MLB Player Rankings for Top 25 Catchers of 2021 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2021

MLB Player Rankings for Top 25 Catchers of 2021 Season

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Welcome to Bleacher Report's final positional rankings of the 2021 MLB season!

    Throughout the year, we released monthly updates to our position-by-position power rankings, selecting the top 10 players at each spot. Now it's time to finalize those rankings while expanding the list out to the 25 best at each position on the diamond, which means each position is going to get its own article.

    Just like the regular-season rankings, players are ranked solely on the 2021 season. Past production and future expectations played no part in deciding the order.

    To qualify for inclusion, a player had to have at least 200 plate appearances. Each player was included in the rankings at the position where he played the most innings. The only notable example among catchers was Daulton Varsho, who played more innings in the outfield (338.1) than he did at catcher (319) and will therefore not be included on this list.

    Let's kick off our 2021 MLB Player Rankings series with a look at the top 25 catchers.

Nos. 25-21

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    Christian Vazquez
    Christian VazquezAdam Hunger/Getty Images

    25. Tom Murphy, Seattle Mariners

    After a breakout season in 2019 where he logged a 128 OPS+ with 18 home runs and 40 RBI, Murphy missed the entire 2020 campaign with a fractured foot. The 30-year-old failed to match his pre-injury production, and he lost playing time to rookie Cal Raleigh in the second half, but he still finished with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 325 plate appearances.

        

    24. Martin Maldonado, Houston Astros

    The 35-year-old Maldonado was a non-factor offensively with a .172 average and 58 OPS+ in 426 plate appearances, but he remains one of baseball's best defensive backstops. He threw out 40 percent of would-be base stealers, was an above-average pitch framer, and he deserves a ton of credit for his handling of a young Houston staff.

         

    23. Danny Jansen, Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays split catching duties evenly between Reese McGuire, Alejandro Kirk and Jansen, and the latter was the most productive of the group. The 26-year-old had a 106 OPS+ with 13 doubles and 11 home runs in 70 games, and he was solid across the board defensively. It remains to be seen what Toronto's catching situation will look like in 2022.

        

    22. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

    Under a microscope as always, Sanchez showcased his usual shortcomings with a ton of strikeouts and middling defense behind the dish. However, he still finished with a 99 OPS+ and 23 home runs in 440 plate appearances, making him one of the more productive offensive players at the position.

         

    21. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox

    After hitting .278/.327/.472 with a 105 OPS+ and 30 home runs in 185 games the last two seasons, Vazquez was a bit of a letdown offensively this year with a 75 OPS+ and only 30 extra-base hits in 138 games. The 31-year-old also had a career-low 25 percent caught stealing rate and allowed an AL-high 10 passed balls, but he was still a 1.0 WAR player.

Nos. 20-16

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    Yadier Molina
    Yadier MolinaDiamond Images/Getty Images

    20. Francisco Mejia, Tampa Bay Rays

    One of the key pieces acquired in the deal that sent Blake Snell to Tampa Bay, Mejia shared the catcher job with Mike Zunino in Tampa Bay. The 26-year-old hit .260/.322/.416 for a 109 OPS+ with 15 doubles, six home runs and 35 RBI in 277 plate appearances, and he also threw out 30 percent of baserunners.

        

    19. Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers

    Despite a sub-.200 batting average, Pina still posted a 94 OPS+ thanks to a solid 10.6 percent walk rate and good pop as he slugged 13 home runs in 208 plate appearances. Always solid defensively, he was a quality pitch framer and threw out 30 percent of base stealers.

         

    18. Eric Haase, Detroit Tigers

    A 28-year-old rookie, Haase came out of nowhere to hit 22 home runs in 381 plate appearances for the Tigers. His .286 on-base percentage and 31.2 percent strikeout rate left something to be desired, and he wasn't great defensively, but he's a solid catch-and-throw guy with playable power and enough athleticism to see sporadic time in left field.

         

    17. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

    Molina is a future Hall of Famer and a second manager on the field for the Cardinals, but he has also not been a 2.0 WAR player since 2016. The 39-year-old still controls the running game as well as anyone, but his offensive game has diminished to the point that it's tough to rank him any higher following an 86 OPS+ in 2021.

         

    16. Elias Diaz, Colorado Rockies

    A pleasant surprise for the floundering Rockies, Diaz hit .246/.310/.464 with 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 44 RBI in 371 plate appearances. The 30-year-old had an .866 OPS with 11 home runs in 55 games after the All-Star break, and he also led the NL with a terrific 42 percent caught stealing rate.

Nos. 15-11

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    Carson Kelly
    Carson KellyNorm Hall/Getty Images

    15. Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Kelly hit .301/.437/.515 with six home runs and 21 RBI over the first two months of the season and was on his way to a breakout year when a fractured wrist sidelined him for more than a month. He returned at the end of July, but he hit just .221/.297/.364 with 11 extra-base hits in 172 plate appearances post-injury. Can he return to his early-season form with an offseason of recovery?

         

    14. Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins

    Between trips to the injured list for groin surgery and lower back tightness, Garver managed to play only 68 games in 2021. Despite his limited action, he still made his presence known, posting a 139 OPS+ with 15 doubles, 13 home runs and 34 RBI in 243 plate appearances. After a rough season last year, he looked very much like the Silver Slugger winner of 2019 when he was on the field.

         

    13. Yan Gomes, Washington Nationals/Oakland Athletics

    After a strong start to the season with the Nationals, including a 112 OPS+ and 21 extra-base hits in 63 games, Gomes was traded to Oakland along with Josh Harrison at the deadline. The 34-year-old saw his offensive production dip post-trade while he split time with Sean Murphy, but he still finished with 2.5 WAR in 103 games.

        

    12. Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds

    Dubbed the catcher of the future in Cincinnati from the moment he was selected No. 11 overall in the 2015 draft, Stephenson had an excellent rookie season while sharing the catcher position with veteran Tucker Barnhart. The 25-year-old hit .286/.366/.431 with 21 doubles, 10 home runs and 45 RBI, and he also made 17 starts at first base to help get his bat into the lineup.

           

    11. Omar Narvaez, Milwaukee Brewers

    An All-Star for the first time in his career, Narvaez hit .300/.396/.469 with 20 extra-base hits before the break. The 29-year-old saw his numbers dip during the second half, but his overall production and strong receiving skills still put him on the fringe of a top-10 spot. The 29-year-old was baseball's best pitch-framer in 2021.

10. Max Stassi, Los Angeles Angels

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Angels acquired Max Stassi from the Houston Astros at the 2019 trade deadline, and he went a brutal 3-for-42 with 15 strikeouts in limited action with the team following that change of scenery.

    Those struggles made his 2020 breakout performance that much more surprising, and he finished the shortened campaign with a 138 OPS+ in 105 plate appearances to solidify his place as the starting catcher this year.

    The 30-year-old hit .241/.326/.426 for a 104 OPS+ with 11 doubles, 13 home runs and 35 RBI in 319 plate appearances. Although he shared catching duties with veteran Kurt Suzuki, he still finished with 1.8 WAR in 87 games.

9. Jacob Stallings, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Jacob Stallings has quietly been one of baseball's most valuable catchers since he took over as the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting backstop in 2019. His 5.6 WAR over the past three seasons is good for seventh among all catchers during that span.

    The 31-year-old provided roughly league-average production in 2021, hitting .246/.335/.369 with 20 doubles, eight home runs and 53 RBI for a 92 OPS+ in 427 plate appearances. It was his defensive work that again made him one of baseball's top catchers and the NL Gold Glove winner.

    His 21 defensive runs saved were tied with Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa for the most of any player at any position this season, and his solid pitch-framing ability aided a young, inexperienced pitching staff.

8. Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    A third-round pick in 2016, Sean Murphy quickly emerged as one baseball's top catching prospects during his time in the minors, and he finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year.

    The 27-year-old tallied 23 doubles, 17 home runs and 59 RBI in 119 games this year, hitting .216/.306/.405 for a 98 OPS+ en route to a 2.7 WAR season.

    Aside from his offensive production, he also took home AL Gold Glove honors, edging out fellow finalists Martin Maldonado and Salvador Perez. His two-way abilities make him a long-term building block for Oakland, and he has club control through the 2025 season.

7. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

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    Justin Berl/Getty Images

    The last man standing from the Chicago Cubs homegrown offensive core that helped lead the club to a World Series title in 2016, Willson Contreras had arguably the best season of his career while the roster was dismantled around him.

    The 29-year-old logged a career-high 4.1 WAR in 128 games. He ranked among the most productive offensive catchers in the game once again with a 108 OPS+ while tallying 20 doubles, 21 home runs and 57 RBI.

    His pitch-framing has improved, he had a career-high eight DRS behind the plate, and he now finds himself in the role of veteran leader on a young roster. Will he still be in Chicago come Opening Day?

6. Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Yasmani Grandal had a unique season, to say the least. He finished with more walks (87) than hits (67), and he had a terrific .420 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage despite a batting average of only .240.

    And that's why you don't judge a player's offensive contributions by his batting average.

    The 33-year-old was a 3.7 WAR player, and the bulk of his value came from his work in the batter's box even though he was hitting below. 200 for much of the year. His 23.2 percent walk rate led all players with at least 100 plate appearances, and his 12.1 at bats per home run was elite.

    On the defensive side, he was a solid pitch-framer once again. White Sox pitchers had a 3.60 ERA with him behind the plate compared to a 3.84 ERA without him.

5. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Adam Hagy/Getty Images

    J.T. Realmuto re-upped with the Philadelphia Phillies on a five-year, $115.5 million contract last offseason, and he remains one of the best all-around catchers in the game.

    The 30-year-old hit .263/.343/.439 for a 110 OPS+ with 25 doubles, 17 home runs and 73 RBI, and he also swiped a career-high 13 bases in 16 attempts. Hitting primarily out of the cleanup spot in the lineup, he was tasked with protecting NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper.

    Behind the plate, he threw out 26 percent of base stealers, graded out as an excellent pitch-framer, and was a Gold Glove finalist after winning the award in 2019. He will earn $23.9 million in each of the next four seasons as the Phillies try to push their way into contention.

4. Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

    Since slugging 15 home runs in 54 games as a rookie in 2019, Will Smith has done nothing but produce offensively for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that is already loaded with potent bats.

    Among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances since the start of last year, Smith's 137 OPS+ trails only Yasmani Grandal (141) and Buster Posey (140). This season, he had a 130 OPS+ with a career-high 19 doubles, 25 home runs and 76 RBI.

    Athletic enough to see some action at second base and third base during his time in the minors, he moves extremely well behind the plate. The 26-year-old was league-average at throwing out runners and a plus in the pitch-framing department.

3. Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    In his first two seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Mike Zunino hit .161 with a 50 OPS+ and minus-0.3 WAR in 118 games, so it was no big surprise when the team declined his $4.5 million club option.

    He ultimately found his way back to Tampa Bay on a one-year, $3 million deal that includes a $4 million club option for 2022. That turned out to be one of the biggest steals of the offseason.

    The 30-year-old logged a 138 OPS+ with 33 home runs and 62 RBI in 109 games, earning an All-Star nod for the first time in his career and racking up 3.8 WAR along the way. Long viewed as a defensive-minded catcher with power, he showcased a more well-rounded game in 2021 while helping lead the Rays to a division title.

2. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    A spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame awaits Buster Posey five years from now after he surprised the baseball world by announcing his retirement.

    After opting out of the 2020 season, Posey returned to All-Star form this year, and a lucrative $22 million club option awaited had he decided to return for another year.

    Instead, he rides off into the sunset following one of his best individual seasons.

    The San Francisco Giants made a point to keep him well-rested, starting him at catcher in only 102 games. That paid major dividends as he hit .304/.390/.499 with 23 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 454 plate appearances.

    He has been the face of the franchise in San Francisco for the past decade, and now he takes his place among the all-time greats at the catcher position.

1. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Salvador Perez set the single-season record for home runs by a catcher in 2021 with an AL-leading 48 long balls, including 27 homers in 72 games after the All-Star break.

    He also led the AL with 121 RBI and led all catchers with 5.3 WAR in 161 games.

    The 31-year-old was behind the plate for 124 of those games, and with 1,002.2 innings in the crouch, he was one of only five catchers to eclipse the 1,000-inning mark in 2021.

    Detractors will point to a lackluster .316 on-base percentage and the worst pitch-framing metrics in baseball. But what he did in 2021 was historic, and his value to a young Kansas City Royals roster extends far beyond his statistical contributions.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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