Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Batting Around: Why Dodgers’ Will Smith and Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto are considered among MLB’s best catchers

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We are now nearly two months into the 2022 MLB regular season. The sample sizes aren’t so small and fan bases are gaining and losing hope with each passing day. That said, there is still a lot — A LOT — of season to play, and plenty of teams are still vying for a spot in the new 12-team postseason format.

Throughout the season the CBS Sports MLB experts will bring you a weekly Batting Around roundtable breaking down pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we discussed the postseason hopes of the Mariners and Phillies. This week we’re going to debate the best player at the game’s most premium position.

Who is the best catcher in baseball right now?

R.J. Anderson: For some statistical context, J.T. Realmuto and Will Smith rank No. 1 and 2 in Wins Above Replacement among catchers during the Pandemic Era, according to FanGraphs. There’s always room for weighing certain aspects of the game in ways that differ from the norm — especially when it comes to a position like catcher — but I suspect most people would say one of the two is the correct answer. I’m inclined to agree. 

Matt Snyder: Catcher is volatile on a year-to-year basis. Realmuto’s been down this year offensively, for example, and the Phillies are bad. Salvador Perez has been terrible at the plate after a career year. Buster Posey had a case as the best catcher in baseball last year, but he hadn’t even been in the conversation since 2018 or maybe 2017. As such, right now I’m looking at what we’ve seen this season now that we have a two-month sample and it appears it’s Willson Contreras. Framing metrics hate him, but he’s elite everywhere else among catchers. Not that it matters with this Cubs team at this moment, either, but he’s continued to take on a big leadership role and many would argue that’s a big part of being a catcher. 

Mike Axisa: Realmuto has been the best catcher the last 3-4 years and I believe Smith will be the best catcher the next 3-4 years. He just turned 27 and is entering what should be his peak years, he’s a career .257/.361/.505 hitter, and the defensive stats like his work behind the plate. Realmuto turned 31 in March and we’re starting to see some slippage in his game, which is perfectly natural at his age given his career workload. For what it’s worth, Alejandro Kirk is the only player this year who ranks top 10 among catchers in offense and defense according to the statheads at Baseball Prospectus, though the Blue Jays have more of a timeshare behind the plate than a true No. 1 catcher. I’m going with Smith.

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