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John Dewan's Stat of the Week - baseball

Ranking MLB Catchers by Total Runs

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With Louisville catcher Henry Davis being selected first overall in Sunday night’s MLB draft and the All-Star break upon us, this seems like a good time to evaluate MLB’s best catchers.

An in-depth scouting report on Henry Davis can be found on the Sports Info Solutions blog here.

First, we will look at Total Runs, a statistic created by Sports Info Solutions that combines a player’s hitting, pitching, baserunning, defensive value, and a positional adjustment to evaluate the overall contribution made to their team.

Most Total Runs - 2021 Season - Catchers

Player Team Total Runs
Salvador Pérez* Royals 62
Willson Contreras Cubs 58
Christian Vázquez Red Sox 55
Omar Narváez* Brewers 54
Will Smith Dodgers 53
Jacob Stallings Pirates 52
Buster Posey* Giants 51
J.T. Realmuto* Phillies 51
Sean Murphy Athletics 51
Mike Zunino* Rays 48

* Indicates MLB All-Star

It is no surprise that this Top 10 list consists of many AL and NL All-Stars. However, only 7-time All-Star Salvador Pérez and first-time All-Star Omar Narváez are in the Top 6 in Total Runs for catchers. Is this sparsity of All-Stars at the top of the catcher rankings a result of the voters’ overweighting of hitter performance or fielder performance?

The fielding portion of the Total Runs metric is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Stolen Base Runs Saved, Good Fielding Plays / Defensive Misplays plus Errors Runs Saved (GFP/DME), and Strike Zone Runs Saved make up the skill-based attributes of DRS for catchers.

DRS Leaderboard - 2021 Season - Catchers

Player Team DRS
Jacob Stallings Pirates 12
Austin Hedges Indians 7
Christian Vázquez Red Sox 6
Cam Gallagher Royals 5
Mike Zunino* Rays 5
Elias Díaz Rockies 5
Sean Murphy Athletics 4
Ben Rortvedt Twins 4
Willson Contreras Cubs 4
Tomás Nido Mets 4
Jose Trevino Rangers 4
Will Smith Dodgers 4

* Indicates MLB All-Star

The catchers in this year’s MLB All-Star game were clearly not selected for their defensive prowess. Among catchers, the AL starter, Salvador Pérez, ranks 29th in DRS and the NL starter, Buster Posey, ranks 26th in DRS. Posey was voted to start at catcher, but he will be unable to make the start due to a thumb contusion suffered on the Fourth of July.

This season marks Pérez’s worst season in terms of DRS throughout his 10-year career. That said, the perennial All-Star has only finished in the Top 10 in DRS among catchers twice in his career. Posey is also having his worst season defensively in terms of DRS. However, the former MVP has a history of being in the upper echelon of defensive catchers; he led catchers in DRS in 2015 and 2016 and has finished in the Top 5 in seven of the ten years he’s qualified at the position.

Filling in for Posey will be Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who ranks 30th in DRS among catchers.

Focusing on the DRS leaderboard above, the Pirates' Jacob Stallings leads MLB catchers because of his league-leading 5 GFP/DME Runs Saved. Stallings is also tied with the third-highest total of Strike Zone Runs Saved. It should also be noted that Stallings ranks second among all major leaguers in DRS, only one Run Saved behind Rockies infielder Ryan McMahon .

Nationals backstop Yan Gomes leads catchers with 4 Stolen Base Runs Saved, but due to poor framing performace as reflected in his -4 Strike Zone Runs Saved, he has zero Total DRS this year.

The leader in Strike Zone Runs Saved, with 6, is first-time Rays All-Star Mike Zunino, who is also the only All-Star catcher on the DRS leaderboard, ranking 4 th among catchers. This season marks Zunino’s second best season in his nine-year career. In 2018 he finished 2 nd in DRS among catchers.

The hitting aspect of the Total Runs metric is made up of Runs Created, a Bill James statistic that estimates the number of runs a hitter contributes to their team. The leaderboard for catchers is below:

Runs Created Leaderboard - 2021 Season - Catchers

Player Team Runs Created
Salvador Pérez* Royals 49
Buster Posey* Giants 41
J.T. Realmuto* Phillies 40
Omar Narváez* Brewers 39
Willson Contreras Cubs 37
Will Smith Dodgers 36
Sean Murphy Athletics 33
Yasmani Grandal White Sox 32
Gary Sánchez Yankees 32
Christian Vázquez Red Sox 30
Tyler Stephenson Reds 30

* Indicates MLB All-Star

Unsurprisingly, the top of the Runs Created leaderboard is littered with All-Star catchers. It is fitting that Posey’s replacement as the NL starter was Realmuto, who has the second-most Runs Created among NL catchers. Narváez replaced Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who is choosing not to attend due to a right foot injury. The 18-year veteran, Molina, is not on any of the leaderboards in this article, however he has led MLB in DRS among catchers five times and has won six Fielding Bible Awards.

Circling back to the 2021 MLB Draft; this year’s first overall selection, Louisville catcher Henry Davis, possesses elite power and had more walks than strikeouts in 2021. His weakness seems to be his fielding. However, he makes up for his struggles framing and blocking pitches with his strong arm. Based on this year’s All-Star selections, if Davis can continue to improve his hitting and avoid becoming a defensive liability, he will fit the mold of an All-Star catcher.

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