty hard for him to crack the top 9, much less be number 7. I expect him to play like a top 10-12 catcher for the rest of the season, but this is an accumulation list and that doesn’t do me much good. MISS
49. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.1)
Montero was a pretty safe pick coming into the season, but while his walk rate is still very good the batting average and power have vanished. He’s actually making more contact, but it is, evidently, weaker contact. He’s hitting more balls on the ground than he used to, but the line drive rate is pretty consistent. I’m optimistic that he’ll break out of this, especially because of his home ballpark, but it’s pretty unlikely he can make it to #4 on the list under any circumstances. He’s not this bad, but he’s not as good as I said either. MISS
19. Matt Wieters, Orioles (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 0.9 WAR)
Wieters looked like he was on track to finally become the star player he was billed as coming up in Baltimore, but pretty much every part of his offensive game has taken a big step back this year. The average is down, the walk rate is down, and so is the power. His defense is still excellent, but a .288 OBP isn’t something you can wash away with a nice UZR. From the right side of the plate, he’s been very good, but he spends most of his time hitting left-handed. It might be time to think about bagging the switch hitter thing if this keeps up. MISS
18. Brian McCann, Braves (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 0.9)
McCann’s numbers are in line with what I expected from him. No longer a star player, but still a better than league average hitter who players catcher and does so reasonably well. He missed time to start the season, but appears to be back and healthy now. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll be right around where I figured he’d be. I’m not ready to call this a hit, but it’s certainly not a miss. PUSH
11. Salvador Perez, Royals (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.2)
All of Perez’s numbers are very good, especially for a 23 year old, except for his walk rate, which is under 3%. The average is good, the power is good, the defense is excellent. I banked on him developing his approach to some degree this year, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. He’s a very good player (I bet Harold Reynolds loves him because he thinks walks are outs in disguise), but he’s not a top 5 catcher until he learns some patience. I’m going to call this a push, because he’s less than a win away from the spot I pegged him for and some of those guys are overachieving. We’ll revisit this after the season is over. PUSH
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.3)
Salty was part of a couple of high profile trades and it’s taken him a while to grown into a solid big leaguer, but the power is real even if he has a problem with strikeouts. His OBP is better this year than in the past and that’s probably going to regress a bit, but it is possible he is starting to figure it out. I don’t think he’s going to be a top 10 catcher the rest of the way, but he’s certainly lined up for a respectable season. PUSH
8. A.J. Ellis, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.6)
Ellis broke out last year and is reproducing his excellent approach at the plate, which puts him in line for a great OBP. His defense is looking better but the power has ticked down a bit so he’s probably not going much higher than this. I had him just outside the top nine, so I’m feeling very good about this one. HIT
7. Jason Castro, Astros (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.8)
Castro has always had a fairly good approach, and the batting average has trended up every season, but this year the power has broken out and it is certainly his carrying tool. He’s never had 300 PA at the MLB level, so it’s a bit of an unknown on a bad team, but I think he’s certainly better than I thought at the beginning of the season. I think he’s going to be an average catcher and I’d have put him around the middle entering the season. PUSH
6. Carlos Santana, Indians (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.8)
I had Santana literally right outside the top 9 going into the season and agonized between him and Hanigan, who I love on defense. Santana has a great approach and great power and can be counted on for above average power and OBP, but he has stepped from a 120 wRC+ guy to a 140 wRC+ guy this year which is enough to take his iffy defense from 10th best catcher to top 6 catcher so far. I’m banking on him falling back on this list, just slightly, such that he’ll be right around the 8-10 range. HIT
5. Evan Gattis, Braves (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)
Gattis doesn’t give you a great OBP and scouts say he is likely overperforming in that regard, but the power is absolutely incredible and he mashes lefties. Gattis has already provided more value than I had him pegged for entering the year, so it’s an obvious miss, but I’m not so sure he can provide more than another 1-1.5 wins the rest of the way. MISS
4. Russell Martin, Pirates (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)
Yeah, so Martin has always been a good defender and had a nice approach, but his strikeouts were trending up and his average was trending down over the last several years and the power had been inconsistent. But it’s all coming back. This calls for a graph:
I hope you can forgive me for not seeing this Russell Martin coming. Nice sign by the Bucs. MISS
3. Buster Posey, Giants (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 2.8)
Posey is a great player having an excellent season. He’s not 2012 Buster Posey, but that’s a career season. He’s striking out less and is still above average to great at everything except running. HIT
2. Joe Mauer, Twins (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.1)
Mauer, too, is a great player having a great season. His major question mark lately has been health and that hasn’t been an issue so far. High average, excellent approach, and the power has even bounced back to go along with his nice defense and excellent game calling. It’s not his fault no one else on his team is any good. HIT
1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.6)
Molina has always been an unquestionable great defensive player who could probably hit .150 and still be worth rostering, but over the last few years he has made the leap to MVP by turning himself into a great hitter too. Catcher defense is not fully appreciated with UZR and DRS, but even without giving him enough credit for his defense he’s still a top player in baseball this year thanks to this offensive adjustment:
Not bad. HIT
Check back for more The Nine updates featuring the other positions. How will these lists look come October? Sounds off in the comments section.
In this week’s installment of The Nine we’re ranking the best catchers for the 2013 season. The top of this list was easy, but the backend was a bit tricky. Several very good players were left off the list.
Apologies to: Carlos Santana, Alex Avila, AJ Ellis, Jonathan Lucroy, and AJ Pierzynski.
9. Ryan Hanigan (Reds)
Hanigan may seem like an odd choice if you don’t follow the game closely. He doesn’t hit for power, even in one of the great hitters’ parks in the sport, but his .365 OBP was ninth best in 2012 and he’s consistently proven his ability to post that type of number while some of the other contenders have shown more fluctuation. However, Hanigan is on this list for his glove. No catcher posted a higher UZR (11.2) than Hanigan in 2012 and his ability to lead pitchers and receive certainly makes him a top five defensive catcher in baseball.
8. Brian McCann (Braves)
McCann had a down year in 2012, but I’m banking on him having another solid season before his decline gets into full swing. He’s been a top flight offensive catcher and his defense is average or better. His biggest asset is his power, which should be back for 2013.
7. Carlos Ruiz (Phillies)
Ruiz has developed into one of the better offensive catchers in baseball over the last couple seasons and posted a career best 5.5 WAR in 2012. Pitchers have generally raved about his defense and his leadership skills behind the dish. The only reason he’s near the bottom of this list is because he’ll miss the first 25 games with a suspension.
6. Matt Wieters (Orioles)
Wieters is a very good defensive catcher who seems to just be arriving at the offensive potential that most scouts saw in him. He’s been over 4.0 WAR in each of the last two seasons and will start his age 27 season in 2013. The power is finally showing up and with a little more in the average column, he could become one of the game’s best.
5. Salvador Perez (Royals)
Perez is extremely young and incredibly talented. He won’t be 23 until May and has already demonstrated superb defensive skills and a great swing in just parts of two seasons. He made the big leagues late in 2011 and tore up September. An injury kept him out for the first half of 2012, but he picked up right where he left off after the break and hit like crazy. The only hole in his game is his low walk rate, but he does pair it with a very low strikeout rate. If he can learn to walk, he’ll be at the top of this list in no time.
4. Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks)
Montero has quietly become one of the better catchers in the game over the last couple seasons. He’s a solid defender who hits for average and power and is improving his plate discipline. He reached base fourth most among catchers last year and while he’s probably at his ceiling, he looks capable of maintaining this level for a few more seasons.
3. Joe Mauer (Twins)
Mauer will turn 30 this season and is among the game’s best pure hitters. He’s probably never going to display the power he did in that 28 homerun season again, but his great batting average and on base percentage make him one of the best catchers there is. His defense is pretty average at this point, but the bat is very good. The key with Mauer is his health and ability to stay behind the plate, but this is a list for 2013, so I’ll still be on him over some of the younger guys.
2. Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
Molina nearly missed the top spot for 2013. His defense is elite, top notch stuff. Quantifying catcher defense is tricky, but by all measures he’s near the top and by most subjective measures he is the best. He’ll be 31 this year and has always had a good average and on base, but the power is new over the last year and a half. I’m not as confident in his power to remain as I need to be to put him at the very top of this list, but darn it, he’s very close.
1. Buster Posey (Giants)
Not much of a surprise here. The reigning NL MVP enters 2013 as the game’s best backstop. He plays a very good defense, even if he’s probably not in the same league as Molina and Hanigan. He’ll be 26 this year, which is about the time hitters tend to peak and he’s coming off one of the best offensive season in all of baseball. He hits for average and power and mixes it with plate discipline nicely. Posey is not only one of the game’s best catchers, he’s among the game’s best players period.
What does you list look like? Sound off in the comments section.