The biggest money in the game goes to pitchers and sluggers. However, it the players who do the dirty work who can make the true difference between winners and losers. Of the top 10 catchers in the league in defensive metrics, nearly all of them have a winning record in starts.
While the Padres are having another down year in the less than stellar NL West, Austin Hedges has a record of 36-29 in starts, despite the team being 51-60 overall. With Hedges’ strong record, Mejia ranks 66th in the 101 qualifying catchers, and his record is 18-20 overall.
In fact, only three catchers in the top 10 of Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA_ADJ statistic, which compares framing statistic with blocked balls and throwing for saved runs, have a losing record in games started. Danny Jansen, who plays for the struggling Blue Jays, is 11 games under .500. Yasmani Grandal is nine games under .500 and Tucker Barnhart is two games under, but his team dug an incredible hole by losing six of his first seven starts of the season. The Reds also lost Barnhart’s first six starts of June.
Grandal is the fascinating case, as his team is strong, and he fares well in all defensive metrics. He ranks in the top three in Framing Runs and Blocking Runs, but fares very poorly in Throwing Runs. He ranks 70th in the stat. Even with Grandal and Jansen falling 20 games under .500 in starts, the top five have a combined record of 211-201. The other two are J.T Realmuto (52-43) and Roberto Perez (47-33).
The difference is even greater in the catchers who rank six through 10. The record of those five –Barnhart, Austin Barnes (37-23), Mike Zunino (31-29), Tyler Flowers (29-23), and Manny Pina (16-10) – is 139-113.
On the opposite end, the worst catchers are telling, with a combined 36 games under .500. This groups includes two winning records with Wilson Ramos (45-35) and Willson Contreras (41-38). However, those who have bad records, have really bad records in Elias Diaz (20-35), Omar Narvaez (34-46), Pedro Severino (20-38), and Jonathan Lucroy (30-34). In fact, of the players with a FRAA-ADJ -7.0, the only ones with a winning record are on the top teams in scoring. Those are Contreras and Gary Sanchez. With this in mind, both of the Cubs and Yankees are in the top eight in run differential.
The teams that are in the run differential per game in the 0.5 to zero ranges are Atlanta, Boston, Washington, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Texas, and the New York Mets. The teams in the zero to -0.5 range are the Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco, and Toronto. Of those teams, Milwaukee, San Diego, Toronto, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and San Francisco are in the top half of team FRAA_ADJ. Of those teams, only the Padres and Blue Jays are completely out of contention. In fact all of the remaining, outside of the Reds, are two games under .500 or better and two would be in the playoffs if they started today.
The moral of this story is that good catching, with strong framing and saving runs wins close games.