Ranking MLB Catchers by Total Runs

July 13, 2021
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 4th among catchers. This season marks Zunino’s second best season in his nine-year career. In 2018 he finished 2nd 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.

 
 

COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

belewfripp
pbspelly -

I think the solution to your dilemma lies in the number of opportunities for each skill to impact the team's fortunes. Gomes has had 29 runners steal on his watch, and has thrown out 16, for a total of 45 steal attempts.

Meanwhile, the average team throws 146 pitches/game this year and Gomes has started 59 games. While it's true he has probably been replaced mid-game at points, and this is using team average pitches rather than the actual # of pitches he has caught, it should illustrate the point. 146 pitches * 59 games = 8614 pitches.

Even if each pitch contributes only a very tiny amount of potential gain or loss, that's a lot more opportunities to impact his pitcher (and team) positively than a mere 45 steal attempts.
7:11 PM Jul 20th
 
DaveFleming
FanGraphs' defensive metric for catchers, while in agreement about Sal Perez, rate Posey as the 6th best defensive catcher (6.9), just behind Stallings. And their metric is pretty enthusiastic about Omar Narvaez (2nd, 10.9) and Zunino (3rd, 10.8).

Lastly, their metric is much more bullish on Sean Murphy, ranking him first by a pretty sizeable margin (14.2). I wonder if the extra foul space in Oakland is a factor.

FanGraphs rates Molina and Gomes 9th and 10th, (5.3, 4.3).
4:45 PM Jul 14th
 
RipCity
Jacob Stallings was a little too aggressive with the framing attempts last year, to the point that it worked against him with umpires at times. In one series against the Cardinals late in the season, he was pulling pitches nowhere close up into the strike zone, not fooling the umpires, and then in a crucial spot didn't get a call on a 3-2 pitch that WAS a strike, perhaps because he'd been fruitlessly trying to trick the umpire all game... it has to be a little subtler than that. (And the next inning when he came up to bat, the umpire rang him up on a pitch in the exact same spot, which led to an amusing ejection.) Perhaps he's toned it down a bit now?

Here's the non-call I'm talking about... this is over-framing, I'd say:

https://sporty-clips.mlb.com/1ce82a7f-8b5b-41ed-8bfb-852e67d3a91d.mp4

Anyway, I really like him as a player in general -- as a Cards fan, I've seen him play a lot and he has made some nice defensive plays and hits the ball squarely often enough. The Pirates have a few really nice players and I hope they do right by them eventually.
1:24 PM Jul 14th
 
pbspelly
Call me a Luddite or a non-believer in the new metrics, but I find it hard to believe that Yan Gomes' pitch framing is so harmful to his team that it completely negates the fact that he leads the majors with 16 runners caught stealing (and is 3rd in CS percentage).
8:12 PM Jul 13th
 
 
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