When discussing the best defensive catchers of the modern era, one name is at the top of everyone's list: Yadier Molina. He has embodied defensive excellence since he entered the league in 2004 and has undoubtedly earned his reputation as the game's best defensive catcher -- among his numerous accolades are six Fielding Bible Awards and eight Gold Gloves.
Since the start of his career, no catcher comes close to matching his defensive runs saved (DRS) total -- Molina has saved 167 runs over 13-plus seasons, 54 more than second place on that list and 103 more than fifth.
However, once a catcher's pitch-framing ability (strike zone runs saved) was incorporated into DRS in 2014, it was clear that Molina's dominance was coming to a close.
The data goes back to 2010, making it the first year pitch-framing can be quantified as part of a catcher's total defensive ability. While Molina still saved the most runs over the first half of the decade, his lead was marginal; Jonathan Lucroy and Russell Martin saved their teams 85 and 48 runs, respectively, with their framing compared with Molina's 33 over those five years.
Over that stretch, the three occupied their own tier atop the catcher DRS leaderboard. Lucroy and Martin ranked first and second, respectively, in strike zone runs saved, while Molina and Martin tied for the lead in stolen base runs saved.
Age, though, seems to have caught up with all three, making it hard to consider them elite defenders anymore; since 2015, they haven't even ranked among the 10 best defensive catchers, according to DRS. Meanwhile, baseball has placed a renewed emphasis on defense at the position, resulting in a new generation of catching talent.
Interestingly, nearly all of the current top defensive catchers are playing for contending teams, reflecting the importance placed on the position as well as the difference a quality defensive catcher can have on a team's record. The group includes a variety of players, from successful veterans to those who are just starting to make an impact.