The catcher position has been like the walking dead this season as several high profile catchers have either missed most or all of the season to date. The preseason rankings are virtually irrelevant at this point with as many as five top ten catchers either on the shelf or on the bench. Jonathan Lucroy might be the most high profile of those. He just hit his first home run of the season this past week. Obviously, Brewers fans and Lucroy fans were counting on much much more.
He’s not alone. Devin Mesoraco is virtually done for the season (catching anyway), Matt Wieters literally just came off the disabled list, Wilin Rosario lost his spot in spring training, and Yan Gomes has been hurt as well. When life throws you a curveball, you either adjust or you go down swinging.
As we pass the one-third point in the season, it is high time we adjust. We will be taking a look at catchers with at least 140 plate appearances on the season. We are splitting them into three tiers: elite starters, fringe starters, and leave alone. We’ll do that at all the positions. They will be ranked according to a metric I call real offensive value (ROV).
What is real offensive value?
For years, people have become hyper-focused on batting average. In the 1970s, Bill James began what seemed like a personal crusade to measure what people do outside of batting average. That became secondary average. His formula is more complex than mine. We try to keep things as simple as possible here, but most of the components are in common with James’ metric. Essentially, it uses three components: isolated power, isolated patience, and batting average.
Averaging batting average with the combination of isolated power and isolated patience gives us a rough estimate of a player’s overall value expressed like a batting average. The league average has been hovering between .240 and .250 this season. Any player that has a ROV of .300 or better is pretty much playing at an all-star level. As we will see, that is extremely rare for catchers.
all numbers represent statistics through on June 5th.
A quick look at this list reveals what has happened to the catcher position. Buster Posey is likely the only top five catcher to finish in the top five after one third of a season. Russell Martin and Brian McCann are fringe top seven guys, so the rest are relative surprises. The question is whether it is a case of them stepping up or the others stepping away. As you saw in the introduction, it is primarily column B, but there are some positive surprises in the first third of the season.
Stephen Vogt is making sure no one is missing Derek Norris too badly in Oakland. Those numbers he’s putting up are very reminiscent of the numbers Devin Mesoraco put up last season. They both virtually came out of nowhere to be the number one guy on the board.
Grandal hasn’t come out of nowhere, but he has proven to be a solid pickup for the Dodgers. I’m sure Vogt and Grandal are both off the board in most leagues, but Robinson Chirinos might still be out there. Yes, the batting average will kill you, but if you play in a six category league, he should be a solid pickup.
If we consider .250 to be the benchmark for being a fantasy regular (or a minimal standard) then you can see how shallow the catching pool really is. Beyond Nick Hundley, things start dipping and dipping fast. Matt Wieters has replaced Caleb Joseph and I suppose some people can hope that Lucroy will finally start hitting. That being said, if you are in a 12-team league, then suffice it to say that someone in your league is really hurting at catcher.
To make matters worse, many drafted early hoping that the stable of good catchers would carry them through. In addition to the aforementioned Lucroy and Mesoraco, you have the struggles of Yan Gomes and you’ll also notice that Yadier Molina’s name hasn’t cropped up either. It isn’t because we’ve forgotten either of them. Gomes has not qualified in at-bats, and Molina has a very empty batting average.
Molina represents the folly of relying on batting average to determine value. Ask most fans if they would want their catcher to hit .280 and drive in 60 runs and they would certainly oblige. That is particularly true if the catcher played defense like Molina does. Unfortunately, batting average is only half of the equation. The other half is patience and power and Molina simply doesn’t have it this season.
Carlos Ruiz, Wilson Ramos, and Chris Iannetta have been fringe fantasy prospects in the past. Ramos might still be on some players’ benches since he has performed more recently than the other two. These numbers indicate that they should probably be avoided if at all possible. This is why is always good to take stock in where everyone is at every now and then. If you replace just one of the guys above with someone on the first two tables then you might pick up that key win or two you need to get to the playoffs.
I have to admit that my partner in crime and I were the proud owners of Rene Rivera at one point this season. Remarkably, he qualifies as an everyday player with these numbers. Usually, having an every day player is preferable to not having one, but in a few instances it isn’t worth your time. We’d rather employ a Josh Phegley (a part time catcher in Oakland) than waste our time on Rivera.