MLB Dirty Politics: Catchers

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This is the first in the TwH seven-part look at the MLB All-Star ballot. If you missed the intro from yesterday, you can find it here.

 National League

Current Leader: Yadier Molina

This is one of the tougher calls on either side of the ballot, as Molina isn’t simply coasting on reputation here — he’s been his usual self, throwing out 13 of 28 attempted base stealers and continuing to be a top tier defensive catcher. That’s exactly what your grandfather expected out of his all-star catcher, and Yadi does it as well as anybody. I will never be mad to see him start an All-Star Game.

What makes Molina truly special is that since the 2011 campaign he has combined the defense expected from one of Los Hermanos Molinas with offensive production at the position surpassed only by Buster Posey. Whether it was the fact that Yadi was entering his prime years or that his brother Bengie may have gifted him the family’s combined offensive powers upon his retirement after the 2010 season(sorry Jose, you still cannot hit), we may never know. What we do, is that Molina is in a two man race with San Francisco’s Posey for recognition as the game’s best all-around backstop.

Dirty Politics Endorsement: Jonathan Lucroy

If it isn’t aforementioned Posey, how can another NL catcher start this year’s All-Star Game? The fact is that Lucroy’s offensive numbers don’t resemble a catcher’s at all up to this point. His 149 wRC+ ranks 19th in all of baseball, meaning that he has created runs at a nearly 50% higher clip than average. No other qualifying catcher cracks the top 40. His 2.7 WAR is 10th in baseball, and at this point in the season, it’s fair to say that there is some genuinely developing skill involved in his current dominance.

It is not as though Lurcroy came out of nowhere. He posted well above average wRC+ in both of the last two seasons, and has still played solid defense. This year’s improvement can probably also in part be attributed to decreased strikeout and increased walk rates, illustrating improved plate discipline. Will he continue to post numbers that make him the best offensive catcher in baseball? I’m skeptical, especially considering he’s riding an unusually high BABIP despite no increase in line drive rate and hitting a higher percentage of ground balls than he has during any other season in his career. Despite that, he’s having what should be considered a breakout season during otherwise mediocre campaigns by Molina and Posey.

American League

Current Leader: Matt Wieters

This was supposed to be the season Matt Wieters finally came around at the plate. Every season since 2010 or 2011 was supposed to be the season, but this was really it, I tell you! He was hitting for power! His line drive percentage was up near 30%! His groud ball rate had plummeted! I don’t care what you say, all of baseball had been waiting for this and democracy was rewarding him by giving him a MANDATE to start the All-Star Game. He could hit. He could catch! He was about to become Buster Posey and Yadier Molina in one amazing package!!!

Crazy, hopeful, four-year-in-the-making ranting aside, Matt Wieters has played 26 games this season. He was good in those 26 games, and folks have expected him to be great for long enough that it makes sense he’s on top of the balloting, but he’s played 26 games and probably won’t be playing any more this season. Vote for him if you want Dr. James Andrews to trot out and play a few innings. He deserves it with all the elbows he’s operated on this year.

Dirty Politics Endorsement: Salvador Perez

The rest of the candidates that rank in the top five are just the people’s collective confusion when they see that they’re supposed to vote for somebody. Brian McCann was good with the Braves, so he must be good with the Yankees they say of the second-place candidate. Nope. He’s been abysmal at the plate, sporting an abysmal 76 wRC+ despite his 7 HRs being good enough to pace American League catchers. A.J. Pierzyski from the rival Red Sox? He’s also been below average as a hitter, and otherwise is just a scourge upon the festivities that I won’t bother to think of a clever joke about. He’s not our all-star, period.

There are three reasonable candidates who come from the AL Central. If you want to vote for Kurt Suzuki because you’re just in the mood to relive the 2004 College World Series, then by all means, go ahead. He’d be a good representative for the hometown Twins, and his .302/.373/.402 slash line is respectable. If you’re looking for a little more pop at the plate and a lot more defensive prowess for your All-Star lineup, look at Yan Gomes or Salvador Perez. Both are worthy choices. Gomes strikes out too much, Perez ground out too much. Gomes has been a bit more at the dish according to advanced metrics, Perez a bit more valuable behind it.

Out in Oakland, though, is where your ballot box stuffing should be doing its magic. Derek Norris has been average defensively, but his bread is earned at the plate. His 172 plate appearances are short of qualifying him for the league leaderboard, but he boasts a 151 wRC+, better even than our National League endorsed candidate Jonathan Lucroy. Norris would fit in right alongside the Moneyball A’s. He gets on base at a .404 clip, hits with some power and is competent if not spectacular defensively. His right-handed splits are a bit rough, but we’ll forgive it in an otherwise unspectacular field. He gets the nod. Or maybe someone in a Matt Wieters suit??!! Either one.

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