FanGraphs has kicked off their annual positional power rankings, wherein they rank the projected strength of each position in the Majors by team (No. 1 – No. 30).
To be clear, these aren’t “power rankings” in the traditional sense, and it isn’t a list of “The Top Ten Shortstops” throughout the league either. This is, plainly, an ordered set of projections for each position in MLB.
In other words, today’s installment – 2017 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher – isn’t going to list just the best catchers in baseball, but rather the teams whose catching group combines for the greatest projected WAR.
For the Cubs, in 2017, the majority of the game time is going to go to Willson Contreras, but Miguel Montero – and possibly even Kyle Schwarber – should be part of the equation as well. Let’s see how they stack up and what FanGraphs has to say.
According to FanGraphs WAR forecasts, Willson Contreras (2.2 WAR), Miguel Montero (0.5 WAR), and Kyle Schwarber (0.1 WAR) are projected to be worth a combined 2.8 WAR as a catcher in 2017. I’d take the over on that, given my belief in Willson Contreras, but those are the projections as of now.
Compared to the rest of the league, that 2.8 WAR figure ranks 8th in all of baseball – not too bad. Here’s the rest of the Top 10 and their combined WAR total:
- San Francisco Giants: 4.7
- Texas Rangers: 3.8
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 3.6
- New York Yankees: 3.6
- Houston Astros: 3.1
- Oakland Athletics: 2.9
- Toronto Blue Jays: 2.8
- Chicago Cubs: 2.8
- Kansas City Royals: 2.7
- St. Louis Cardinals: 2.7
Before we go too deep, there are some things to point out. First and foremost, these WAR projections do not take pitch framing into account, which can be … problematic. While you may be able to convince me that the framing pendulum has swung too far in its own direction, it is inarguably a huge component in the valuation of any catcher.
We didn’t always know this definitively, but we do now. I’m fine with leaving pitch framing out of the WAR projections/calculations, but it’s very important to note its absence when ranking catchers throughout the league. Francisco Cervelli, for one very notable example, would likely push the Pirates far higher on the list, given his considerable pitch-framing skills.
Miguel Montero is another catcher for whom pitch-framing value is significant.
By most accounts, Miguel Montero is one of the better pitch framers in baseball. And unlike other qualities like game management and leadership, pitch framing is quite measurable. In fact, according to StatCorner, Montero had the third most extra calls in 2016 (despite far fewer opportunities) and the second most per game (he was first for anyone with anything close to a significant sample size). He’ll have fewer opportunities in 2017 (and his defense may be better or worse than it was last season depending on his back), but, all in all, I think he’ll be “worth more” than his final 0.5 WAR total. [Brett: I’ll also take the over on his projected batting line of .232/.327/.363.]
The other thing I’d like to point out is that Willson Contreras is projected to be a defensive … negative *record scratch*.
According to the projections provided in the article, Contreras is set to be a -0.7 DEF fielder in 2017. Which, nah. Aside from our eyes that tell us he is not only a good defensive catcher, but could be a great one, the stats from last season don’t back that up.
For one example, Contreras had +1 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last season in just 389.2 innings behind the plate. That tied him with Francisco Cervelli (1 DRS) and was better than Jonathan Lucroy (0 DRS), despite the fact that they had 400+ (Cervelli) and 650+ (Lucroy) more innings than Contreras behind the plate.
And according to the article, Contreras’ 37% caught stealing rate was 10 percentage points better than league average and he was an above-average framer, himself. Throw in the fact that he was 1) splitting his time behind the plate with left field 2) during his Major League debut, and I don’t think it’s unfair say that his projected defensive value sells him way short.
But maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, the Cubs catching tandem (or trio, whichever you prefer) is top ten in baseball, either way. So that’s cool. I’m picking nits. That’s all there is left to do with a team this good.