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Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Catcher

by Chris Brown

With the 2010s in the rearview mirror — and the 2020 MLB season on hold — 110 Sports is taking a look back at the best players of the last decade at each position. There’s no one perfect way to evaluate baseball players. For these rankings, we weigh statistics such as OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) and WAR (wins above replacement), which, while imperfect, are good at assessing hitting contributions and overall value, along with various other factors like the player’s best years in the decade, length of high-level production, speed, defense, reputation, playoff experience and awards. 

A general note about eligibility for this exercise: Players are being considered for the top 10 only at the position they played most in the decade. If a player made a significant contribution at another position in the 2010s, they may receive an honorable mention there as well. Let’s get to it.

In addition to being the most physically demanding position, catcher is also the spot (aside from pitcher) where poor offense is most often accepted in favor of strong defense. Few catchers are truly great hitters, and far fewer maintain strong offensive production for extended stretches.

With that in mind, there were a few backstops that stood tall above the rest in the 2010s. But before we get to them, let’s take a look at a few of the other impactful catchers of the decade.

Honorable Mentions

Carlos Ruiz | PHI 2010-16, LAD 2016, SEA 2017

Ruiz’s .325 batting average for the Phillies in 2012 at the age of 33 was the second-best mark of the decade among backstops who played at least 100 games in a season, trailing only Buster Posey. “Chooch” made the NL All-Star team that year, but in the years that followed, he never hit more than six homers in a season and only once played 100 games in a season again.

Kurt Suzuki | OAK 2010-12, WSH 2012-13, OAK 2013, MIN 2014-16, ATL 2017-18, WSH 2019

No one has ever considered Suzuki a star at the position, but the well-traveled, well-respected veteran has been a steady, notable contributor throughout the decade, particularly in recent years. Playing in between 80 and 100 games the last three seasons, Suzuki has averaged 16 long balls per year while posting an impressive .272/.335/.485 batting line in his mid-30s. Suzuki was fifth among catchers in hits in the 2010s, and while the rest of the offensive numbers don’t compare to others, his durability and reputation as a great game-caller make him well deserving of recognition.

Gary Sanchez | NYY 2015-19

No catcher to play in the decade showed as much raw power as Sanchez, whose 33 and 34 home runs in 2017 and 2019, respectively, are the two highest single season totals among backstops in the 2010s. The 27-year-old has well-documented defensive issues (he led all catchers with 15 errors last season) and since making his big league debut in 2015, Sanchez has only played in more than 100 games twice due to injuries.

Carlos Santana | CLE 2010-17, PHI 2018, CLE 2019

Among those who played at least 200 games behind the plate in the decade, Santana tops the list in home runs (232) and RBI (766). But the 34-year-old hasn’t appeared behind the plate since 2014, playing primarily at first base and in the DH spot since.

Joe Mauer | MIN 2010-18

It’s not too difficult to imagine a world in which Mauer deserves strong consideration for the top spot at catcher. The lifelong Twin, who’s the only backstop in MLB history to win three batting titles, posted batting averages of over .280 five times in the past decade, but concussions shifted him away from catching. The only season in the decade Mauer caught over 100 games was 2010.

Top 10

10. Matt Wieters | BAL 2010-16, WSH 2017-18, STL 2019

Wieters made a pretty immediate impact with his bat upon making his major league debut with the Orioles in 2009, hitting nine and 11 home runs in his first two seasons before swatting 22, 23, and 22 long balls in the next three seasons, respectively, and winning two Gold Gloves in that span. While he’d be selected as an All-Star two more times in the decade, Wieters only played 80+ games two times in the final six years of the 2010s due to injuries and declining hitting skills (.232/.298/.384 batting line the last four years of the decade). The cumulative stats don’t measure up, but Wieters’ best seasons were certainly some of the best for a backstop in the decade.

9. Russell Martin | LAD 2010, NYY 2011-12, PIT 2013-14, TOR 2015-18, LAD 2019

Martin hasn’t played in 100 games in a season since 2016, but his consistent power, strong glove, and relative durability in the preceding years helped him rank third in the decade in WAR. Every season from 2011-18, Martin hit double digit homers, three times eclipsing 20 long balls. Considered a strong leader by the baseball community, Martin has also rated as one of the top pitch-framing backstops in the game into his mid-30s. His offensive peak wasn’t as high as others, though, and his .233 batting average in the decade is last among the top 10 on this list.

8. J.T. Realmuto | MIA 2014-18, PHI 2019

Along with Gary Sanchez, J.T. Realmuto is currently considered to be one of the top two hitters at the position. Realmuto has hit 20+ homers in each of the last two seasons and 17+ in each of the last three years, but that’s largely the extent of his high-level offensive production. 

Realmuto is the only player in the top 10 under 30 years old, and with great pure hitting abilities and strong defense, he could continue to put up strong numbers and remain at the position for a number of years to come. Like several others lower on the list, though, his success came for largely just one half of the decade.

7. Wilson Ramos | MIN 2010, WSH 2010-16, TB 2017-18, PHI 2018, NYM 2019

Ramos has been an underrated offensive option at the position for a number of years now. While his durability was in question earlier in the decade, Ramos has played 110+ games in four of the last five seasons, hitting .279/.325/.438 and averaging 15 home runs and 65 RBI per season during that stretch. His power has been at a pretty high level for a catcher, and while his overall numbers for the decade are generally solid all around, they don’t measure up with the top few contenders at the position.

6. Yasmani Grandal | SD 2012-14, LAD 2015-18, MIL 2019

He didn’t pick up significant playing time until 2014, but Grandal was one of the top offensive catchers of the latter half of the decade. He hit 15+ home runs in each of the last six seasons and 20+ in each of the last four. Grandal’s average for the decade (.241) is second-lowest of these top 10, but he makes up for that by walking a lot (sixth-most walks in 2010s with 14th-most plate appearances). He doesn’t have the cumulative stats of others, but Grandal is only a few years of continued production away from an impressively lengthy, high-level stretch.

5. Salvador Perez | KC 2011-18

Since his first full season in the majors in 2013, Perez has been named an AL All-Star six times. He has won five Gold Glove awards, two Silver Sluggers, a World Series in which he was named MVP in 2015, hit double digit home runs six times including four 20+ homer campaigns and driven in 70+ runs five times. He’s also been incredibly durable, playing in the second-most games among catchers from 2013-18 before missing the entire 2019 season following Tommy John surgery.

While the home runs have been plentiful, Perez has never really brought many other dimensions to his hitting profile. His .297 OBP in the decade was 36th among players with at least 400 games behind the plate. His increased power in recent years has also come at the expense of a relatively high batting average, meaning his best seasons don’t measure up to a few other backstops.

4. Jonathan Lucroy | MIL 2010-16, TEX 2016-17, COL 2017, OAK 2018, LAA 2019, CHC 2019

Unlike several others on this list, Lucroy’s best production came in the first half of the decade. The two-time All Star was considered one of the top two or three backstops in the game after following up an 18-homer, 82 RBI season in 2013 with a .301 average and MLB-leading 52 doubles the next year. After a down 2015 season in which he missed time to injury, Lucroy hit .292 with a career-high 24 homers in 2016 before abruptly falling off at age 31. He combined to hit .248 with just 18 total home runs the last three seasons of the decade.

Lucroy was third in baseball in games played at catcher in the 2010s, appearing in more than 100 games eight times. However, his status as a top offensive player at the position simply didn’t last long enough compared to a few others.

3. Brian McCann | ATL 2010-13, NYY 2014-15, HOU 2017-18, ATL 2019

Think of the very best catchers of the decade and two big names probably pop into your mind first. But there’s a third backstop who deserves strong consideration for the top spot: McCann. A six-time Silver Slugger Award winner and seven-time All-Star, McCann led the position in the 2010s with 191 home runs, roughly 50 more than any other catcher. He wasn’t a high batting average guy in the decade, but McCann hit 20 or more homers in six straight seasons from 2010-16, playing in over 100 games each of those years.

Even after that stretch, McCann swatted 12+ homers in two of his final three seasons in the majors before retiring after his 2019 campaign back in Atlanta. In the end, he wasn’t an era-defining catcher — in overall numbers, defense, etc. — but McCann was undoubtedly a high-level option at the position for most of the last 10 years.

2. Yadier Molina | STL 2010-19

Now we arrive at the pair who, without considering the numbers, were clearly the most decade-defining players at the catcher position. Both Molina and Buster Posey played the entire decade (and their entire careers to date) with one team, played in 100 or more games in at least nine of the 10 seasons in the 2010s and have been NL All-Stars at least six times.

There’s really no debate that Posey has been the better hitter of the two in most ways. But there are significant factors in Molina’s favor which did help him close the gap significantly here. One of the greatest defensive catchers of all time, Molina won seven Gold Gloves during the decade (compared to Posey’s one) and netted four Platinum Glove awards. He was also named an All-Star eight times in the 2010s, twice more than Posey.

And while Molina led Posey in games played in the decade by 63, that gap jumped to over 300 games when considering only those played at catcher. Posey appeared in 229 games at first base in the decade compared to Molina’s 44. Another point in Molina’s favor: As Posey has dropped off noticeably at the plate in recent years, Yadi has seen a mini resurgence. Over the last three seasons, Posey has averaged 51 runs, eight home runs, and 49 RBI with a .289 average, while Molina has averaged 53 runs, 16 homers, and 71 RBI while batting .268.

All these things considered, Molina — while clearly a generational backstop — doesn’t make up for the significant advantage Posey holds in several key offensive aspects. But the gap between these two certainly isn’t as big as the most basic numbers make it seem.

1. Buster Posey | SF 2010-19

Among those who met the games-played threshold for the last decade, Posey led all backstops in hits (1,378), runs scored (594), runs batted in (673), batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.371) and slugging percentage (.458). He and Joe Mauer (2009) are the only catchers to win an MVP award this century. That 2012 season, Posey hit a league-leading .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI. 

And while he has just as many 20-homer seasons as Molina (two), Posey had a peak higher than any other catcher of the last decade. For a solid stretch, Posey was not only the best hitting catcher, but one of the best hitters in baseball. That’s a status no other backstop reached during the decade. That, combined with Posey’s cumulative numbers and his postseason success (three World Series rings), make him the catcher of the decade.

Photos by Barbara Moore (Molina) and Dirk DBQ (McCann, Posey) / Flickr

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