Catcher is a Wasteland No Longer!

The catcher position was already weak heading into the season. Then Salvador Perez got hurt and was lost for the year, further eroding the projected total value earned from the group. As we near July and the all-star break, I continue to refer to the position as a wasteland. I should stop it now, given the risk of sounding like a total fool.

Of all the catchers who have amassed at least 100 plate appearances this season, Steamer projected none of them to exceed a .345 wOBA. That’s crazy! The projection system forecasted 0 catchers to perform better than a .345 wOBA. We’re a bit less than halfway through the season. But you know how many catcher with at least 100 plate appearances currently sport a wOBA above .345? 12! That’s some serious outperformance. And it’s not just guys rebounding or solid hitters improving further. It’s surprise after surprise, out of nowhere performances we never saw coming.

What follows is a table of all catchers from this group that have posted a wOBA at least .040 higher than projected (.380 wOBA vs .340 wOBA, for example).

Catchers Rule!
Name HR BB% K% Steamer Projected wOBA wOBA Diff
Tom Murphy 8 3.7% 35.5% 0.262 0.366 0.104
Mitch Garver 11 10.4% 24.3% 0.315 0.415 0.100
James McCann 7 8.3% 23.5% 0.282 0.379 0.097
Pedro Severino 8 9.4% 21.1% 0.282 0.354 0.072
Robinson Chirinos 12 14.1% 27.8% 0.296 0.360 0.064
Omar Narvaez 11 10.5% 17.8% 0.303 0.363 0.060
Willson Contreras 15 10.6% 26.4% 0.333 0.389 0.056
Roberto Perez 13 12.1% 27.1% 0.292 0.348 0.056
Gary Sanchez 23 7.9% 26.4% 0.344 0.394 0.050
Carson Kelly 8 11.2% 18.3% 0.301 0.351 0.050
Christian Vazquez 10 5.8% 18.8% 0.293 0.341 0.048
Jason Castro 8 10.5% 24.8% 0.297 0.342 0.045
Yasmani Grandal 17 14.4% 20.5% 0.345 0.385 0.040

So Tom Murphy departs from hitter heaven Coors Field and his wOBA surges nearly 100 points. Go figure. He’s still showing hilariously poor plate discipline, but he’s making the most of all his fly balls, and has somehow managed an inflated .375 BABIP, despite a 51% fly ball rate. Since he remains behind the sixth catcher on the list, Omar Narvaez, he’s not worthy anything outside of AL-Only leagues.

I still remember when an owner in my AL-Only keeper league dropped Mitch Garver early in the season. Oops! Garver and 12th ranked Jason Castro has formed a shockingly fantastic (at least offensively) catching duo in Minnesota. For Garver, it’s been all about transforming into an extreme fly baller, combined with tripling his HR/FB rate. For Castro, he has dramatically improved his strikeout rate, as it has dropped to his best mark since 2012. He has also posted a career best fly ball rate, pushing that mark above 40% for the first time, and pairing it with a HR/FB rate above 20% for the first time. A massive spike in fly ball Hard% validates the power outburst.

Thanks James McCann for performing the way I expected you to last year. His home run power has rebounded off last season’s low, but the main driving force here has been his absurd .408 BABIP. It’s not often you see a catcher with an inflated BABIP mark. Obviously, that can’t be sustained, and since he’s not a big power guy, he’s likely to quickly fade and be picked up and dropped often in shallow mixed leagues.

Do you have a clue what Pedro Severino has been doing?! His batted ball profile is weird, as he’s hitting a ton of line drives (good), but also hitting a ton of pop-ups (bad). You don’t usually see that combo. He has also posted a 19% HR/FB rate, which doesn’t fit with his history or projected power at all. Chance Sisco may have been recalled sooner if Severino was actually performing as forecasted.

Robinson Chirinos has always had power, and most of his rates are right in line with history. The one difference driving this outperformance is a walk rate surge. Its lead to a fabulous OBP, which drastically boosts his value in formats which count it instead of AVG.

Not only has Willson Contreras rebounded off a disappointing 2018, but his offense has risen to new heights. His fly ball rate is now on a three season upswing, and his HR/FB rate would have been as well, if not for last year’s dip. With a weak LD%, I can’t imagine a .350 BABIP lasting, but he should clearly remain a preferred catcher option.

Roberto Perez?! Seriously?! This is the same guy who posted a putrid .236 wOBA last year with just two homers. He has now hit the same amount of homers this year as he had in the previous three seasons combined. His 35.1% HR/FB rate is utterly shocking, though he’s enjoyed spurts of good power before, but nothing like this. It’s too bad Jose Ramirez hasn’t been drinking the same water.

Welcome back Gary Sanchez!

I had no idea Carson Kelly was a) the regular catcher for the Diamondbacks and b) performing so well. He’s displayed some very solid all-around skills, including a fantastic combination of fly ball Pull% and Hard%. I’ll buy.

And now Christian Vazquez?! This is a guy who came into the season with just 10 homers over about 1,000 plate appearances. Now, he has hit the same number in just over 20% of the plate appearances! While his BABIP has jumped back over .300, it’s really all about the power gains here. Like Kelly, the fly ball Pull% and Hard% trends are highly encouraging, though his marks are a bit inferior.

Yasmani Grandal is basically doing everything just a bit better than expected, all adding up to a strong outperformance. It’s hard to argue against him sustaining this playing half his games in hitter friendly Miller Park.

I promise I will never criticize the catching crop again…this season.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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3 years ago

noticed this lately after streaming through catchers and cycling through kelly, castro, perez, and caratini all multiple times thinking they all could start in a 16 team 1 catcher league