Analysis

Diamond Digest Top 10 Right Now: Catchers

For decades, baseball fans have been debating who’s the best. Mantle vs. Mays. Williams vs. DiMaggio. Bull Durham vs. Major League. Here at Diamond Digest, we took up the same challenge as MLB Network of naming the best players at each position right now. These rankings encompass the views of all of the Diamond Digest writers combined, and we hope they’ll spark debate.

Diamond Digest RankingsMLB Network’s The Shredder Rankings
JT Realmuto, PHIJT Realmuto, PHI
Yasmani Grandal, CWSYasmani Grandal, CWS
Will Smith, LADWill Smith, LAD
Willson Contreras, CHCWillson Contreras, CHC
Travis d’Arnaud, ATLSean Murphy, OAK
Sean Murphy, OAKAustin Nola, SDP
Christian Vazquez, BOSSalvador Perez, KCR
Salvador Perez, KCRTravis d’Arnaud, ATL
James McCann, NYMMitch Garver, MIN
Roberto Perez, CLEJames McCann, NYM
Also receiving votes: Austin Nola (SDP), Tyler Flowers (FA), Buster Posey (SFG), Mitch Garver (MIN), Max Stassi (LAA), Yadier Molina (FA), Gary Sanchez (NYY), Tom Murphy (SEA), Jacob Stallings (PIT), Austin Hedges (CLE), Carson Kelly (ARI), Tucker Barnhart (CIN)

#10 Roberto Perez, CLE

Highest Ranking: 4

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 151 G | .224/.310/.405 | 86 wRC+ | 36 DRS | 11.0 FRM | 3.1 fWAR

What was a largely lost season for Roberto Perez still showed signs of positivity going forward. For one thing, his plate discipline remained strong, turning in his 6th consecutive season of a double-digit walk%. But more importantly, the defense that earned him two consecutive gold gloves showed no signs of decline, finishing in the 86th percentile in framing according to baseball savant after finishing in the 87th percentile in 2019. Although some might desire more with the bat, Perez is one of the most consistent producers of value at the position – BRIAN SCHLOSSER

#9 James McCann, NYM

Highest Ranking: 4

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 149 G | .276/.334/.474 | 116 wRC+ | 9 DRS | -6.7 FRM | 3.8 fWAR

James McCann has been one of the best offensive catchers in baseball over the past 2 seasons, ranking third in WRC+ and fifth in fWAR. He was always known for his strong arm from behind the plate and it seems like he is finally improving as a pitch framer. If his defense holds up along with his offensive improvement, he could very well see himself as top 5 catcher in baseball soon. The question of whether he can produce over a full season does drop his value a bit. – JONAH KEEHN

#8 Salvador Perez, KCR

Abbie Parr / Getty Images

Highest Ranking: 4

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 37 G | .333/.353/.633 | 162 wRC+ | 2 DRS | 0.3 FRM | 1.9 fWAR

While Perez has always had a good arm from behind the plate, mediocre pitch framing (at best) means that it is his offense that has made him more notable throughout his career. The story was no different in 2020, with Perez earning a spot on this list at all by being the best offensive catcher in baseball with a 162 wRC+ in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. The means by which he produced such a great offensive season are right on par with his career offensive profile too, but that’s more of a bad thing than a good thing looking forward. A measly 1.9% walk rate was the second lowest in baseball, and an approach that doesn’t involve many walks typically makes success difficult to sustain, keeping Perez below many of the other catchers on this list. – RYAN RUHDE

#7 Christian Vazquez, BOS

Highest Ranking: 3

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 185 G | .278/.327/.472 | 105 wRC+ | 6 DRS | 17.1 FRM | 4.9 fWAR

Christian Vazquez has quietly established himself as a top 10 catcher in recent years. His defense has always been outstanding. He has even received the nickname “Mini Yadi,” in reference to both his and Yadier Molina’s defensive prowess. Vazquez upped his game further in 2019 by improving his offense. We had seen glimpses of his offensive ability before, particularly during the back half of 2017, where he had a 114 wRC+, but any hope he had built was quickly dashed after a 42 wRC+ over 80 games in 2018. Vazquez seems to have found his stroke again, as he had 102 and 115 wRC+ in 2019 and 2020 respectively. With Vazquez’s elite defense (35 career DRS, 56.8 career FRM in just 476 career games), he needs to be just a league-average hitter to be this high on a list of best catchers. If he continues to be above league average, he will soon move up. – MATT O’HALLORAN

#6 Sean Murphy, OAK

Highest Ranking: 2

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 63 G | .237/.355/.491 | 132 wRC+ | 1 DRS | 0.4 FRM | 2.1 fWAR

When Sean Murphy was a prospect, it was his defense that got him attention. But it’s his offense that lands him high on our list of the top catchers in the MLB. Despite being a rookie, Murphy showed plate discipline that rivals many veteran all-stars. His BB% was tenth highest in MLB last year (Minimum 100 PAs). He also hits the ball incredibly hard, mashing 7 home runs in just 140 PAs and having an exit velocity and hard-hit percentage in the 91st percentile. Put it all together and you get a 131 wRC+, good enough for 6th among catchers (minimum 100 PAs). He was also strong behind the plate, with FanGraphs rating him at 1.1 Framing runs in just 339.1 innings. Put it all together and you get a player with one of the brightest upcoming futures in baseball. – CALLIE TSAI

#5 Travis d’Arnaud, ATL

Eric Gay / Associated Press

Highest Ranking: 3

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 147 G | .273/.336/.465 | 113 wRC+ | -11 DRS | 4.4 FRM | 3.2 fWAR

Travis d’Arnaud may be the most perplexing name on this list and, honestly, he’s probably not going to be a top-5 catcher in the future. After a great performance in 2014-2015, injuries and ineffectiveness relegated him to nothing more than an average player across three injury-riddled seasons before he was released by the Mets in May 2019. After his release, he played his way into a two-year, $16M deal with Atlanta, where he decided to become prime Mike Piazza for two months, posting a monster 145 wRC+ over 184 plate appearances. His stay in the top-5 may well be a short one unless he’s truly a late bloomer, as catchers sometimes are (see: Kurt Suzuki). Don’t expect to see the gaudy offensive numbers he put up in 2020 ever again, but d’Arnaud might be able to swing his way into another multi-year contract in 2021. – HOLDEN PHILLIPS

#4 Willson Contreras, CHC

Highest Ranking: 3

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 162 G | .262/.355/.490 | 121 wRC+ | 0 DRS | 7.2 FRM | 4.3 fWAR

Assuming his defensive statistics in 2020 were no fluke, Contreras has established himself as a catcher who provides positive value both offensively and defensively, and that alone is rare. While his framing was far from his strong suit early in his career, by all indications he has improved into an above average pitch framer, solidifying the biggest weakness in his game. Pair that with the fact that he has a great arm and has never posted a wRC+ below 100 in a season, and Contreras is a very well-rounded catcher. He has been far from consistent on offense, but he remains a great player and one of baseball’s best at the position.- RYAN RUHDE

#3 Will Smith, LAD

Highest Ranking: 2

Lowest Ranking: 7

2019-20 Stats: 91 G | .268/.363/.574 | 144 wRC+ | 2 DRS | -4.5 FRM | 2.9 fWAR

In a career sample size of 91 games and 333 plate appearances, Smith has put up a .268/.363/.574 slash line, 144 wRC+, .386 wOBA, and a 2.9 fWAR. It is a small sample size, but Smith has a pretty easy case for the best offensive catcher in the league if he keeps this up. The knock on Smith that keeps him below Realmuto and Grandal, for now, is his defense. He is not great at managing the running game and is a 6th percentile framer behind the plate, which hinders him considerably with framing being valued so highly in today’s game. The fact he is third despite his defense is a testament to just how great the bat is, and if the defense behind the plate ever improves even just a little bit, he will jump up this list even further. – GRANT CARVER

#2 Yasmani Grandal, CWS

Highest Ranking: 1

Lowest Ranking: 3

2019-20 Stats: 199 G | .242/.373/.457 | 120 wRC+ | 5 DRS | 21.0 FRM | 6.9 fWAR

Yasmani Grandal started his tenure with the White Sox on a bleak note by reaching base in just 5 of his first 21 plate appearances in the month of July. But in August he batted .253/.367/.453 and put up almost identical numbers in September/October by slashing .232/.361/.464. Nothing changed on the South Side regarding his ability to get on base, as he has had walk rates in the 92nd, 99th, and 92nd percentiles the past three seasons. While at times it looked like his defense did not come as advertised his framing remained in the top 20% of catchers. Ultimately, Yaz remains one of the top catchers in baseball. ANDREW HORWATH

#1 JT Realmuto, PHI

Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Highest Ranking: 1

Lowest Ranking: 2

2019-20 Stats: 192 G | .273/.333/.492 | 112 wRC+ | 11 DRS | 10.2 FRM | 7.4 fWAR

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The former Miami Marlin has separated himself from the pack over the past couple of years in Philadelphia, easily placing him atop our list. Unfortunately for the free agent catcher, he will be 30 years old on Opening Day. Between the pandemic raising uncertainty financially for squads and Realmuto’s age, it’s not surprising that he’s struggled to find the monster deal he was expecting. Regardless, whomever brings in Realmuto will get at least a few years of elite defense at the most important position on top of middle of the order type offense. He is the best catcher in baseball, after all. – ADAM KOPLIK


Stay tuned for the rest of our rankings! Up next: First Basemen.


Featured Photo: Izzy Rendell

Adam Koplik

Rudy said my bio was too long. Yankees writer, Brooks Kriske advocate, fluent in nerd. Follow me @adamkoplik on Twitter.

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