Who Is Baseball's Best Catcher in 2012?
In my mind, the “glory” positions in baseball are, and have always been, pitcher, shortstop and center field. They’re the guys who generally put up the ridiculous numbers, make the flashy web gems and rake in the big bucks.
Considering this, one position that's constantly overlooked has been catchers. Sure most of their hitting numbers aren’t up to par with the Josh Hamiltons of the baseball world, but there have been a group of catchers every year who have brought something indispensable to the table for their respective teams.
Just like seasons in the past, some teams’ lineups have depended on their backstop’s defensive consistency and reliability in the batter’s box to help carry the load.
With that being said, who's having the best season behind the plate? Who has helped their team the most, and who can continue to do so?
I’ve narrowed the list to a handful of potential All-Stars who have come up big for their clubs so far in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Yadier Molina
You may be thinking, "How is arguably one the best defensive catchers of the decade not in the top five?"
Yes, he is a defensive fort behind the plate for the Cardinals, and yes, he is hitting .297 with 13 doubles and five homers, and yes, he somehow has four stolen bases.
That's why he deserves some love here, but he has not been one of the best catchers in the game so far this season.
His five dingers are tied for 10th-most home runs in the league among catchers, and the 20 RBI he's logged is below nine other catchers this season.
While his production has been solid and he will still probably start for the NL in the All-Star Game, Molina's numbers don't justly give him a spot in the top five.
5. A.J. Ellis
When Matt Kemp went down with a strained hamstring, questions were swirling as to whether or not the Dodgers could continue their dominance with the loss of the NL's best hitter.
With the help of catcher A.J. Ellis and others, that hasn't been an issue.
So far this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been on a tear, posting a 30-14 record while punishing opposing pitching. With the league's fourth-best batting average (.270) and the second-best on-base percentage (.341), the team can thank the play of their catcher for part of their recent success.
After splitting the 2011 campaign between the Dodgers and their Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, Ellis has seen his role grow to being the Dodgers go-to man behind the plate.
It's safe to say the 31-year-old hasn't disappointed.
Not only has he proven to be reliable defensively, but he has been extremely efficient at the plate, having the best on-base percentage and third-most walks among MLB catchers.
In his past 10 games, Ellis has knocked in nine RBI and seen his batting average rise by 19 points to .327.
While he may not garner All-Star votes because he lacks fan-wide recognition, he definitely deserves the accolades based upon the way he's been playing for the MLB's best team.
4. Matt Wieters
Matt Wieters is currently struggling uncontrollably at the plate, as his batting average has dropped from .268 to .238 in 10 games. He has only one hit in his last eight appearances.
Although the Orioles' young catcher has struggled of late, Matt Wieters' early-season production and potential, if he gets back on track, is enough to land him a spot in the top five.
Before this terrible slump, the 26-year-old was on a tear through the first month-and-a-half of the young 2012 campaign.
After April, the phenom had already laced six homers, 15 RBI and owned a .364 batting average.
One reason for his dip in production has been a decrease in plate discipline.
In the month of April, Wieters was working pitchers and getting good at-bats, only striking out 13 times with an on-base percentage of .937. However, he's seen those quality numbers drop drastically so far in May, striking out 17 times with a pedestrian OBP of .651.
If Wieters can focus on doing the simple things to get on base, the power numbers will come, and he'll find himself at the head of the pack for the AL catcher Silver Slugger.
3. A.J. Pierzynski
In a contract year, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski has been turning heads to say the least.
On the season, the 35-year-old veteran has compiled a .303 batting average along with six bombs and 28 RBI in 142 at-bats.
He has been particularly effective in the past seven days, having eight hits in 20 plate appearances with two doubles and four RBI.
But what might be the most remarkable aspect of Pierzynski's 2012 campaign has been the shape he's in, as he's played in 39 of the Sox's 44 games.
Another consistency over the years for Pierzynski has been his ability to get on base and limit strikeouts.
This year has been no different.
With a .342 OBP and only 15 strikeouts to his name, the Sox catcher has been producing at a high level this season and has helped his team's fortunes in a division that's up for grabs.
2. Jonathan Lucroy
In the 2010 campaign, the Milwaukee Brewers called up Jonathan Lucroy midseason, and he remained their starting catcher for the rest of the year. His fielding was virtually flawless behind the plate that year, allowing only one pass ball over a total of 655 innings.
Despite this amazing feat with the leather, he was vocal in being upset about his shoddy performance at the plate and vowed to improve in that area.
After a mediocre 2011 campaign, he's finally showing that improvement at the plate in the early goings of this season.
Throughout the first month-and-a-half of the 2012 campaign, Lucroy has been hitting the cover off the ball. Not only does he have a .349 batting average, but he has the best slugging percentage of all MLB catchers (.597).
He can also get around the bags quite a bit, being one of three catchers with two or more stolen bases and the only catcher with multiple triples (four).
With the loss of Prince Fielder to free agency, the Brewers knew that someone would have to step up in the batting order to try and fill the holes that their former superstar left, and Lucroy has been doing just that.
Speaking of offensive losses...
1. Carlos Ruiz
Arguably, no team has had to fill bigger shoes in the batting lineup this year than the Phillies.
With their one-two punch of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out for an extended period of time with their respective injuries, it was known that someone would have to take over at the plate and give the Phillies' heralded pitching staff some run support.
That "someone" has come from an unlikely source in the fan-favorite catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz.
Ruiz has been a fixture behind home plate for the Fightins since he took over for the injured Rod Barajas in the 2007 season.
While he never really produced gaudy offensive numbers, Ruiz became known for his reliable mitt and clutch hitting in the playoffs.
However, the Panama-native has stepped up his game this year, as he already hit more homers than he did last season with seven and is tied for the most RBI by a catcher this year with 29.
Sabermetrically, Chooch is leading all MLB catchers in runs created (29.1) and runs created per 27 outs (8.73).
As an added bonus, the 33-year-old has remained dependable with the glove as he is the only catcher in baseball who has not committed an error.
If Ruiz can somehow continue his offensive production and remain firm defensively in the absence of Utley and Howard, we may be looking at a potential MVP candidate by the end of the season.