B/R MLB 300: Ranking the Top 20 Catchers of 2016
Due to the position's relative lack of star power, our list of the top catchers for 2016 features only 20 names. And despite Gary Sanchez's best efforts, many of them are complicit in the position's low offensive standards. As a counter to that, our scoring system acknowledges that catcher is by far the most important defensive position:
- Hitting: 25 points
- Power: 30 points
- Baserunning: 5 points
- Defense: 40 points
This is the same scoring pattern used in the first three iterations of the MLB 300, but there is one major difference. Rather than use the events of 2016 to project for 2017, this year the focus is strictly on 2016. Think of these rankings as year-end report cards.
For more on how the scoring and rankings work, read ahead.
How They're Ranked
With one notable exception, the catchers listed ahead have played at least 50 games in the majors in 2016. For the most part, they've also played 50 percent or more of their games behind the dish.
The scoring is based mostly on statistics—current through Monday, September 19—from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant, MLBfarm.com and StatCorner. The numbers at these sites leave few blind spots, allowing for analytical scouting reports that cover the following:
Hitting: We know the average catcher is hitting just .242 with a .310 on-base percentage. We want to know how each of our guys is living up to that standard and assorted MLB norms with his patience, his discipline and his ability to make contact (and make good contact) and, ideally, use the whole field.
Power: The average catcher is only slugging .392, but that doesn't quite reflect how there's some good power to be found at the position. We'll judge our guys based not only on raw power, but on how well they get the ball in the air and how else (i.e. a steady pull habit) they maximize their power potential.
Baserunning: The standards here are very low for catchers, but we'll still put them through the usual ringer of questions. Can he steal bases? Can he take more than one base at a time when the opportunity arises? Does he avoid running into outs?
Defense: Catcher defense is undeniably important but also nuanced. Rather than getting into every last detail, we'll keep it simple by focusing on measurable and easily scoutable talents: controlling the running game, blocking and receiving. StatCorner is the go-to for strike framing because the metrics there show overall performance and how well each catcher gets calls inside and outside the strike zone.
The individual scores are meant to mimic the 20-80 scouting scale while also taking sample sizes into account. Perfect scores are reserved for players who have excelled throughout the entire season, with extra points possible under extraordinary circumstances. Anything less is a judgment call.
Last but not least: If any two (or more) players end up with the same score, we'll make another judgment call on the player (or players) we'd rather have.
20. David Ross, Chicago Cubs
G: 64 PA: 195 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .229/.340/.439 HR: 9 SB: 0
When you're used to hitting under .220 with sub-.300 OBPs, a .229 average and .340 OBP are a welcome change of pace. David Ross has the approach that got away from him in 2015 back under control, and his 72.1 Contact% (his best in years) is his reward. He's also been more dangerous than his 87.5 mph exit velocity suggests, as that hides his best hard-hit rate since 2013. But with lots of swings and misses, limited plate coverage and a big platoon split, take all this for what it's worth.
Ross' raw power hasn't been as impressive in 2016. He's managed just 91.2 mph on his fly balls and line drives, safely under the MLB standard of 92.3 mph. What's keeping his power afloat is his ability to get under the ball for a high launch angle. At 19.1 degrees, his is up there with the highest in the game. Without quality, quantity works well.
Ross is a 39-year-old who's 6'2" and 230 pounds with 15 years' worth of catching on his legs. But guess what? He's taken the extra base 64 percent of the time he's gotten the chance on hits. He fits right in with the rest of the Cubs in this regard.
All these kind remarks and we're just now getting to the good stuff. Ross has been good at controlling the running game his whole career and is keeping it up with a solid 29 percent caught-stealing rate. He gets out of the crouch well for an old-timer and still throws well too. He also keeps pitches in front of him and is among the best at framing pitches. In particular, he's very good at securing hard-to-get calls off the edges of the strike zone. A part-timer though he may be, he's a good one.
David Ross among the game's best catchers? That's partially because it's been a lean year at the position. It's also because he's hit well and continued to be a strong defensive presence.
19. Jason Castro, Houston Astros
G: 104 PA: 352 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .212/.311/.391 HR: 11 SB: 2
Jason Castro's star turn in 2013 continues to look like a fluke. When discussing his major flaws, "major" must be stressed. He's useless against left-handers, and the progression of his strikeout rate will make you cringe. It's not that he's a wild swinger. With a 44.1 Swing% and 26.7 O-Swing%, he doesn't swing or chase often. He simply has limited plate coverage. And while his 90.2 mph exit velo shows how well he hits what he gets, his pull habit ensures much of that is swallowed by shifts.
On that last point, Castro has two of the necessary ingredients for legit power production. He shows good raw power with 93.7 mph exit velo on fly balls and line drives, and anything he hits in the air to right field has a chance to go. His issue this season has been a loft problem. His launch angle is down from 14.1 degrees to 12.1 degrees, resulting in fewer chances to show off his power stroke. One other nitpick: He's benefited from some opposite-field cheapies at Minute Maid Park.
Castro is a 6'3" and 215-pound catcher with knee trouble in his past. You'll have to excuse him for not being much of a baserunner. His two stolen bases are nice, but it says a lot that he's gone from first to third zero times this year and taken only five extra bases on non-hits.
Castro's framing is the best part of his defense. He's once again rating as one of the best in the business, rarely missing on pitches in the strike zone and stealing his fair share of strikes outside the zone. But even considering how few fastballs the Astros throw, his 12 passed balls highlight how his blocking is not as up to par. His other weakness is a 22 percent success rate catching base stealers. He's an accurate thrower but not a quick one.
Castro's offensive game has been a quagmire that too many whiffs and not enough power have brought down. However, he remains an asset because of how many strikes he earns his pitchers.
18. Chris Herrmann, Arizona Diamondbacks
G: 56 PA: 166 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .284/.352/.493 HR: 6 SB: 4
Chris Herrmann arrived in Arizona as a .181 career hitter. Suffice it to say he was better than that up until a wrist injury ended his season. He still had a big-time whiff habit (14.0 SwStr%) that came from spotty plate coverage. But compared to last year especially, he was more selective with his swings. He also had a much easier time finding the barrel, upping his exit velocity from 87.1 mph to 90.6 mph. To boot, he didn't need his platoon role to be successful.
Like Welington Castillo before him, Herrmann has also found some power in Arizona. The better contact mentioned above also applied to his fly balls and line drives, which he hit at an average of 94.2 mph. He also upped his launch angle from 11.3 degrees to 14.8 degrees. If only he had stuck with his usual pull rate, he could have peppered right field with extra-base hits even more than he did.
Herrmann is athletic enough to play multiple positions when he's not catching, so don't be surprised to hear he's also a good baserunner. It's not just that he swiped four bags in four tries. He also aggressively rounded the bases on hits, taking the extra bag 58 percent of the time.
Herrmann continued to nail base stealers, catching 39 percent of them. He doesn't have great arm strength, but that shows what a catcher can do with a good release and accuracy. The catch, if you don't mind the pun, is that Herrmann's framing was downright bad. His problem was too many missed strikes in the zone. His arm and ability to play the outfield make up for this but only to an extent.
Herrmann's small sample size of playing action required that his scores be suppressed. But with a good bat and defensive versatility on display, there's no question he was useful when on the field.
17. Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates
G: 94 PA: 366 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .262/.377/.305 HR: 0 SB: 6
Francisco Cervelli wasn't a hard hitter to begin with, and now his exit velocity is down to 86.8 mph from 88.0 mph in 2015. To boot, he's a ground-ball hitter all the way with a 56.2 GB%. But don't call him an easy out. Cervelli is one of the most patient and disciplined hitters in the league, swinging rarely and expanding the zone even less often. His 18.0 O-Swing% is the best among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. He takes his walks and, if nothing else, puts the ball in play.
It's not by accident that Cervelli has that goose egg in the home run column. His swing isn't meant to get under the ball, producing a launch angle of just 7.7 degrees. That's well off the league average of 11.4. He could make up for that if he showed enough raw power to top the MLB norm on fly balls and line drives, but his average is just 91.7 mph.
Being able to run around the bases is a good way to make up for never trotting around them, and Cervelli's 6'1" and 205-pound frame doesn't bar him from doing so. His six steals have come in eight tries. He's also taken the extra base 37 percent of the time on hits and added 12 morebags on non-hits.
Don't look to Cervelli for great throwing displays. His 17 percent caught-stealing rate is nothing new. Without a quick release or much arm strength, any throw of his that's not accurate is usually doomed. His eight passed balls are also an eye sore, particularly in light of A) his smallish sample size and B) how many fastballs Pirates pitchers throw. But as always, Cervelli's redeeming quality is his strike framing. He's once again rating as elite, largely thanks to how well he steals strikes outside the zone.
Cervelli hasn't recaptured the magic of his big breakout in 2015. But with an advanced bat and an elite framing skill, he's still been useful.
16. Stephen Vogt, Oakland A's
G: 125 PA: 482 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .256/.305/.408 HR: 12 SB: 0
Whatever progress Stephen Vogt was making against lefties is over. Pitchers have also attacked him more aggressively in the zone, forcing him into a more aggressive approach that's damaged his walk rate. But give Vogt some credit. He's combated an increase in shifts against him by dialing back his pull rate to just 37.0 percent. Doing so hasn't helped his exit velocity, which has fallen from 87.2 mph to 86.3 mph. But in his case, more directional control is a good trade-off.
Vogt's altered approach hasn't helped his power either. His launch angle this year is a tick higher, going from 16.1 degrees to 17.3 degrees. But that's all he has to boost his power. His exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is a pedestrian 90.1 mph, and getting away from his pull side has meant getting away from his best power alley. He only has warning-track power to other fields.
Vogt was athletic enough to play the outfield and put up some solid baserunning numbers a couple years ago. Not anymore. He's done stealing bases, and his aggressiveness has dried up elsewhere too. He's taken 13 bases on non-hits after peaking at 18 last year. And while his 35 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits is solid, him going from first to third has become a rare occurrence.
Vogt's caught-stealing rate is 27 percent, which falls in that not-great/not-bad range. His arm strength remains just OK, but he makes up for it with a quick transfer and accuracy. The real issue is that his framing hasn't been as good. In fact, it's been downright bad. As is usually the case with framing struggles, getting that low strike has been an issue. That leaves but one bright side: Vogt has been a lot better at keeping the ball in front of him, going from nine passed balls in 2015 to three in 2016.
Vogt's All-Star form from early 2015 is long gone. However, he's still a dependable presence behind the dish and a solid hitter in the box.
15. Cameron Rupp, Philadelphia Phillies
G: 96 PA: 380 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .255/.308/.453 HR: 15 SB: 1
Cameron Rupp was threatening a breakout for a while there, but the second half has humbled him. Pitchers have forced the issue, throwing Rupp fewer fastballs and pounding him more inside with the ones they do show him. Meanwhile, he'll still swing through pretty much anything. And yet, he has tightened his approach and benefited from a new swing with a lot more exit velocity. He's gone from 89.9 mph in 2015 to 92.2 mph this year.
Rupp's swing is essentially designed to be more direct to the ball. That's not surprisingly caused a lower launch angle. It went from 14.6 degrees last season to 10.2 degrees. What's keeping the power coming despite that is good, ol' fashioned raw pop. It's allowing him to average 95.3 mph on fly balls and line drives, and this power stroke applies to all fields.
Rupp is a big 'un at 6'2" and 260 pounds, and he moves like one too. He's stolen only one base in his career and has been mostly a station-to-station runner. He can get from second to home on a single, but he has as many first-to-thirds (three) as he does extra bases taken on non-hits.
Rupp has been good at controlling the running game, and he's continued that this year with a solid 26 caught-stealing percentage. He's not quick with his release, but his arm strength helps make up for that. Now he just needs to work on his receiving. His seven passed balls are too many for a guy with his workload, and his framing is below-average. He needs to get better at framing strikes within the zone, which are the ones that matter most.
Rupp was toying with a bigger breakout earlier in the year. That didn't pan out, but the Phillies should gladly take a solid hitting catcher who can hold his own on defense.
14. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
G: 41 PA: 178 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .327/.393/.698 HR: 16 SB: 1
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Gary Sanchez has given us a small sample size to study. As for the not so obvious, he hasn't acted like an advanced hitter. He's shown good patience but only OK discipline. He's swung and missed a bunch. He hasn't used the whole field, hitting over half his balls to his pull side. The one thing he's done well is hit the ball hard, averaging 94.0 mph in exit velocity. This and his patience are two qualities to like, but he's not as flawless as his absurd slash line suggests.
There are some brakes to pump here too. Sanchez hasn't had the easiest time getting under the ball, posting an average launch angle of 6.8 degrees and a GB/FB ratio of 1.4. You can say this, though: He has crushed the ball when he's gotten it airborne. He's averaged 97.7 mph on his fly balls and line drives, which is Giancarlo Stanton territory. Small sample size be damned, that's impressive.
Sanchez's one steal isn't worth getting excited about. He stole it against Jered Weaver, whose velocity is measured in miles per day, not hour. Sanchez has also taken the extra base just 18 percent of the time on hits, so he's been about as productive as you'd expect a 6'2" and 230-pound catcher to be.
Sanchez could always hit, but the strides he's made on defense are what pushed him to the big leagues. His flashiest talent is controlling the running game, which he's done by nabbing 36 percent of would-be thieves. He has downright silly arm strength. Sanchez's framing has also been valuable. He's not great at stealing strikes outside the zone, but he's been the Yankees' best catcher for securing strikes within the zone.
Has Sanchez overachieved in his big breakthrough? That should be obvious, yes. But has he shown talents worth getting excited about? Also yes.
13. Welington Castillo, Arizona Diamondbacks
G: 104 PA: 423 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .268/.326/.438 HR: 14 SB: 2
Welington Castillo's 2015 rebirth as an Arizona Diamondback has continued. He still operates like a power hitter, choosing his swings carefully and looking to unload when he lets loose. He mostly gets the desired result, hitting his batted balls at a solid average of 89.9 mph. But life hasn't been easier as pitchers have treated him more like a slugger. That's called for more breaking balls, and his strikeout rate has increased accordingly.
Power fueled Castillo's 2015 revival. He hit 17 homers in only 80 games with Arizona. Though his 14 homers in 104 games this season suggest otherwise, his power remains in good shape. His launch angle has increased from 13.2 degrees to 14.2 degrees. Meanwhile, his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives has stayed at a solid 92.4 mph. This may not be booming power, but it's still good.
Castillo has 220 pounds on a 5'10" frame, so color me surprised that he's somehow stolen two bases this season. Aside from that, his baserunning leaves little to discuss. He mostly stays put when he has chances to take extra bases, including taking the extra base on hits just 21 percent of the time.
There's basically nothing to praise when it comes to Castillo's receiving in 2016. He's been a below-average framer, excelling neither at securing strikes inside the zone nor stealing strikes outside the zone. Also, his 10 passed balls are too many for a guy who doesn't catch every day. His arm remains a weapon, though. He's caught 37 percent of would-be thieves, once again showing off quick releases and throws with good zip.
Castillo has come back down to earth after an explosive revival in 2015, but he remains a solid offensive weapon by catcher standards.
12. Brian McCann, New York Yankees
G: 119 PA: 460 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .234/.328/.409 HR: 19 SB: 1
A .286 hitter with a .358 OBP through his first seven seasons, Brian McCann's current numbers reflect what he's been since 2012. He has good patience and discipline and an ability to barrel the ball, averaging 89.5 mph in exit velocity. But the extra breaking balls he's seen in the last two seasons are still beating him. He also beats himself with his extreme pull habit. He's hit into more shifts than every catcher except for Stephen Vogt. And between the two, McCann has much less success when doing so.
If you're not going to be consistent, at least be powerful. McCann's always had a lofty swing, and that much hasn't changed in 2016. His launch angle is 18.5 degrees, and his GB/FB ratio is still safely under 1.0. That combined with his pull habit and habit of finding the barrel adds up to a well-rounded power stroke. Getting to apply these tools at Yankee Stadium also helps, though.
McCann is a 6'3" and 225-pound catcher who's 32 years old and who's logged roughly a million innings behind the plate. So don't hate him for not stealing bases and for generally taking it one base at a time. He deserves some props for taking a career-high 14 bases on non-hits, but his 16 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits is low even by catcher standards.
Yankees pitchers throw fewer fastballs than any others and are also among the least frequent visitors to the strike zone. Knowing this, McCann deserves credit for not only rating as a strong framer, but also for allowing only 27 passed balls and wild pitches all season. He's been arguably the best blocker in the league. That makes it easier to forgive his 23 percent success rate catching base thieves, but even that masks how well he releases and throws at his age.
Everyone is freaking out over Gary Sanchez, and for good reasons. But also give McCann credit for continuing to pack a solid bat and undervalued defensive skills.
11. Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox
G: 70 PA: 255 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .333/.389/.518 HR: 7 SB: 0
From the "LOLWUT" file comes Sandy Leon. His minimal exposure before 2016 makes it hard to discern what he's doing differently, but it's clear it's not his approach that's changed. Rather, his breakout is more a matter of contact. He's making plenty of it with an 83.6 Contact%, and his 86.9 mph exit velocity obscures a 32.2 Hard% that's miles better than anything he did before. Red Sox skipper John Farrell chalks it up to confidence, per WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. A likely story but plausible.
Leon had one career homer coming into the year. Now he has eight. His contact-quality revolution also includes a good launch angle at 13.4 degrees. And while he hasn't crushed what he's put in the air, a 90.4 mph exit velocity on line drives and fly balls is solid work. The fact that Leon is mostly a pull hitter also helps. Small sample size be darned, this is good stuff.
Leon's next stolen base will be his first. But don't hold your breath. With 225 pounds on a 5'10" frame, he's never in a hurry when he runs. It's therefore a minor miracle that he's capable of taking the extra base when called on, nabbing eight on non-hits and the extra base 30 percent of the time on hits.
Leon had shown ability to throw out runners, so his 41 percent success rate this year is nothing new. He has a quick transfer and a strong, accurate arm. His receiving has been a different matter. He has seven passed balls in a limited sample and is rating as a below-average framer. Getting the low strike has been a problem. And since he's caught only four of his starts, this isn't all Steven Wright's fault.
Leon's rise to stardom is the kind that justifiably raises eyebrows. But with an offensive surge brought on by improved contact, it passes the smell test surprisingly well.
10. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
G: 68 PA: 261 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .263/.341/.457 HR: 10 SB: 2
Willson Contreras' transition to the big leagues has hit some snags. His issues with slow stuff have kept his minor league contact habit from showing up, and he's allowed pitchers to crowd him inside with heat. He offers enough to like despite all this, though. Even if he needs to work on his discipline, his non-outrageous 47.1 Swing% reflects how he's tried to work counts. And his 88.1 mph exit velocity doesn't do him justice. He rocks solid Soft% and Hard% rates.
Increased power was one of the defining characteristics of Contreras' rapid rise earlier in the year, and he's since shown what he can do in the majors. His raw power has produced a solid 93.1 mph in average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, and that power has played to both sides of the yard. His next challenge is getting under more balls. A launch angle of 8.3 degrees won't get it done.
Baseball America noted that Contreras was a plus runner before he was turned into a catcher. Those days are over, but he still moves well by the position's standards. Although his 2-for-2 showing in stolen bases is nothing special, he's otherwise fit into Chicago's aggressive style with a 42 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits and 11 extra bases on non-hits.
Contreras has caught 37 percent of would-be base stealers. He's not the quickest out of the crouch, but he has a good release and plenty of arm strength. His athleticism also makes it easy for him to keep wayward pitches in front of him. He's permitted only 17 wild pitches in almost 360 innings. He also has above-average framing. As a bonus, he holds his own in left field. With a larger sample size, he'd rate as one of the game's top defensive catchers.
Contreras isn't perfect, but the good outweighs the bad. With a good approach, good power, good athleticism and a well-rounded defensive game, he has a bright present and an even brighter future.
9. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
G: 130 PA: 511 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .247/.288/.435 HR: 20 SB: 0
Salvador Perez was good for a while, but he's fallen apart in the second half and is now looking a lot like his usual self. His borderline abusive workload doesn't help, but his bad habits hurt him more. He's somehow gotten even worse at hitting pitches with spin, and he's still way more aggressive and pull-happy than he was earlier in his career. His one redeeming quality is loud contact, which he makes to the tune of 89.6 mph in exit velocity.
As a power hitter, on the other hand, Perez is good and getting better. This is where his pull habit helps, as anything he hits to the left of center is liable to go for extra bases. He's further upped his power ante by increasing his launch angle from 13.3 degrees to 16.9 degrees. That's given him more chances to show off his considerable raw power, and he's seized it with an average of 92.8 mph on fly balls and line drives. This is an ideal power profile that would be even better outside Kauffman Stadium.
Considering he's a 6'3" and 240-pound catcher who never seems to get a day off, asking Perez to do more on the basepaths would border on cruelty. He does more than enough as it is. This is the third year in a row he's taken double-digit bases on non-hits, and his 37 percent success rate taking bases on hits includes a career-high eight first-to-thirds.
Perez hasn't lived up to his defensive reputation in recent years. He has more so in 2016. He's nailed 51 percent of would-be thieves, showing off arm strength that ESPN.com's Keith Law rated behind only Yadier Molina's. Between passed balls and wild pitches, he's also only let 35 balls get past him. But his weakness, as always, is his pitch framing. At the Kansas City Star, Rustin Dodd did a fine job of breaking down how much Perez's technique hurts him.
Perez packs a powerful bat and a good throwing arm, and he deserves props for being behind the plate every day. Otherwise, he's not the superstar catcher he's often portrayed as.
8. Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
G: 118 PA: 458 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .246/.317/.498 HR: 28 SB: 2
Evan Gattis' average hasn't improved from 2015, but his .317 OBP is up from .285. This reflects how he's been getting more disciplined every year. With that and his ability to scorch the ball at an average of 90.1 mph, he has an ideal power hitter's profile. The downside is that he also has a big swing-and-miss element in his game. It doesn't help that pitchers have responded to his increased patience by throwing him more hard stuff, exploiting the hole he has away.
In fairness to others on this list, Gattis has benefited from playing half his games at Minute Maid Park. That short porch in left field has done him a few solids. But we'll also be fair to Oso Blanco by acknowledging he has bear-like raw power. His average of 93.3 mph on fly balls and line drives is easily above average. His pull habit allows him to get good mileage out of that.
For a 6'4" and 270-pound behemoth who's not fast, Gattis sure has been active on the basepaths this year. Those two steals are the first of his career, and he's also taken the extra base on hits 41 percent of the time. To boot, he's run into only one out.
Gattis has started more games as a designated hitter (65) than he has as a catcher (51). But he's been useful when catching. His 50 percent success rate throwing out runners overstates how good his throwing is, but it's his reward for seemingly having extra accuracy on his throws. And while he's no Jason Castro, he's also rating well as a framer. He's particularly good at securing strikes within the zone. One gripe: Forty-six passed balls and wild pitches are too many for only 400-odd innings.
Gattis is his same ol' powerful self, except now with more patience and solid defense.
7. Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
G: 125 PA: 482 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .239/.333/.414 HR: 19 SB: 2
The usually reliable Russell Martin has been conspicuously less reliable in 2016, posting a career-worst contact rate. But his overall line misleads. He's posted a .261 average and .370 OBP since making adjustments to deal with a sore neck. Making contact has continued to be an issue, but his superb 20.4 O-Swing% since June has at least allowed him to focus his swings on good pitches. His exit velocity has responded accordingly. It's been a tale of two seasons for the veteran. Let's not ignore the good one.
Martin's power has also improved since his June adjustments, as 16 of his 19 homers have come since then. There's good raw power at play in this surge, as he's been hitting fly balls and line drives at an average of 94.3 mph. He has some things holding him back, though. His launch angle in this same span is just 10.9 degrees, and he hasn't gotten back to his usual pull rate of 40.5 percent. He's focusing more of his power up the middle of the field, which doesn't help.
Martin's days as a double-digit stolen-base guy are long gone. He hasn't become a station-to-station runner just yet, though. This is the second year in a row he's taken double-digit bases on non-hits, and he's keeping his success rate on hits north of 30 percent. He's also run into just one out.
With Martin's caught-stealing rate having dropped from an AL-best 44 percent last year all the way to just 17 percent in 2016, you wonder if his neck problems have sapped his arm strength. He can still put throws on the money, though. And as per usual, he rates as a strong framer who is especially good at securing strikes in the zone. It's a shame he hasn't cleaned up the issue he had with passed balls last year, as his nine are up there among the league leaders.
Martin disappeared from the ranks of baseball's top catchers in the first two months of the season. But ever since then, he's continued to be a well-balanced hitter who serves his pitchers well on defense.
6. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
G: 136 PA: 536 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .295/.351/.409 HR: 7 SB: 3
Pitchers are still treating Yadier Molina like an old man, feeding him a diet of inside fastballs. But he's been able to work around that. Although his approach has remained aggressive, he's still good at making contact and has gone retro with his ability to make good contact, upping his exit velocity from 86.5 mph to 88.4 mph. Said contact is still going to all fields. This is not what I expected for him coming off a rough 2015 and two thumb surgeries, so pardon me while I chow down on some crow.
Molina's power also has new life. His exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is up from 89.6 mph to 90.5 mph. Likewise, his launch angle is up from 10.3 degrees to 12.0 degrees. And while this doesn't equate to too much home run power, it combines with his all-fields approach for decent gap power.
A dirty secret is that even when Molina's baserunning was good, it wasn't that good. Between 2009 and 2012, he collected more outs on the bases than he did steals. This points to the bright side of his becoming a station-to-station runner who's taken few extra bases on both hits and non-hits: He doesn't do as much damage.
Is Yadier Molina living up to his reputation on defense? Not in the running game, as he's nabbed only 22 percent of would-be thieves. He still has a quick transfer and a strong arm, but he seems a little slower out of the crouch than he used to. Allowing only 44 passed balls and wild pitches all year is good for a guy with over 1,100 innings in the crouch, though. He's also back to owning the oh-so-important task of framing strikes, rating as one of the best in the business.
Maybe Molina isn't baseball's best defensive catcher anymore. But he's still a damn good one with a revitalized bat in 2016.
5. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
G: 128 PA: 515 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .312/.351/.437 HR: 10 SB: 11
It's all coming together for J.T. Realmuto after some rough on-the-job training in 2015. He's spoken of being more comfortable at the plate. That shows most in how he's been more selective, dropping both his Swing% and his O-Swing%. He's also adjusted well to inside heat while continuing to do a good job of spreading his hits around. Better contact has also helped, as he's gone from a 88.6 mph exit velocity to 89.6 mph. It's happened under the radar, but this is a legit breakout.
Realmuto is an example of how an overall exit velocity improvement doesn't always equate to more power. His exit velo on fly balls and line drives has stayed stuck at 92.7 mph. Plus, his swing has little natural loft, which shows in his 7.3 degree launch angle. Nonetheless, this much seems certain: He might do a lot better if Marlins Park weren't so darn huge.
Finally, a catcher who can run. Realmuto has swiped his 11 bags in 15 tries, and his aggressiveness profile includes 11 bags taken on non-hits and a 45 percent success rate taking the extra base on hits. This is nothing new either, as he was a pretty good runner as he was coming up through the minors as well. A couple of bonus points are in order.
Realmuto understands that framing strikes are "extremely important," per MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, so it's heartbreaking that he's been so bad at it. He's missed a lot of strikes on the arm-side corner, otherwise known as the outside corner for righties. And while six passed balls isn't too many, it's worth some suspicion that he's been behind the plate for a league-high 49 wild pitches. It's a good thing his throwing is a different story. With quick reactions and a strong arm, Realmuto has nabbed 36 percent of would-be thieves.
Although Realmuto still needs to polish his defense, he's a reliable everyday catcher who can hit with the best of 'em.
4. Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
G: 117 PA: 425 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .222/.329/.468 HR: 25 SB: 1
You can fret over Yasmani Grandal's average if you want, but that's not what he's after. He's more about taking pitches with the help of his keen eye and swinging from his heels when he sees something he likes. When he doesn't get something he likes, he walks. When he does, he swings away and hits at an average of 92.6 mph. But as with many guys with this sort of approach, he has two weaknesses: whiffs and shifts.
Jumping right back on the positive train, power is the other thing that makes Grandal's approach worthwhile. He's no Gary Sanchez (97.7 mph) when it comes to raw power, but he's produced an average of 96.1 mph on fly balls and line drives. And with a 12.4 degree launch angle, he hits plenty of those. Throw in his pull habit, and you get a spray chart that looks precisely how you'd imagine.
Grandal isn't great at running the bases when he's not trotting around them. The bright side is he's gone first to third at a higher rate than ever before, but his success rate taking extra bases on hits is a par-for-the-course 29 percent despite that. That fits a general pattern of taking it one base at a time.
Grandal's 28 percent caught-stealing rate continues his trend of just being OK in that department. In other news, his release and his arm strength are also just OK. His redeeming quality is one of the best framing talents in baseball. Grandal is one of the best at stealing strikes outside the zone and arguably the best at securing strikes in the zone. The drawback is his emphasis on framing sometimes results in him trying to do too much, hence his ongoing tendency (10 this year) for passed balls.
Grandal is one of the most underappreciated players in the majors. A great eye and lots of power are hiding behind his low batting average, and he frames strikes as well as anyone.
3. Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals
G: 126 PA: 502 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .304/.353/.492 HR: 21 SB: 0
Take care of your vision, kids. You could find yourself hitting just like Wilson Ramos. His offseason Lasik surgery has paid off, specifically in helping him recognize breaking balls and better judge the strike zone. His O-Swing% is down from the high 30s to just 30.1. He's earned more free passes and made more contact, allowing for more frequent use of his barrel-to-ball skill. He averages 91.8 mph in exit velocity. What more could you ask for?
Ramos' emergence as a consistent hitter hasn't cost him any power. That's because he wasn't selling out for power in the first place. He has a flat bat path that produces low launch angles (5.6 degrees in 2016) and mostly keeps the ball on the ground. But his raw power has always made anything in the air a threat to go. That's once again true this year. He's popping fly balls and line drives at 96.1 mph on average and whacking balls over the fence in any direction.
At 6'1" and 255 pounds, Ramos does not have a runner's frame. His seven-year career still features zero stolen bases. And were it not for the eight times he's gone from second to home on singles, you could count the number of extra bases he's taken on hits this year on one hand.
Controlling the running game has long been a strength for Ramos, and 2016 is no different. He has a 38 percent caught-stealing rate and is fluid with his release and accurate with his throws. With below-average framing and a National League-high-tying 10 passed balls, his receiving looks worse. It's a small victory, though, that his framing struggles pertain more to stealing strikes. He's fine at securing strikes in the zone.
In the past, Ramos has looked like a good bundle of tools minus technique. It turns out he was only missing good eyesight. Now that he has it, he's a quality two-way player.
2. Jonathan Lucroy, Texas Rangers
G: 133 PA: 513 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .294/.357/.502 HR: 23 SB: 5
So much for last year's injuries portending Jonathan Lucroy's doom. One nit to pick is his sudden vulnerability to pitches with spin. That's cost him some contact, but it hasn't gotten him out of his approach. He also boasts a lovely batted-ball profile, applying his line-drive stroke to all fields with authority. He's only averaging 88.2 mph in exit velocity, but his 35.4 Hard% is as good as ever.
Lucroy's power has also come roaring back, as his 23 homers are a career high by plenty. This points to the biggest difference between 2015 and 2016: His launch angle has gone from 10.6 degrees to 14.8 degrees. It doesn't show in his 91.4 mph exit velocity on balls in the air, but he's crushing fly balls with a career-best 45.8 hard-hit rate. He's essentially swapped gap power for over-the-fence power.
At 6'0" and 200 pounds, Lucroy has always had more of an athletic build than the next catcher. His injuries prevented him from using it on the bases last season. But this year, he's back with five steals in five tries and more aggressiveness. His bases taken on non-hits are up from seven to 13. His success rate taking bases on hits is up from 33 to 40 percent.
Lucroy's usually not one to shut down the opposing running game, but he has this year with a 38 percent caught-stealing rate. He's also had quick reactions and an accurate throwing arm, so he was likely bound to run into a year like this. His once-legendary receiving is not what it once was, but his framing gets passing grades. He's also been among the best at blocking wayward pitches.
Rumors of Lucroy's demise were exaggerated. Good health has allowed him to return to being an excellent offensive player with assorted talents behind the plate.
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
G: 134 PA: 561 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .291/.364/.443 HR: 13 SB: 6
An AVG/OBP combo like that is only disappointing when you're Buster Posey, a .307 career hitter with a .373 OBP. He hasn't regressed, however. He's maintained an approach that features excellent patience and discipline and an ability to make contact. And when he has made contact, his sweet swing has continued to produce batted balls all over the yard—and at even better velocity than in 2015 at 91.2 mph. What's holding him back is a higher ground-ball rate, but even that is a little flukey.
Despite a higher average launch angle at 11.9 degrees, Posey's GB/FB ratio has ticked upward. Fortunately, this hasn't cost him as much doubles power as it has home run power. He's still hitting what he gets in the air hard at an average of 94.4 mph, and his all-fields approach allows him to plug any gap he likes. As such, his power hasn't actually gotten worse.
(Blinks once.) (Blinks twice.) Yes, it's true. Posey has six stolen bases in six tries. He's been more willing to take off on pitchers who ignore him. To boot, he's nabbed 20 bases on non-hits for the second year in a row and has gone first to third a career-high 11 times.
Yes, let's talk about Posey's defense. He's cut down 37 percent of would-be thieves, showing off quick reactions and making strong, accurate throws. He's also let only 21 passed balls and wild pitches get by him all season. He's also been the most productive framer of them all, excelling in particular at securing strikes in the zone. And when he's not catching, he plays a solid first base. For my money, he's the most valuable defender in MLB.
Even in one of his lesser years, Posey is not to be underestimated. He remains a terrific hitter. He may be an even better defender. And now, he's even running a little bit.