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  • Ryan Jeffers is a Top Ten Catcher


    Jamie Cameron

    It’s early in the 2022 season, but Ryan Jeffers’ strong start should give Twins fans reason for optimism. He's a top ten catcher in MLB right now.

    Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson, USA Today

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    Shortly after the lockout ended, the Twins engaged in a frenzied activity to reshape their roster and prepare for the 2022 season. One of the first moves they made, was trading fan favorite Mitch Garver to the Texas Rangers for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who eventually was flipped to the Yankees to shed Josh Donaldson’s contract. Trading an aging catcher, with a lengthy injury history, made a lot of sense, even if Twins fans didn’t like the move. How the trade would be reflected upon, depended largely on the development of Ryan Jeffers and what he could offer offensively in 2022. Early in the 2022 season, the returns are promising.

    Jeffers’ development since being taken in the second round of the 2018 draft out of UNC Wilmington has been remarkable. At the time, the pick was immediately labeled a reach from Minnesota. The Twins, however, saw a solid power bat and a cerebral player they felt they could develop defensively, despite not having had a college catching coach. Jeffers was essentially self-taught defensively. Let’s dig into his offensive and defensive production in 2022 to see what’s under the hood.

    Offense

    When Jeffers was first called up in 2020, hitting .273/.355/.436 and managed a 120 wRC+ in a small, 26-game sample. 2021 was, by comparison, a disaster. Jeffers lost his strike zone control, walking less and striking out more, and struggled to get bat to ball, managing 0.6 fWAR in 86 games. In 18 games in 2022, Jeffers has already matched his season-long fWAR from 2021, hitting .228/.302/.456 to go along with a 125 wRC+.

    Looking at Jeffers’ Statcast profile tells its own interesting and encouraging tale. Jeffers ranks in the 96th percentile for Barrel % and 89th percentile for xSLG, those are elite numbers. You may not like the profile of hitter, but Jeffers is settling in on being a slugger that will strike out a lot but make a ton of hard, effective contact. That’s valuable in and of itself, for a catcher, even more so.
    Jeffers.png.200b9c8b5f5dc29de78a0e1f9554b8c9.png

    There are a number of factors that hurt the perception of Jeffers’ offensive profile and production. Firstly, Mitch Garver’s 2019 season. It was a unicorn season, both for Garver and in the history of the position. Combine it with Garver’s approach at the plate, which combined elite power and strike-zone control, and it’s easy to wave away Jeffers’ low OBP as uninteresting and lacking value. Let’s put his numbers early in 2022 in some positional context. 

    Jeffers ranks fifth in fWAR among all MLB catchers, seventh in SLG, seventh in wRC+, and ninth in wOBA. He just doesn't get on base a lot, and that’s OK. If Jeffers maintains his offensive production and a wRC+ of slightly above 100, he’s going to have an incredibly valuable 2022 season for the Twins.

    Defense

    Let’s start with the obvious, Ryan Jeffers is not good at throwing out runners. He ranks fifth last in this category among catchers in 2022. Also, who cares? Jeffers has had four bases stolen on his watch in 2022, and has thrown out one runner, for a CS% of 20%. Yadier Molina is at 29%. Base stealing has become such an irrelevant part of the game that this area of weakness is inconsequential. 

    Measuring defense is difficult, for catchers, it’s almost impossible. There are no effective metrics to help understand the effectiveness with which a catcher ‘calls’ a game. Here’s what we do know about Jeffers. Per Statcast, he’s in the 84th percentile for framing among MLB catchers. Per Baseball Prospectus, he’s seventh-best in baseball. Rdrs/yr measures the number of runs above or below average a fielder would save over 1,200 innings (approximately 135 games). Jeffers sits at 36, that’s good for second-best among catchers in baseball. This is reflected in the eye test for Jeffers. How many run-saving blocks has he already made this year? While the defensive numbers can’t paint the full picture, the outline is clear. Jeffers is a defensive standout.

    All of this, of course, is a relatively meaningless sample of around 20 games. There’s plenty of season left to go right or go wrong. The early indicators point to Ryan Jeffers as an extremely valuable long-term commodity for the Minnesota Twins.

     

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    ... Ryan Jeffers is not good at throwing out runners. He ranks fifth last in this category among catchers in 2022. Also, who cares? Jeffers has had four bases stolen on his watch in 2022, and has thrown out one runner, for a CS% of 20%. Yadier Molina is at 29%. 

    I don't disagree with this, but also... bases are generally stolen off the pitcher or pitch selection.  Even Yadi or Pudge in their prime had a difficult time throwing out a runner if the pitcher had a slow/lengthy delivery.  It just puts the catcher behind the power curve. 

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    24 minutes ago, PDX Twin said:

    76th percentile whiff rate and 11th percentile K rate. Unless I'm misreading the numbers (possible) somehow he is striking out a lot without swinging and missing a lot. This seems fixable.

    I was curious if that meant he had a lot of looking strikeouts, but doesn't appear to be that way.

    The only thing that somewhat stuck out below is that maybe he hasn't had too many ABs go deep in his favor.  1 3-0 count so far, 10 2-0, and 3 3-1 counts.  (20% total?)  Which maybe isn't that out of the ordinary.  (Carlos has 21% and Byron has 31%. Random - Byron has swung at all 7 3-1 count pitches. 😅 ) 
    Jeffers also fouls off a lot of pitches.  So maybe he doesn't whiff too often until that final pitch of the inning, when the pitcher attacks with his best pitch to strike him out?

    Orrrrr we are just talking about super small sample sizes and one of those will adjust at some point.

    image.png.c9229c8f9247988e876ee44358b55fd8.png

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    8 minutes ago, MN_ExPat said:

    ... Ryan Jeffers is not good at throwing out runners. He ranks fifth last in this category among catchers in 2022. Also, who cares? Jeffers has had four bases stolen on his watch in 2022, and has thrown out one runner, for a CS% of 20%. Yadier Molina is at 29%. 

    I don't disagree with this, but also... bases are generally stolen off the pitcher or pitch selection.  Even Yadi or Pudge in their prime had a difficult time throwing out a runner if the pitcher had a slow/lengthy delivery.  It just puts the catcher behind the power curve. 

    Exactly...Just throw out enough so that everyone isn't trying to take a base.  The Twins did not help out his cause in 2021.  They put Garver in every possible lineup against lefties trying to get his kickstarted, seemingly at Jeffers expense.

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    26 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

    The biggest question - who is back up?  I do not see Sanchez staying, I do not see Godoy long term.  Where is the next glove?

    It's a good question.  The best prospects Isola, Camargo, Mack, all seem more likely to be 3rd catcher types.  Maybe they could surprise, but I think getting a veteran backup will probably be a priority in the coming offseasons.

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    56 minutes ago, baul0010 said:

    They put Garver in every possible lineup against lefties trying to get his kickstarted, seemingly at Jeffers expense.

    I buy this narrative somewhat too, though the difference between the % of lefties faced by Jeffers and Garver last year was less than I expected when I looked it up.  34% for Jeffers vs 43% for Garver.

    Then again, when Garver was out Jeffers was probably seeing nearly every lefty possible, and his OPS was over .800 in June and July last year.  He also had an OPS over .800 in September 2020 when Garver also missed a bunch of time. Whether it was being hampered by not seeing many lefties or just not seeing regular enough at bats, I don't think it could be entirely a coincidence that Jeffers has always been good when he's had the starting catching duties.  Probably those splits are a little bit fluky, but I think they also show that yes, Jeffers is a really good starting catcher.

     

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    58 minutes ago, MN_ExPat said:

    ... Ryan Jeffers is not good at throwing out runners. He ranks fifth last in this category among catchers in 2022. Also, who cares? Jeffers has had four bases stolen on his watch in 2022, and has thrown out one runner, for a CS% of 20%. Yadier Molina is at 29%. 

    I don't disagree with this, but also... bases are generally stolen off the pitcher or pitch selection.  Even Yadi or Pudge in their prime had a difficult time throwing out a runner if the pitcher had a slow/lengthy delivery.  It just puts the catcher behind the power curve. 

    The stat of CS% does not mean a catcher is bad at throwing runners out per se.  As the quote in article says he is 1 for 5.  Not sure the 4 that were made against him, but much of the time pitcher has much to do with it, and the runner.  I mean if a pitcher is slow to the plate and the runner is like Buck do we say the catch sucks, or just nothing he can do?  I would even argue catching a lot of guys normally means teams are willing to run on you.  Now if the bases taken and the CS percent is low that is bad.  I remember LeCroy was once pulled mid-inning while with nationals because there was like 6 stolen bases on him in the inning.  That is someone that cannot throw out runners.

    Not catcher, but I remember Manny Ramirez having pretty high assist numbers in the OF, putting up 19 one year, 17 another year.  He played 149 games each of those years for a total of 36 assists in 298 games.  Buck has 18 career assists in 497 career games.  Does that mean Manny was better at throwing out runners?  No not at all, it means teams were willing to run against Manny because he was terrible and would get lucky some times.  People hardly run on Buck, unless they know they will make it because he is great at throwing runners out. 

    Saying a guy is bad at throwing runners out because he only got 1 of 5 means nothing.  How many times could they have run on him?  Did he even have a chance to get the runner out?  I mean Jeffers may have had perfect throws and the fielder did not catch it, or the runner stole it off the pitcher.   

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    1 hour ago, 2wins87 said:

    I buy this narrative somewhat too, though the difference between the % of lefties faced by Jeffers and Garver last year was less than I expected when I looked it up.  34% for Jeffers vs 43% for Garver.

    Then again, when Garver was out Jeffers was probably seeing nearly every lefty possible, and his OPS was over .800 in June and July last year.  He also had an OPS over .800 in September 2020 when Garver also missed a bunch of time. Whether it was being hampered by not seeing many lefties or just not seeing regular enough at bats, I don't think it could be entirely a coincidence that Jeffers has always been good when he's had the starting catching duties.  Probably those splits are a little bit fluky, but I think they also show that yes, Jeffers is a really good starting catcher.

     

    They needed to be focusing on Jeffers development instead of Garver's trade value :)

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    I like to stop in every once and a while and note that catcher CS stats include pick-off caught stealings. Jeffers' one credited CS this year was a pick-off, so he has thrown out 0 base stealers. He's technically 0-for-4, but realistically, he's 0-for-3 as two steals came on a double steal. Can't throw out both of them!

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    21 hours ago, 2wins87 said:

    It's a good question.  The best prospects Isola, Camargo, Mack, all seem more likely to be 3rd catcher types.  Maybe they could surprise, but I think getting a veteran backup will probably be a priority in the coming offseasons.

    They are all young. They won’t be ready for next year so I agree on the veteran back up. I am uncertain how you came up with the third catcher assessment at this point in their careers.

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    I like Jeffers and his future.  However, it is much too early in the season to make a judgement either way.  I think Sanchez, even though he has much more MLB experience is a negative in the catching ranks and needs to be replaced by next year at the latest.

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    3 minutes ago, jorgenswest said:

    They are all young. They won’t be ready for next year so I agree on the veteran back up. I am uncertain how you came up with the third catcher assessment at this point in their careers.

    Isola is in AA and could be in the mix next year.

    I'm not saying 3rd catcher is their ceiling, but realistically it is the most likely outcome. It's not meant as a slight, even in a deep system the most realistic outcome for anyone outside the top 20 is some kind role player probably doing a lot of shuttling between AAA. I think looking at prospect lists from 2013 or 2014 can set a good baseline.

    I actually think that the Twins' best catching prospects have tended to be underrated lately, and there are some interesting guys in the system right now, but I wouldn't be ready to put any of them in my top 30 right now.

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    Also, who cares? Jeffers has had four bases stolen on his watch in 2022, and has thrown out one runner, for a CS% of 20%. Yadier Molina is at 29%. Base stealing has become such an irrelevant part of the game that this area of weakness is inconsequential. 

    I agree with the main point, but not "who cares." Any free base can haunt, whether via walk, error, or allowed stolen base.

    But it's not a super useful measurement in such small sample size, not to mention other variables such as the pitcher and defender.

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    On 5/7/2022 at 11:10 AM, Shaitan said:

    Also, who cares? Jeffers has had four bases stolen on his watch in 2022, and has thrown out one runner, for a CS% of 20%. Yadier Molina is at 29%. Base stealing has become such an irrelevant part of the game that this area of weakness is inconsequential. 

    I agree with the main point, but not "who cares." Any free base can haunt, whether via walk, error, or allowed stolen base.

    But it's not a super useful measurement in such small sample size, not to mention other variables such as the pitcher and defender.

    To @Trov’s point, just like actual theft, base stealing deterrence is way more effective at mitigating runs than actually catching steals. It’s not a great measurement at any sample size.

     

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    I loved Jeffers as a prospect, but he's on shaky ground for me - he's not hitting all that well outside of a couple games where pulverized the ball, and while he's a good framer, baserunners have been taking advantage of him. Still not sure what to think, but I don't love that Sanchez is the only other option outside of AAAA guys like Godoy.

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