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.
Preseason Prediction: Justin Upton (OF – ARZ)
So this was a bad one. Upton’s 2.5 WAR didn’t even crack the Top 30 in the NL. Don’t get me wrong, .280/.355/.430 is a solid big league season, it’s just nowhere near MVP levels. The talent is there to win an MVP for Upton, but there’s a lot swirling around him at this point in Arizona, so I’m not sure we’ll even see that freakish peak potential that allowed him to go #1 overall in 2005.
And the award goes to…
I think you could make a case for six players. That’s a large MVP group. Buster Posey (8.0), Ryan Braun (7.9), and David Wright (7.8) are virtually indistinguishable by WAR. I’d also include Chase Headley (7.5), Andrew McCutchen (7.4), and Yadier Molina (6.5).
I’d have a hard time arguing against any of those six. Here’s the quick case for each.
Posey led in WAR, OBP, wRC+, and played good defense at a premium position for a really good team.
Braun was a very close 2nd in WAR, tied in wRC+, led in SLG, wOBA, hit 41 bombs, stole 30 bases, and did it under intense steroid scrutiny.
Wright was a little worse on offense than those two, but made up for it with what UZR called a great season on defense to bring his WAR in line with the leaders. It can’t be ignored that Wright did this on a team much less talented than most of his rivals.
Headley is a fun one because he put up great offensive numbers at Petco Park and only missed one game all season. 31 homeruns and 17 steals from the Padres 3B to go along with solid defense. The park holds him back a little on the more conventional side and he’ll lose votes because his team wasn’t great, but Headley should be in this conversation.
McCutchen almost singlehandedly made the Pirates relevant in 2012 and came in 3rd in wRC+. The defensive metrics hate him on defense, which puzzles me a little, so his overall WAR is a little depressed, and in a race this close I’m not sure how to judge it.
Finally, Molina put up phenomenal offensive numbers for a catcher (really for anyone) and continued to be one of the most imposing defenders in the game. The 6.5 WAR isn’t quite on par with the rest of the bunch, but he loses some value because he only players 140 games a year as a catcher.
You can dive into all the statistical details yourselves because there are really too many players to really evaluate in this space, so I’ll give you my take in a crowded field.
I’m hearing from most people in the mainstream media and a lot of more insider types that Posey is likely to run away with this because of his second half surge to lead a good team to the playoffs. That’ll push him over for most voters.
I’m going to take Braun. It’s essentially a tie from any sort of statistical measure, so you have to make a value judgment based on less than objective criteria. All of these guys deserve it, but I’m voting for Braun because he deserves it after his name was tarnished by a faulty drug test last fall.
Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone, but the testing procedure was breached and he won the appeal. However, just the association has put Braun on trial with the public and I’m impressed at how he had another great season even after he “got caught” using steroids.
I don’t buy into the argument that you have to be on a playoff team to win MVP, so that isn’t in my calculus. Braun had a great year and did so while under a microscope than the others weren’t. Granted, points gets to Posey for coming back from the brutal ankle injury and lots of love for Wright, Headley, McCutchen, and Molina as well, but I’m behind Braun.
10. Jayson Heyward (OF – ATL)
9. Aaron Hill (2B – ARZ)
8. Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD)
7. R.A. Dickey (SP – NYM)
6. Headley (3B – SD)
5. Molina (C – STL)
4. Wright (3B – NYM)
3. McCutchen (OF – PIT)
2. Posey (C – SF)
1. Braun (OF – MIL)