Whether you’re listening to your favorite podcast discuss the subject or picking your fantasy lineup, catcher is one of the toughest positions to accurately value. Catchers get the least amount of playing time of any position on the field and they typically are one of the weeker hitters in any lineup. It’s difficult to figure out if you’re getting good value out of a catcher. If we can get a baseline of what an average catcher looks like, then we have a starting point for assessing any given catchers value at the plate.
Last season 33 catchers logged at least 300 plate appearances, the least of any position on the diamond. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, however, given the physical demands of the position.
That lack of plate appearances has a residual effect on the players value. Not only does it limit stats like WAR, but the smaller sample sizes can amplify luck more so for catchers than any other position. A third baseman that logs 685 PA in a season and gets off to a rough start through the first six weeks, gets around 550-575 PA to make it up. A catcher that finishes with 450 PA, and gets off the same start, has only around 375 PA left to make up for the bad luck. This causes significant inconsistencies in value from season to season, and across the season as a whole. Trying to judge value then can be difficult, so one way to look at catchers is by viewing them with stats that give us a complete picture of a hitter and can be consistent across runs scoring environments like wOBA.
wOBA is an interesting metric. It takes into account no only the the outcomes of an at bat, but the value of those outcomes. It’s on the same scale at OBP, and takes into consideration every aspect of hitting, successful or otherwise, and weights it all based on the run scoring environment. I like to use wOBA since it gives up an accurate value that is comparable across seasons and eras. It is a creation of Tom Tango, and a great sort of catch all stat. Like wRC+, it gives us a total overall value of the hitter.
Catchers, as a group, tend to be below league average offensively. Again, this is no big surprise as most teams will sacrifice some offense at the position for the added defensive value. The below chart shows the relationship to league average for catchers from 2008-2017 based on wOBA.
So what exactly does average look like for a catcher? Taking that data for all catchers from 2008-2017 the average for a slash for a catcher over that span is .246/.314/.389. A walk rate of 8.3% gives the league average catcher a decent on-base to average ratio, but a strikeout rate of 19.9% combined with a .143 ISO brings that overall value down. An average .309 wOBA and 90 wRC+ makes catchers the least valuable offensive weapons, as a group, of any position on the field.
Author: Ronnie Tellalian (Twitter)