Hitter Contact-Quality Report: Catcher

The All-Star Game is behind us, the unofficial second half of the season is set to kick off and, today, we present the last installment in our position-by-position look at hitter contact quality. Last time, it was right fielders; this time, catchers. Granular ball-in-play data such as BIP frequencies, exit speed and launch angle are the key inputs in this analysis.

The data examined today runs through June 24. Players are separated by league, and are listed in Adjusted Production order. Adjusted Production expresses, on a scale where 100 equals average, what a hitter “should have” produced based on the exit speed/launch angle of each ball put in play. Each player’s Adjusted Contact Score, which weeds out the strikeouts and walks and states what each player should have produced on BIP alone, is also listed. Here goes:

AL C BIP Profiles
Iannetta 90.5 88.6 94.5 91.6 7.1% 32.3% 20.4% 40.1% 122 22.6% 11.8% 103 117 40.6%
J. Castro 92.4 93.5 95.4 90.2 0.0% 33.0% 19.6% 47.4% 154 33.7% 16.6% 105 113 36.4%
B.McCann 90.1 90.9 94.8 87.9 5.4% 40.2% 17.4% 36.9% 96 20.5% 11.6% 99 102 51.0%
S. Perez 90.5 88.9 94.1 93.1 6.5% 42.7% 23.5% 27.3% 117 22.5% 4.3% 127 97 46.5%
Vogt 87.4 89.5 89.6 84.6 3.7% 42.8% 21.4% 32.1% 96 16.2% 4.6% 97 95 37.2%
Wieters 87.3 89.2 92.6 82.9 6.2% 29.2% 22.9% 41.7% 100 21.0% 7.8% 112 95 34.3%
Navarro 86.5 83.8 94.4 84.1 4.3% 31.9% 23.3% 40.5% 86 18.9% 6.9% 67 86 44.4%
J. McCann 87.4 86.7 95.1 86.1 2.0% 36.4% 18.2% 43.4% 109 28.1% 5.2% 54 82 35.6%
R. Martin 89.4 92.0 94.9 85.9 6.6% 30.2% 22.1% 41.2% 102 29.3% 9.5% 72 81 36.5%
K. Suzuki 88.3 86.2 91.9 89.1 3.8% 28.5% 26.2% 41.5% 76 16.7% 4.0% 94 75 48.2%
B. Wilson 86.0 85.1 92.1 82.8 8.7% 28.8% 28.8% 33.8% 85 24.4% 5.0% 66 71 44.1%
Vazquez 87.4 91.8 93.9 84.0 0.9% 12.9% 23.3% 62.9% 74 21.1% 5.6% 43 66 35.0%
Gomes 88.0 89.3 93.7 84.3 5.3% 40.7% 16.0% 38.0% 78 24.5% 3.8% 52 63 42.0%
Casali 88.9 92.2 89.6 85.9 9.0% 40.4% 15.7% 34.8% 76 33.3% 9.3% 60 58 49.5%
C. Perez 83.0 83.0 86.6 80.6 8.4% 36.6% 19.1% 35.9% 55 18.2% 4.5% 40 55 33.8%
AVERAGE 88.2 88.7 92.9 86.2 5.2% 33.8% 21.2% 39.8% 95 23.4% 7.4% 79 84 41.0%

Most of the column headers are self-explanatory, including average BIP speed (overall and by BIP type), BIP type frequency, K and BB rates, wRC+ and Adjusted Production, which incorporates the exit speed/angle data. Each hitter’s Adjusted Contact Score (ADJ C) is also listed. Adjusted Contact Score applies league-average production to each hitter’s individual actual BIP type and velocity mix, and compares it to league average of 100.

Cells are also color-coded. If a hitter’s value is two standard deviations or more higher than average, the field is shaded red. If it’s one to two STD higher than average, it’s shaded orange. If it’s one-half to one STD higher than average, it’s shaded dark yellow. If it’s one-half to one STD less than average, it’s shaded blue. If it’s over one STD less than average, it’s shaded black. Ran out of colors at that point. On the rare occasions that a value is over two STD lower than average, we’ll mention it if necessary in the text.

It should be noted that individual hitters’ BIP frequency and authority figures correlate quite well from year to year, with one notable exception. As with pitchers, individual hitters’ liner rates fluctuate quite significantly from year to year, for all but a handful of hitters with a clear talent (or lack thereof) for squaring up the baseball.

Projecting performance based on BIP speed/angle opens us up to a couple biases that we didn’t need to address when evaluating pitchers. Pitchers face a mix of pull and opposite field-oriented hitters, more and less authoritative hitters, etc. Hitters are who they are each time they step up to the plate, and we must choose whether or not to address their individual tendencies.

I have adjusted the projected ground-ball performance for hitters who meet two criteria. First, they’ve recorded over five times as many grounders to the pull side than to the opposite field and, second, they exhibit a resulting deficiency in actual versus projected grounder performance. Such hitters’ projected grounder performance was capped at their actual performance level. Such hitters’ Adjusted Contact Scores and Adjusted Production figures are in red fonts.

I have decided not to adjust for the other primary factor that can skew actual versus projected performance based on exit speed/angle — namely, player speed. We’re attempting to assess hitter contact quality here; let’s keep speed/athleticism separate. As a result, we’ll see some slow, hard-hitting-to-all-fields sluggers overperform on this metric, and some more athletic players underperform. Contact quality is just part of offensive baseball; let’s attempt to isolate and evaluate it on its own.

First of all, there isn’t a lot of offensive heft in this group of AL starting catchers. Hang in there: the NL group has a little more yellow and orange in the “good” cells.

You might be a little surprised to see Chris Iannetta sitting in the AL pole position. Yes, he has gone 5-for-38 since the June 24 cutoff, but prior to then, Iannetta had been quite unlucky both on fly balls (61 Unadjusted vs. 108 Adjusted Contact Score) and grounders (71 vs. 147). He is not an extreme ground-ball puller, but has batted just .200 AVG-.200 SLG on the ground despite solid authority. Being a slow, right-handed-hitting catcher has something to do with that, but still… he projects as at least an average offensive player, regardless of position. A nice piece at the catching position, even if he is on the downside.

Lots of positives and negatives in Jason Castro’s profile. He hits the ball the hardest, by far, of any AL regular catcher, hasn’t hit a pop up all season, and has a very strong walk rate. Unfortunately, all of that is more than offset by his stratospheric strikeout rate. One note here: by the narrowest of margins, Castro avoided being classified as an extreme ground-ball puller, which would drop his projections by quite a bit. By catchers’ standards, there’s a solid amount of upside here, accompanied by a similar level of risk.

Brian McCann has been quite hot of late: 17-for-47 with four homers since the 6/24 cutoff. His current numbers are a near-best-case scenario; his fly-ball rate is maxed out, and he has totally sold out for pull power at this stage of his career. He’s batting all of .130 AVG-.130 SLG (30 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground, and given the constant overshifting he faces, there isn’t much hope for material improvement there. His solid K/BB profile affords him a higher floor than most.

Obviously, the value of a catcher goes way beyond his offensive contribution. Salvador Perez is arguably the best defensive catcher in the game, and is certainly the most durable. The bat isn’t so bad, either. Like Iannetta, he has slumped since the 6/24 cutoff, going 11-for-54 in the meantime. His numbers are buttressed not only by a high liner rate that should regress some moving forward, but also by significant overperformance on that BIP category. He batted .771 AVG-1.125 SLG (150 Unadjusted Contact Score), while his authority on those liners supports only a 99 mark. His microscopic BB rate and his maxed-out fly-ball rate suggest his bat performance will jump off of a cliff at some point in the intermediate future, a la a very similar player from a past generation, Tony Pena.

There’s nothing particularly exciting about the way Stephen Vogt gets it done at the plate. Really, his low K rate, the best among AL regular catchers, is his only strong positive. His fly-ball rate is maxed out, nosing out Perez’s for the highest among his peers. Catchers put a lot more wear and tear on their bodies than players at other positions, eventually placing major strain on their offensive games. A drop in his fly-ball rate would cause Vogt’s overall numbers to nosedive.

Matt Wieters got off to a very slow start this season, but he’s shaken off the rust and performed almost exactly at career norms with the bat. He hits the ball very weakly on the ground, thanks to his uppercut stroke. His numbers have a little bit of extra air in them: on fly balls (122 Unadjusted vs. 98 Adjusted Contact Score), he’s hit three doubles in the low-payoff 90-94 mph upper end of the “donut hole,” and on grounders (94 vs. 64), he’s hitting a respectable .222 AVG-.244 SLG despite near league-worst authority. Still, a near-league-average bat has value combined with durability behind the plate, a trait Wieters is in the process of re-establishing.

James McCann’s traditional MLB numbers — and frankly, his college and minor-league numbers, too — would slot him at or near the bottom of this list. There are some signs, however, that McCann is better than that. He combines a high fly-ball rate with a low pop-up rate: a very desirable combination. He’s actually underperformed by quite a bit in the air (80 Unadjusted vs. 112 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score). His K rate is very high, so he doesn’t have much margin for error on the contact quality front, but maintenance of that overall 109 Adjusted Contact Score would give him hope.

So what has happened to Russell Martin this season? On the surface, his 92.0 mph average fly-ball velocity looks good, ranking third among his AL peer group. Unfortunately, he’s hit quite a cluster of them right around that exact number, which happens to be near the upper boundary of the fly ball “donut hole.” Those tend to land in outfielders’ gloves. In addition, Martin’s pop-up rate is high and his fly-ball rate low, a bad combination. He has been very unlucky on the ground, hitting just .157 AVG-.157 SLG (44 Unadjusted Contact Score), despite not being an overshift candidate, offering some hope for some resurgence.

A brief word on Bobby Wilson: how offensively limited is a hitter who can post a 66 wRC+ with an amazingly high 28.8% liner rate? On top of everything else, he’s an extreme ground-ball puller who’s batting just .167 AVG-.167 SLG on the ground (49 Unadjusted Contact Score). If not for a handful of bloop singles, he would be sub-replacement level with the bat.

There is some hope for Christian Vazquez‘ bat moving forward. He simply needs to get his fly-ball rate off of the absolute floor, for which he would get quite a bonus in his home park. He’s actually been very unlucky on line drives this season, batting just .522 AVG-.609 SLG (57 Unadjusted Contact Score) despite authority that supports a 107 mark. He’s better than a bunch of guys on this list.

Yan Gomes simply has never been the same since missing time with a knee injury in early 2015. His poor K-BB profile gives him no margin for error with regard to contact quality, and he hasn’t been productive despite a maxed-out fly-ball rate. He has also become an extreme puller on the ground, batting just .149 AVG-.191 SLG (48 Unadjusted Grounder Contact Score). There would appear to be a very limited pathway to regaining his 2013-14 level of performance.

NL C BIP Profiles
Posey 92.0 90.6 96.4 90.7 0.9% 28.3% 23.1% 47.7% 120 12.0% 8.8% 118 139 40.3%
W. Ramos 91.3 92.1 96.6 87.5 0.5% 22.8% 22.3% 54.4% 124 12.6% 6.3% 154 136 40.4%
Lucroy 89.0 89.1 92.7 87.1 3.4% 37.5% 23.2% 36.0% 125 18.0% 8.6% 123 128 33.5%
Rupp 92.4 92.5 98.2 89.9 1.6% 31.7% 18.3% 48.4% 158 26.2% 3.3% 109 116 31.0%
Cervelli 89.0 88.3 95.8 86.6 0.0% 20.1% 23.9% 56.0% 84 17.4% 14.9% 95 105 42.5%
Y. Molina 89.0 88.9 92.3 87.3 0.5% 29.7% 16.7% 53.0% 82 12.3% 9.0% 86 101 35.7%
Flowers 94.7 94.2 99.9 92.1 3.3% 35.6% 20.0% 41.1% 147 32.5% 10.4% 95 100 34.4%
Grandal 92.5 91.5 99.6 92.3 5.9% 24.4% 17.6% 52.1% 79 22.3% 14.4% 83 90 42.9%
Realmuto 90.4 89.0 90.8 91.1 6.0% 26.2% 15.3% 52.5% 94 16.5% 3.5% 100 90 41.6%
W. Castillo 88.8 88.5 96.0 85.5 3.9% 29.0% 22.4% 44.7% 103 26.4% 6.2% 96 82 47.4%
M.Montero 86.5 90.6 86.1 85.8 1.1% 27.3% 15.9% 55.7% 72 23.8% 14.0% 75 80 45.5%
D. Norris 88.6 90.8 94.2 84.7 6.0% 33.2% 21.1% 39.8% 94 24.0% 6.2% 77 79 38.6%
Barnhart 88.5 90.3 94.0 84.7 0.0% 23.6% 24.4% 52.0% 70 22.3% 8.0% 68 68 41.5%
Wolters 84.8 84.7 82.9 86.1 1.3% 26.9% 19.2% 52.6% 58 20.7% 10.7% 54 66 40.0%
Plawecki 83.6 82.7 92.3 81.2 5.4% 22.6% 17.2% 54.8% 46 21.7% 11.9% 59 56 45.2%
AVERAGE 89.4 89.6 93.9 87.5 2.7% 27.9% 20.0% 49.4% 97 20.6% 9.1% 93 96 40.0%

Buster Posey remains the gold standard offensively among major-league catchers. He never strikes out and is one of a small number of major-league regulars who consistently maintain high line-drive rates. That right there is how you bat .300. He’s actually way better than his traditional numbers this season, as he’s batted just .192 AVG-.192 SLG (65 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground, despite authority that supports a 132 mark. He combines one of the highest offensive floors in the game with a pretty solid ceiling.

Wilson Ramos has experienced one of the largest offensive breakouts in either league this season. It all starts with significant improvement in his K and BB rates, affording him additional margin for error with regard to contact quality. Always a prolific ground-ball hitter, that tendency hasn’t changed much this season. His BIP authority has skyrocketed since 2014, when it was below league average. He has also become much more pull-oriented; he invites overshifts on the ground, but has actually hit the ball through them this season. Expect some regression on the ground (131 Unadjusted vs. 109 Adjusted Contact Score): Ramos is no .330 hitter, but he might be a legit .300 guy.

Jonathan Lucroy is simply solid as a rock in all facets of the game. You’ll notice comparatively few colored fields on his line, and almost no blue/black ones. Like Posey, he maintains a high liner rate from year to year, though his K rate is a bit higher, making him less of a lock to annually bat .300. Lucroy has been pretty fortunate on the ground thus far, batting .302 AVG-.340 SLG (177 Unadjusted Contact Score) despite authority that supports only a 103 mark. His fly-ball rate is also maxed out, so don’t be surprised if the homer production dips in the second half.

The Phillies may have found something in Cameron Rupp. He crushes the ball on all BIP types, has a very low pop-up rate to go with a representative fly-ball rate, and actually pulls the ball less than any of his NL catching peers. His overall 158 Adjusted Contact Score is the best among primary MLB catchers; of course, he needs every bit of it, as his K-BB profile is abysmal. There’s plenty of risk here, but quite a bit of offensive upside as well.

Francisco Cervelli possesses the Willie Randolph profile: he’s a hitter who can be an above-average MLB performer despite mediocre batted-ball quality. Through June 24, he batted an amazingly low .160 AVG-.240 SLG (13 Unadjusted Contact Score) on fly balls, though his authority supports a less awful 56 mark. He somehow went 1-for-8 on flies over 96 mph. Cervelli’s K-BB spread is the best among his catching peers in either league, affording him plenty of margin for error with regard to contact quality. He is a high-floor, relatively low-ceiling offensive player, which is plenty good for a receiver.

At this stage of his career, Yadier Molina is an awful lot like Cervelli offensively. He arguably retains a bit more upside, as his K rate is much lower, and his liner rate would seem to have some room to regress upward. The power’s not coming back, however: both his Unadjusted (23) and Adjusted (51) Fly Ball Contact Scores are on the lower end of the scale.

Yasmani Grandal is living proof that we should not analyze hitters by exit velocity alone. Only Tyler Flowers, who swings and misses a bunch, hits the ball harder among regular MLB catchers. Unfortunately, there are some underlying negative fundamentals that he must overcome. While he crushes all BIP types, he hits a lot of pop ups and grounders, a bad combination. His liner rate has been low every year. In addition, he is an extreme ground-ball puller who hit just .154 AVG-.154 SLG (42 Unadjusted Contact Score) to date. Throw it all together, and his overall Adjusted Contact Score is a measly 79; it doesn’t matter how hard you hit it, if it’s hit on the ground to the same spot very often. His great K/BB profile is among many reasons for optimism, but there is work to be done.

J.T. Realmuto has emerged as the slightly poor man’s NL version of Salvador Perez, very quietly carrying the catching load almost every day. His numbers are a little puffed up by fairly extreme good luck on grounders (.321 AVG-.383 SLG through 6/24, 209 Unadjusted Contact Score), though his authority supports just a 129 mark. His pop-up rate is also quite high considering his low fly-ball rate. Still, he has performed around a league-average level despite a very low liner rate, which should regress upward. His low K rate is also a major positive moving forward. There’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game.

Next week, we’ll take a look at some hitters and pitchers who didn’t qualify for the lists previously, but who do now.

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5 years ago

God, this group of AL catchers is just awful at the plate.

5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Wait till someone does a report on NL catchers….