Throughout the offseason, I will be ranking my 10 best players at each position. Many of the players at each position rank similarly, so I will also be using tiers to show which players are close to interchangeable. To formulate my lists, I will consider stats from 2019-2021 (with 2021 holding the most weight), but there is no specific formula or method I’ll be using when considering each player’s stats. I will consider 2022 projections to an extent, but they will not be a driving factor behind my rankings. Most importantly, I will be ranking the players based on the order I would want them on my team entering the 2022 season.
1. Yasmani Grandal
2021 stats: 93 G, .240/.420/.520, 157 OPS+, 159 wRC+, -1 DRS, -0.8 FRM, 2.4 FRAA, -4.7 BsR, 3.7 fWAR, 4.0 WARP
Although critics like to claim Yasmani Grandal is not a good hitter because of his consistently low batting average (his average for a season hasn’t been .250 or above since his rookie year in 2012), this is simply not true. While Grandal has never really been a player who hits for a high average, he does everything else at the plate really well. The number that jumps out to me the most when looking at Grandal’s stats from 2021 was his .420 OBP. The difference between Grandal’s OBP and AVG was a whopping .180 points which come directly as a result of his plate discipline. Among players with at least 350 plate appearances in 2021, Grandal’s 18.7 O-Swing% was the second-best (behind only Juan Soto) and 23.2 BB% was the best. These were both career bests for Grandal, and they didn’t come out of nowhere. Grandal’s plate discipline has been consistently good as his chase rate was in the 90th percentile in 2019, 86th percentile in 2020, and 98th percentile in 2021. Additionally, Grandal’s BB% was in the 99th percentile in 2019, 92nd percentile in 2020, and 100th percentile in 2021. Grandal is also fantastic when he does make contact. In each full season since 2016, Grandal has hit at least 20 home runs and had an ISO above .200. On top of his great power numbers, Grandal had his best barrel%, average exit velocity, and xwOBA in 2021. Although he’ll be 33 years old in 2022, it doesn’t appear Grandal’s bat will slow down anytime soon. While he isn’t a top-tier defender, Grandal’s glove is still above average. Even though Grandal will likely regress offensively next season, he still projects to be an elite offensive catcher. With Grandal’s combination of elite offense and solid defense, there is no catcher I’d rather have on my team entering 2022.
2. Will Smith
2021 stats: 130 G, .258/.365/.495, 130 OPS+, 130 wRC+, 5 DRS, 1.8 FRM, 6.4 FRAA, -1.0 BsR, 4.6 fWAR, 4.2 WARP
Since making his MLB debut in 2019, Will Smith has been one of the best offensive catchers. Among catchers with at least 600 PA’s since 2019, Smith’s .365 OBP is the second-best, .527 SLG is the third-best, and 135 wRC+ is tied for the best. Smith’s bat has consistently been elite year in and year out up to this point in his career, but his defense has not. During his rookie season, Smith was a good defender, but not elite. Despite this, Smith took a big step backward and graded out as one of the worst defensive catchers in 2020. Even with as great as his bat was in 2020 (161 wRC+), Smith’s defense needed to be near his 2019 level in 2021 to be considered among the elite catchers. Smith’s defense was in fact near his 2019 level, but even better this past season. Smith was arguably a top 10 defensive catcher in 2021, which is extremely impressive when you consider that he was also one of the premier hitters at the position. Like Grandal, Smith is an elite offensive hitter, but he’s closer to the “elite” defensive category if you believe his 2021 season wasn’t a fluke. I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith is considered the best catcher in baseball after the 2022 season.
3. J.T. Realmuto
2021 stats: 134 G, .263/.343/.439, 110 OPS+, 108 wRC+, 0 DRS, 8.6 FRM, 14.8 FRAA, 5.5 BsR, 4.4 fWAR, 3.7 WARP
No catcher in Major League Baseball has a higher ceiling than J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto is a rare type of catcher because he is capable of being a true five-tool player throughout a whole season. Realmuto has consistently been above average at the plate since 2016, but if he can hit like he did (or better than) in 2018 and 2020 (127 wRC+ in 2018 and 124 wRC+ in 2020), he will likely find himself in more consideration as the top backstop in Major League Baseball. However, as long as he’s able to replicate his offensive season from 2021, Realmuto should still likely be considered at least a top-five catcher because of his defense and base running. Although Realmuto was a below-average defensive catcher in his first couple of seasons with the Marlins, he has been one of the best defensive catchers in the Major Leagues over the last three seasons. In 2021, Realmuto led all catchers in Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA, CDA, FrmR, and TRAA metrics while also ranking fairly high in the other publically available defensive metrics. While his bat is good and his defense is great, what sets Realmuto apart from most catchers is his elite base running. From 2019-2021, Realmuto’s 12.9 BsR is the ninth-best out of 114 qualified players. This is incredible for any player regardless of their position, but it’s even more impressive for Realmuto since he is a full-time catcher. To put into perspective how good of a base runner Realmuto is, his single-season BsR’s from 2016-2021 rank as the five best single-season BsR’s among all qualified catchers since the 2010 season. Realmuto does everything on a baseball field at a high level, which is why he is my third-best catcher in baseball.
4. Sean Murphy
2021 stats: 119 G, .216/.306/.405, 98 OPS+, 99 wRC+, 10 DRS, 9.7 FRM, 8.9 FRAA, -1.2 BsR, 3.3 fWAR, 2.3 WARP
Just by looking at Murphy’s offensive stats from 2021, you may be thinking how is he the fourth-best catcher in baseball? Although Murphy’s results at the plate were pretty average, he did have solid Statcast percentiles with a 75th percentile barrel%, 61st percentile hard hit%, 59th percentile xSLG, and 62nd percentile xwOBA. Additionally, Murphy was pretty unlucky at the plate as he had a .257 BABIP (which ranked in the bottom 12% of players with at least 400 PAs). It’s also important to note that in his first 63 Major Leagues games in 2019 and 2020, Murphy hit an impressive .237/.355/.491 (133 wRC+). When averaging out his wRC+ across all three of his Major League seasons, Murphy has a 109 wRC+, which is about how I expect him to hit offensively in 2022. What stands out about Murphy the most is his superb defense. Murphy’s 10 DRS and 9.8 FRM both ranked in the top three for catchers with at least 400 innings and his 8.9 FRAA and 8.7 CDA both ranked sixth-best. If Murphy’s offense in 2022 is closer to his 2019-2020 form and his defense remains elite, he could be in consideration for the best catcher in baseball entering 2022. However, for now, Murphy ranks as my fourth-best catcher in baseball.
5. Mike Zunino
2021 stats: 109 G, .216/.301/.559, 138 OPS+, 134 wRC+, 7 DRS, 8.0 FRM, 5.3 FRAA, 0.6 BsR, 4.5 fWAR, 3.1 WARP
Mike Zunino had one of the most surprising seasons in 2021. Despite hitting a putrid .161/.233/.323 (51 wRC+) from 2019-2020, Zunino had one of the best offensive seasons by a catcher in 2021. The biggest difference from 2019-2020 to 2021 for Zunino was that he increased his barrel% from 12.3% to 24.3% (100th percentile), increased his average exit velocity from 88.2 mph to 90.7 mph, and increased his pull% from 44.7% to 58.9% (highest % min 350 PAs). All of these factors led to Zunino hitting a career-high 33 home runs, which led to his superb offensive season. Although Zunino’s overall offensive numbers from 2021 look great, there’s a tail of two splits. Against lefties, Zunino had an absurd league-leading (min 60 PAs) 243 wRC+. However, against righties, Zunino had a subpar 77 wRC+. The one thing that Zunino has consistently been great at throughout his Major League career is his defense behind the plate. Zunino has been a well above average defensive catcher virtually every single year of his career besides 2020, which is always great, but even more so since he plays the most important defensive position. It’s hard to know how sustainable his offensive splits are, but considering his new elite batted ball data combined with his solid defense, Zunino ranks as my fifth-best catcher in baseball.
6. Mitch Garver
2021 stats: 68 G, .256/.358/.517, 139 OPS+, 137 wRC+, 0 DRS, 0.3 FRM, 0.5 FRAA, -0.1 BsR, 2.1 fWAR, 1.4 WARP
Mitch Garver is one of the most difficult catchers to rank. On one hand, he has been great in each of the past two full seasons. On the other hand, he can’t stay healthy. For me, I favor Garver’s production. In 2019, Garver’s 155 wRC+ led all catchers (minimum 350 PAs) – a ridiculous 29 points ahead of second place. In 2021, Garver’s 137 wRC+ ranked third among catchers (minimum 240 PAs) behind only Yasmani Grandal and the now-retired Buster Posey. While Garver’s defense has certainly improved from his first couple of seasons, he has improved to only around league average. If (big if) Garver can stay healthy for a full season and keep his production similar to his 2019 and 2021 levels, I have no doubt he will be in the top three catcher conversation next year. However, I can’t justify putting him into that conversation without producing for a full season, which is why Garver is my sixth-best catcher in baseball.
7. Salvador Perez
2021 stats: 161 G, .273/.316/.544, 126 OPS+, 127 wRC+, -5 DRS, -19.5 FRM, -13.3 FRAA, -0.8 BsR, 3.4 fWAR, 3.6 WARP
I mentioned how Mitch Garver is one of the most difficult catchers to rank above, but ranking Salvador Perez is 10x harder. When discussing Salvador Perez with baseball fans, there are some who claim he’s the best catcher in baseball because he hit 48 home runs and drove in 122 runs last year, but there are other fans who say he’s about the 15th best catcher because although his offense is good, he is the worst defender at the position. As you can see, I have Perez basically smackdown the middle of these two opinions, and here’s why. Is Salvador Perez the best offensive catcher in baseball? No. Does he get on base and walk an ideal amount? Absolutely not. Does he hit for tremendous power? Absolutely. Is he still an elite offensive catcher? Yes. Is he the worst defensive catcher in baseball? He’s definitely in the conversation. Can he play every day? Most importantly for me, yes. Since the start of the 2020 season (his first season back from Tommy John surgery in 2019), Perez leads all catchers in games played (198), has the third-highest WARP (4.8), and has the fourth-highest fWAR (5.3). It is definitely fair (and in my opinion true) to say that on a rate basis Perez isn’t as good as these numbers suggest he is (in comparison to how good he is to other catchers), but when picking a catcher for my team, I would take Perez’s guaranteed volume over a platoon catcher who likely won’t play more than 81 games. While I certainly think Perez’s horrific defense and horrible plate discipline are huge issues, his offensive production and volume make him my seventh-best catcher in baseball.
8. Max Stassi
2021 stats: 87 G, .241/.326/.426, 104 OPS+, 107 wRC+, 10 DRS, 12.0 FRM, 12.2 FRAA, -1.4 BsR, 2.9 fWAR, 1.9 WARP
Max Stassi has always been a solid defensive catcher, but he really showed baseball fans this year that he should be considered among the elite. Stassi’s 10 DRS, 12.0 FRM, 12.2 FRAA, and 12.3 CDA all ranked in the top three for catchers in 2021. In addition to his elite glove, Stassi has also been solid at the plate. In 424 plate appearances since 2020, Stassi has a 114 wRC+ which is good, but even more impressive considering how good of a defender he is. My biggest worry with Stassi is the lack of his sample size as one of the best catchers in baseball, but in the two seasons he played 88 (2018) and 87 games (2021), he had a 2.8 and 2.9 fWAR in those seasons respectively. Even if Stassi regresses more towards his 91 career wRC+, he should still be considered around an at least top 10 catcher next year if he is able to sustain his defensive success. However, if Stassi is able to sustain (or improve) his offensive and defensive production from the last couple of seasons and play 110+ games, his name could be in top five consideration next year. For now, Stassi is my eight-best catcher in baseball because of his elite glove and above average bat.
9. Jacob Stallings
2021 stats: 112 G, .246/.335/.369, 92 OPS+, 95 wRC+, 21 DRS, 8.8 FRM, 6.9 FRAA, -1.9 BsR, 2.6 fWAR, 2.1 WARP
In the first season in which he played more than 100 games, Jacob Stallings was great. Stallings hasn’t been impressive at the plate throughout his career, but over the last couple of seasons, he has only been slightly below average, which is all you can ask for a defensive-minded catcher like him. In 2021, Stallings won the NL gold glove and fielding bible for catchers, which were well-deserved honors. Stallings led all catchers with 21 DRS (9 more than the next best), tied for third with 8.8 FRM, ranked 10th in FRAA with 6.9, and 13th in CDA with 6.1. As long as Stallings can remain slightly below league average offensively and elite defensively, he should remain in the top 10 catchers conversation next year. Stallings’ elite defense and only slightly below average bat make him my ninth-best catcher in baseball.
10. Omar Narvaez
2021 stats: 123 G, .266/.342/.402, 99 OPS+, 99 wRC+, 3 DRS, 8.8 FRM, 10.5 FRAA, -2.5 BsR, 2.8 fWAR, 2.8 WARP
Behind Salvador Perez and Mitch Garver, Omar Narvaez is the third hardest catcher to rank. In 2019, Narvaez was great offensively and horrible defensively. In 2020, Narvaez was great defensively and horrible offensively. In 2021, Narvaez was about average offensively and great defensively. Like Mike Zunino, Narvaez had some extreme splits in 2021. Against righties, Narvaez had a solid 115 wRC+, but a horrendous 21 wRC+ against lefties. Additionally, Narvaez had a superb 133 wRC+ in the first half of the season, but only a 57 wRC+ in the second half. The good news for Narvaez is that the Brewers acquired Pedro Severino — who has reverse splits against lefties — so his at bats against lefties should be limited. Since joining the Brewers in 2020, Narvaez has ranked in the top five in each season for FRM, FRAA, and CDA. Narvaez’s about average bat (with upside) and elite defense make him my tenth-best catcher in baseball.