I’ve discussed the Yankees’ catching situation many times recently and catchers in general only a little less frequently. But there’s a factor that’s flown somewhat under the radar when discussing catchers, specifically free agent catchers, upon whom teams are considering spending more than a little money:
They don’t age well.
I bring this up as the three names that are mentioned the most often when it comes to the catcher free agent market are J.T. Realmuto, James McCann and Yadier Molina. On April 1st, 2021…
Realmuto will be 30.
McCann will be 30 and will turn 31 during the season.
Molina will be 38 and will turn 39 during the season.
Let’s look at how often catchers produce seasons that justify plus salaries past age 30. Consider the following:
Since 1995, there have been 91 occasions in which a catcher who started the season at age 30 or older played in 120 games or more with at least 95 of them coming as a catcher – just over three catchers league wide per season on average. But only 30 of them produced 3 WAR or more in a season (3 WAR generally considered the minimum line of what’s considered a “good” player), or about one per season league wide on average.
How about starting the season at age 31 or more? Only 64 times has a catcher played in at least 120 games with at least 95 as a catcher since ‘95 at age 31 or more. Only 20 of those times has the catcher produced 3 WAR or better (less than one player per season, league wide).
Let’s go one more year. Since 1995, there have been 45 occasions in which a catcher played in at least 120 games with at least 95 as a catcher – only a little more than one league wide on average per season. In only 12 of those seasons has the catcher produced at least 3 WAR, or less than one player every other season, league wide.
And in case you were wondering why I selected 1995 as the cutoff point, let me assure you, it wasn’t to keep the sample size small. I chose this relatively recent era because we know more about strength and conditioning than we did in previous generations, and we know more about the value of resting players than we did in previous generations. Those two things alone go a long way toward keeping catchers 100% healthy and extending their longevity – far more so than in prior generations.
Also, I don’t want to point out the well-muscled elephant in the corner, but I’m going to:
MLB tests for PEDs now. Trust me when I tell you, when you look at the names of many of the catchers who produced >120 games and >3 WAR in a season post age 30, we would agree many of those seasons would not have occurred in a league with testing.
I actually cherry picked the era in which it would be most likely for catchers to produce past age 30. In fact, I intentionally broadened the sample size by making the minimums 120 games total and 95 as a catcher. I think you’d agree those are pretty low bars for a player who would be receiving a plus contract.
And yes, I understand that in Molina’s case, he may be willing to accept a one year deal at a reasonable rate, as opposed to Realmuto and McCann who’ll be getting big value contracts. I’m including Molina as more of a “you can still do better” add on.
It’s very, very hard to justify making a major commitment to a catcher who’s already entered his thirties. And it’s not much easier to justify making a medium sized commitment to one either.
When it comes to catchers, the evidence suggests that the best options are young ones, or very cheap ones if they aren’t young.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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