Best Catchers of 2008

Other positions:  1B | 2B | SS | 3B | DH | LF | CF | RF

Like I did last year, I'm going to spend the few two weeks discussing the top ten players at each position based on 2008 performances.  This year I'm using Justin's stats, which have all the nice features of the home-brewed stats I calculated last year, but with the added benefit of making Justin do all the work:

  • BaseRuns-derived offensive linear weights, with park adjustments.
  • League-adjusted replacement-level, since AL pitching is stronger than NL pitching.
  • Proper position adjustments using the CA - SS - 2B/3B/CF - LF/RF - 1B - DH spectrum.
  • Combined STATS and BIS zone ratings converted to runs to measure fielding.  For catchers, fielding is based on passed ball/wild pitch rates and SB/CS ratios.

Players are listed at the position they played the most, but the defensive numbers from all positions are included, and players' contributions to multiple teams are combined. For the top ten players at each position, I've listed their offensive contribution above replacement level and their defensive contribution (position adjustment plus fielding relative to position) compared to average.  Position and fielding are broken out in the table at the end.  If you add offense plus position, you'll get a number with the same use as VORP, but better.

To help you put the Total Value number in perspective, here are some benchmarks given a full season of playing time:

  • League-average is about 20 runs above replacement.
  • The cut-off for true All-Stars is in the 40 run range.
  • Top 5 MVP candidates are worth at least 70 runs above replacement.
  • MVP winners have been in the 90-100 run range the past few years.

Without further ado, here are the top ten catchers of 2008 (2007 numbers here):

10. Chris R Snyder (13 off, 15 def, 27 tot) -- As is the case with most catchers, Snyder's overall value is held back by partial playing time.  He was a league-average hitter despite a .237 batting average.  And would you believe that he ranked 8th on last year's list?

9. Ryan M Doumit (28 off, 1 def, 28 tot) -- Doumit's story is actually pretty similar to that of teammate Nate McLouth: a Pirate with a breakthrough season driven by an increase in at-bats and batting average, playing an important defensive position but doing it poorly.  Heck, they were even born six months apart.

8. Chris D Iannetta (24 off, 6 def, 30 tot) -- I love guys like this: ex-prospects who take a few more years than expected to finally strut their stuff.  Iannetta showed power, patience, and even took an Utley-like 14 hit-by-pitches in only 400 plate appearances.

7. Dioner F Navarro (15 off, 16 def, 31 tot) -- Here's another late-bloomer, if you can say that about a twenty-four year old.  Navarro's increase in production was due to a drop in strikeouts and an increase in batting average.  If he could cut down on the 16 double-plays that would add another five runs to his offensive value.

6. Kurt K Suzuki (13 off, 19 def, 32 tot) -- Suzuki's the exception among catchers, a guy who compiled almost 600 plate appearances and played over 140 games.  On a game-by-game basis he's barely above average, but staying in the lineup and keeping the backup catcher on the bench is an underrated ability.  His skills actually remind me a bit of Jason Kendall (good OBP, bad SLG, good defense), but without that huge price tag.

5. Kelly B Shoppach (27 off, 7 def, 33 tot) -- 21 homeruns in 352 at-bats from an Indians' catcher.  The surprise is that it's Shoppach making that claim instead of Victor Martinez.  Having an abundance of All-Star caliber backstops is one of the best "problems" an organization can have.

4. Russell N Martin (30 off, 11 def, 41 tot) -- Evidently Martin has worn out his welcome in the Dodgers' clubhouse.  He also wore out opposing pitchers, taking 90 walks and averaging 4.0 pitches per plate appearance.

3. Geovany Soto (31 off, 12 def, 43 tot) -- And sometimes the much-hyped prospects do come through the first time around.  Soto seems to be a lock for Rookie of the Year honors, which just shows how valuable a 120 OPS+ from a catcher really is.

2. Brian M McCann (42 off, 9 def, 50 tot) -- Here's what I wrote about McCann last year: "Did the Braves trade the wrong young catcher? It’s tough not to love McCann’s 2006 performance, but 2008 will go a long ways towards showing whether it was a fluke or not."  As 2008 is now in the books, I will now boldly claim that Brian McCann is not a fluke.

1. Joe Mauer (44 off, 17 def, 61 tot) -- It's really not fair to Mauer that he keeps being compared with Justin Morneau, so I'll just remind everyone that Morneau's contributions were worth about 27 runs above replacement this year.  (Yes, 61 is still more than 27.)  Not only does Mauer hit like Derek Jeter, he's one of the most valuable defensive assets in the game.  There aren't ten players I'd want on my team more than Joe Mauer.

Here are the twenty-five most productive catchers from 2008:

Rank Player Off Pos Field Total
1 Joe Mauer 44 10 7 61
2 Brian M McCann 42 10 -1 50
3 Geovany Soto 31 10 2 43
4 Russell N Martin 30 11 0 41
5 Kelly B Shoppach 27 8 -1 33
6 Kurt K Suzuki 13 11 8 32
7 Dioner F Navarro 15 9 8 31
8 Chris D Iannetta 24 7 -1 30
9 Ryan M Doumit 28 8 -7 28
10 Chris R Snyder 13 8 7 27
11 Mike A Napoli 26 5 -5 27
12 Jason Kendall 0 12 14 26
13 Bengie Molina 12 10 4 26
14 Ivan Rodriguez 9 8 5 21
15 Yadier B Molina 8 9 2 19
16 Rod Barajas 3 7 6 16
17 John D Baker 13 4 -2 16
18 Jason Varitek -1 9 5 13
19 Brian Schneider 4 8 1 13
20 Gerald Laird 7 7 -1 13
21 A.J. Pierzynski 9 10 -7 12
22 Chris R Coste 5 5 1 11
23 Ramon Hernandez 9 9 -8 11
24 Miguel Olivo 6 4 0 10
25 Victor Martinez 3 3 3 10

I'd like to send a shout out to Mike Napoli who finished 11th on the list both this year and last year.  And to Jason Kendall, who might just have been the most valuable player to hit like a shlub.  Oh, and to Benji Molina, who would make a fine trade target for the Yankees and Red Sox.

And finally, because everyone enjoys a little schadenfreude now and then, the bottom five (with ties):

Player Off Pos Field Total
Guillermo A Quiroz -7 3 -4 -8
Corky Miller -9 1 1 -7
Clint J Sammons -5 1 -2 -7
Josh Bard -7 4 -2 -6
Michael Barrett -4 2 -4 -5
Johnny Estrada -6 1 0 -5
Luke C Carlin -7 2 1 -5
Paul Lo Duca -3 1 -2 -5


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