As statisticians know, summing up what a catcher does is very difficult to do. And separating what they do on a baseball field, aside from hitting, isn’t easy to evaluate from one catcher to the next. For example, calling a game. There really isn’t a way to measure that accurately, therefore it is simply easier to dismiss it in a ranking such as this. Maybe I could do more research and base a lot of it on reputation, but then it will have a “loose” base, so I am better off avoiding it.
The five best backstops in the game are…(With the 2008 OPS+ included)
- Joe Mauer: OPS+137: Perhaps when I am finished with these positional rankings, I will pursue a top ten players in baseball list, ranking the top ten from any position. And I am interested where I will rank Mauer. I have an idea, but more research always helps in matters like these. How Joe Mauer does not get more MVP love is beyond me. Sure, he finished 4th in 2008 and 6th in 2006, but come on, give the guy more love, he deserves it. Both seasons he was a batting champ, and both seasons he has been on base at clips of .413 and .429. And he is a freakin’ catcher! It sickens me. I would say he is underrated, but the “experts” that I rely on most respect the heck out of the guy. And he IS getting a lot of votes, just not as many as he probably should. Mauer should probably have an MVP by now, that is what I am trying to say.
- Brian McCann: OPS+ 134: McCann has been a great hitter–and not just for a catcher–for two of his three full seasons at this level. His bat is probably most comparable to Mauer’s of any catcher in the game. McCann hits for average, gets on base, and hits for power. When I say comparable to Mauer, I mean overall. Mauer gets on base more, hits for a higher average, but less power. But OBP>Slugging. McCann isn’t as patient as Mauer, but draws enough walks anyway.
- Russell Martin: OPS+ 106: The first two catchers are clearly better at the plate than Martin. But Russell is no slouch either. I still wonder if the Dodgers were interesting in exploring a trade of Martin this off-season. Or if that was just a fabrication. Martin could potentially get better, as he is still only 25. And Martin is incredibly patient at the plate, meaning that he should always get on base a lot. They have a nice asset down in LA, more than one, but this one in particular.
- Victor Martinez: OPS+ 85: Martinez was hurt and played in only 73 games last season. Is it really fair to leave him off the list because of that down year? Before that, in four consecutive seasons, Martinez posted OPS+’s of 121 or greater. Ranging from that 121, all the way up to 130. He was a great hitting catcher, period. Somehow in 2005, Victor finished 18th in the MVP voting. I have a feeling that he was more valuable than that, but the voters have their flaws, evident by the way they vote much of the time. I expect Martinez to bounce back.
- Jorge Posada: OPS+ 103: This may sound ludicrous to some, as Posada will probably be out of this if I rank the players after 2009. But he too was injured in 2008, and that prevented him from playing well (although was still a decent hitter). Granted, there is a distinct difference in age between he and Martinez. So the likelihood that Martinez is great again is higher. But Posada has been a good-great player for much of his career. A catcher in Chicago, or perhaps Pittsburgh will make some noise this season. But I feel that it is unfair to Posada to be left off because of injury, even if injuries may hinder him from performing for the reminder of his career (possible).
Geovany Soto-One great year doesn’t usually transfer into the “Statistican Magician’s” top five.
Ryan Doumit- More playing time, and the same production might get you on the list.
Just for the record, I feel that I have made it clear that projections for upcoming seasons don’t really play a role in these rankings. I mean, Soto will almost definitely be a better player than Posada next season. And I do value the current projection systems in place (Pecota, CHONE, Marcel, Bill James). But my rankings are based on actual numbers that have been established. Not numbers that may or may not be established. If I was to rank the top five for 2009, then the rankings would be different, no doubt.