Catchers


The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 13-19

Folks, it's time for some naval-gazing.  I'm currently sitting 10th of 12 teams in my most cherished fantasy league, the one run in one form or another since 1999 with all of my old hometown buddies.  Since a poor finish here will doom me to months of taunting, it's high time to figure out what's going wrong.  Well, besides injuries, but 'complaining about injuries to your fantasy team' ranks somewhere between complaining about a bad beat in poker or whining about your great putt lipping out of the cup.

I've covered a few of my players in this space already, namely guys who are underachieving in one particular category (like Matt Holliday's lack of homers) or guys who essentially just had one bad month and one good month (like Homer Bailey or Jed Lowrie) but really, the root of the problem stems from a few guys at key positions who simply aren't carrying their weight.  Let's look into these players to see if you or I should keep hoping for a turnaround or if enough is enough...

* Where's The Power, Mauer?  I think we can all agree that Joe Mauer's 28-homer season in 2009 was a total anomaly, given that the Twins catcher first baseman has only 79 homers in the other 4717 plate appearances of his Major League career.  The days of expecting Mauer to provide a huge homer boost from your lineup's C spot are over, yet his high average, RBI totals and runs scored provide more than enough incentive to make him one of the very first catchers taken in any fantasy draft.

Now, however, not only has the power cratered, but the rest of Mauer's hitting ability is seemingly going down the tubes as well.  Mauer took a .263/.342/.336 slash line into Friday's play, all of which project as career lows over a full season, and Mauer has produced only two homers and 15 RBI over 263.  Ironically, just as the Twins made Mauer a full-time first baseman in order to keep him healthy enough to stay in the lineup, Mauer's bat has gone as cold as....well, Minnesota.

Before looking at the metrics, I wondered if Mauer was simply trying to do too much now that he was playing first, and his problems stemmed from trying too hard for homers in order to fill the stereotypical 1B power role.  This doesn't appear to the the case, however, as Mauer is actually getting the ball in the air less than he ever has; his 19.1% fly ball rate would also be a new career low while his 54.6% ground ball rate would be his highest (over a full season).  Mauer also has a .324 BABIP, so it's not a question of him being particularly unlucky with those extra grounders.

There are lots of catchers who put up middling offensive numbers but "they're good for a catcher" and thus you put up with having such a third-tier guy in your fantasy lineup.  But for Joe Mauer to sink to such levels?  And frankly, he isn't even putting up good numbers "for a catcher" given that his 89 wRC+ is topped by a whopping 18 other catchers with at least 130 PA.  If you're in a league that doesn't count last year's positions and had Mauer listed as a first baseman from day one, he has below replacement-level and not been worth having on your fantasy roster.

Unfortunately for me, I was forced into actually using Mauer at first for much of this season due to injuries to Joey Votto and Mark Teixeira.  On draft day I took Mauer, Carlos Santana and Jonathan Lucroy with the logic that I could either trade from depth later or simply rotate them all between my C/1B/Utility slots, yet while Lucroy has been terrific, the other two have been duds.

For my specific situation, I can afford to drop Mauer since ultimately right now I'm just using him as a glorified backup catcher.  That said....how can you just outright release Joe Mauer??  Heck, even my mother still busts out "well played, Mauer" as a wisecrack every once in a while, that's how much of a cornerstone star this guy has been for the last several years. 

Is he really finished at age 31?  He wouldn't be the first longtime catcher to drop off a cliff after he hit his thirties, but still, Mauer's contact rates are still relatively normal and that average could shoot up 30 or 40 points and suddenly things wouldn't look so bad.  Mauer does have a .771 OPS against righties, but his .501 OPS against southpaws is killing his overall performance.  Absolutely bench Mauer against left-handed starters for the time being and hopefully your backup (while probably not a Lucroy) can help carry the load until Mauer gets back on track.  Catcher is such a thin spot that dropping Mauer isn't an option at this point.

* Hill Of Beans.  This has been a pretty rough season in Arizona, needless to say, and Aaron Hill's performance is one of the many reasons why the Diamondbacks are struggling.  Both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs rate Hill as a below replacement-level this season, as the second baseman has only a .246/.292/.393 slash line to go with six homers, 31 RBI and 20 runs scored.

If you're a Blue Jays fan, you've seen this movie before.  Hill was one of the worst everyday players in the majors from Opening Day 2010 to virtually until the day he was traded (August 23, 2011) from Toronto to Arizona, bottoming out with just a 56 wRC+ over his last 429 PA as a Blue Jay.  Fortunately for Hill, he turned things around in the desert and posted an .878 OPS in his first 33 games as a Snake, followed by a .298/.359/.501 performance in 2012-13.  Hill wasn't just back in form, he was arguably the second-best second baseman in the game.

So what changed?  Hill is both swinging at more strikes and swinging more in general this season than in the previous two years, plus swinging more often at pitches outside the zone (32.6%, up from 29.3% in 2013) and swinging less at strikes inside the zone (59.5%, down from 61.9% in 2013).  This extra aggression in swinging at balls is hurting his patience at the plate, as the gap between his walk rate (5.3%) and his strikeout rate (17.3%) has never been wider in his entire career, even during his rough period with the Jays.

Hopefully it won't take another trade to shake Hill out of his slump, as even though Tony La Russa won't be afraid to shake up the D'Backs roster, moving Hill at this point doesn't seem too likely for a team that still has eyes towards contending in 2015 (not to mention the fact that the D'Backs would be selling very low on a valuable asset).  Should you or I trade him off our fantasy rosters?   

I was as optimistic as anyone about Hill when the season began but now I can't shake the hunch that 2014 will just end up being a lost year for him.  Nagging shoulder and ankle injuries haven't helped Hill's cause and while these knocks could be a partial reason for his struggles, he was already hitting poorly when these injuries surfaced in mid-May.  If you have a second base backup in place (or someone like Tommy La Stella is still available on your waiver wire), I'd bite the bullet and try to move Hill elsewhere.  You won't be getting his full value back, obviously, yet try trading Hill for another under-performing player like...

* Put Your Lights On.  Carlos Santana has the second-lowest (.197) BABIP of any qualified hitter in baseball, so when an accomplished batter like Santana is getting so little batted-ball luck, that itself is almost reason enough to predict a turnaround.  Combine that with the fact that Santana's contact rates are close to career norms and he's walking almost as much as he's striking out, and BOOM...where do you sign up?

Of course, it may not be that simple.  Santana's miserable .175/.337/.315 line can't be totally attributed to BABIP when you consider that he's hitting the ball with less authority than ever before.  The Indians catcher/first baseman third baseman has only a 12.4% line drive rate this season, the third-lowest of any qualified hitter in baseball.  With a 49.7% ground ball rate that is well above his 43.3% career average and that aforementioned buzzard's luck with BABIP, it's essentially been a year full of routine groundouts for Santana.  (Oh, if only he could hit against his own team's terrible infield defense.)

The huge drop in line drive rate is troubling yet just because doesn't not hitting line drives doesn't mean that you're not hitting the ball well.  Several players in the bottom 16 of line drive rate are enjoying tremendous seasons (Yasiel Puig, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Jones, Alex Gordon, etc.) so it's not the be-all and end-all of quality batting.  Santana does have seven homers, 22 RBI and 25 runs, so he's roughly on pace to post his usual counting stats.  With a boost of even 40 or 50 BABIP points, Santana could suddenly be having a pretty normal campaign.

Like Mauer, Santana switched positions this season but the Tribe ex-catcher had an even bigger transition to make in moving to third base for the first time since he was a Dodgers farmhand in 2008.  Let's just say that Santana is still getting used to the move --- he has a -43.8 UZR/150 at the hot corner this year.  By comparison, Miguel Cabrera had "only" a -19.9 UZR/150 at third last season, so as bad as Miggy was, he was basically Brooks Robinson compared to Santana.  In any case, the Santana third base experiment might be coming to an end, as Santana has only played 3B once in his last 13 games.  The red-hot Lonnie Chisenhall suddenly looks like a viable everyday option for the Tribe at third, so Santana is likely to find himself in more familiar terrain at either 1B or DH, with the odd start at catcher in a pinch.

I'll predict that with the stress of playing third removed, Santana gets back to his old self over the last few months of the season.  If and when he gets going, I'll feel more comfortable in selling low on Mauer if need be, and getting Santana regular utility at-bats (Votto is my starting 1B and Encarnacion is my starting 3B).  With everyone healthy and with me making some canny managerial lineup maneuvers, I just might be able to save my fantasy season yet!  And by save, I mean finish in, like, seventh.



Draft Round Battles: Montero Vs. Saltalamacchia

If it's all the same to you, I'll just go ahead and refer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia as "Salty" for the remainder of the column.  It will save ever so many keystrokes and give my poor fingers a break.  In fact, with Lloyd Moseby's blessing, I'd like to propose that we officially hand the "Shaker" nickname over to Salty and then refer to him solely by that nickname AT ALL TIMES in all media (a la nicknames given to Brazilian soccer players).

* = you know, as in salt shaker?  I probably didn't need to explain that joke.  This footnote is pointless.

Okay, so one thing has been settled already.  Now we'll move onto the larger matter of this week's draft round battle, which pits two catchers who had very different 2013 seasons up against each other as we try to predict who will be better in 2014.  I also really wish that Miguel Montero's last name somehow involved the word 'Pepper' so I could make no shortage of terrible puns, but c'est la vie.

Let's start with Saltalam....uh, Salty, who was a cheap power source for fantasy owners in 2011-12 but became a much more solid all-around hitter last season.  Salty only hit 14 homers (a major drop from his 25 dingers in 2012) but put up a .273/.338/.466 slash line along with 65 RBIs and 68 runs for career highs in all those categories. 

Of particular note was that OBP, as Salty had a meager .289 OBP from 2009-12 but was able to get on the basepaths with much more frequency in 2013.  The backstop had a 60.4% contract rate on pitches outside the strike zone and a 28.6% line drive rate overall, easily topping his career numbers by almost six percent in both categories.  So while the next paragraph is going to cast a doubt on Salty's performance from last season, there's no doubt that he did take at least some step forward in his development as a Major League hitter.

And now, the bad news!  It begins with Salty's .372 BABIP, so while he was certainly hitting the ball harder, that 60.4% number tells me that he was less selective at the plate but was bailed out when his hits found a lot of holes.  Despite his overall stronger numbers, 2013 didn't solve Salty's problems from the right side of the plate, as the switch-hitter continued to perform much better against right-handed pitching (.873 OPS in 334 PA) than he did against southpaws (.628 OPS in 136 PA).  This was actually a bigger OPS gap than his career splits (.795 to .599). 

While no catcher is a true "everyday" player in either actual baseball or fantasy baseball, having Salty on your fantasy roster means you need to liberally platoon him and have another solid option on hand as a backup.  If you're in a weekly league, throwing Salty out there every game will cost you any time the Marlins find themselves facing a number of left-handed pitchers in a row.      

And, oh yeah, the Marlins.  Salty is no longer plying his trade at Fenway Park, but rather Marlins Park.  In its two seasons of existence, Marlins Park has been rated as one of the game's worst stadiums for home run hitters, according to Park Factor.  Fenway, interestingly, has been middle-of-the-pack in terms of Park Factor over the last two seasons but needless to say, the last century has told us that Fenway is a pretty hitter-friendly stadium.  Since power is the cornerstone of Salty's game and homers have generally been his only standout feature as a fantasy catcher, his move to Miami could well be enough reason to knock him down a few draft boards.

In fact, Salty has a 269.72 average draft position according to Mock Draft Central's latest ratings, so in a standard 12-team league, nobody is reaching for the Salt until the last round of some drafts.  Just barely ahead of Salty is Montero (269.13 ADP), which seems a bit of a surprise given that Salty is coming off a semi-breakout year and Montero is coming off a disastrous 2013.

After hitting .283/.361/.457 with 58 homers in 1927 PA from 2009-12, Montero was firmly in the second tier of every fantasy manager's catcher rankings, behind only the Poseys and Mauers of the world.  Last year, however, the bottom fell out --- Montero slumped to a .230/.318/.344 slash line, 11 homers, 42 RBI and 44 RBI over 475 PA.

Why this dropoff happened is still a matter of conjecture.  It could've been injury (Montero spent some time on the DL with a bad back), or it was just hard for the slow-moving catcher to beat out the increased number of balls he hit on the ground, given his career-high 1.51 grounder-to-fly ball ratio.  But overall, Montero's peripheral metrics were largely the same as they were during his impressive 2012 season...

...though maybe the problem was that 2012 was an outlier anyway, given Montero's .362 BABIP and his much-improved performance against left-handed pitching.  Montero, like Salty, has also traditionally struggled against southpaws, but in 2012 Montero delivered a solid .767 OPS against lefties to go along with his .859 OPS against righties.  In 2013, however, Montero's BABIP dropped (.282) to below-average levels and his production against southpaws cratered to a .492 OPS in 118 PA. 

Essentially, given the limitations of both catchers, it's a risky proposition to have either Montero or Salty as your primary backstop.  In fact, if you're in a league with just one starting catcher slot, it wouldn't be a bad move to wait until the end of your draft and then try to get them both for a platoon, sitting whichever catcher is facing a lefty on any given day. 

If you're in a two-catcher league and you want only one guy as your C #2, so to speak, then I'd hesitantly take Montero.  He's two years older and he has more miles on his catching odometer than Salty, but since Montero was hands-down the better player over the rest of their careers before 2013, I'll still go with the more proven catcher.  With more BABIP luck and the boost of playing at Chase Field, I prefer the odds of Montero rebounding to the chances of Salty having another "everything goes right" season at Marlins Park.



Go Bold or Go Home: Joe Mauer, First-Round Value

Sometimes we focus so much on the flaws of a player that we lose sight of his accomplishments. I'll admit I was surprised to find that Joe Mauer has been roughly as valuable as Robinson Cano and David Wright over the course of their careers according to bWAR. If there were ever a player with a grade-80 hit tool in the past decade, Mauer would be the one. After all, his .323 career AVG ranks first among active players with at least 3,000 plater appearances. Moreover, he ranks behind only Joey Votto and Albert Pujols among active players in OBP. 

The most remarkable part of all is that Mauer has done this while primarily playing catcher. From a real baseball perspective, that's simply astouding. From a fantasy viewpoint, that's insanely valuable given the replacement level at catcher, especially in standard two-catcher leagues. That, of course, will change this season, as Mauer makes the transition to first base. Even so, in most fantasy leagues he'll still retain catcher eligibility for one final year.

Why does that matter? Well, Mauer has developed a perception as a relatively injury-prone player. In reality, however, he's played at least 130 games six of the past nine years, a perfectly reasonable expectation for a catcher given the daily demands. With the move to first base, though, Mauer would seem to face less stress on his body. In addition, he can continue to DH if necessary. Accordingly, the plan is for Mauer to be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Granted, a move to first base certainly doesn't ensure that Mauer will make it through the season fully healthy.

But make no mistake: the fantasy ramifactions of this are potentially huge. If we can safely pencil in Mauer for 650 plate appearances, he's clearly ahead of Buster Posey as the top catcher for me. What's more, given that level of playing time, he'd rank as a top-12 hitter overall just purely based on crunching the numbers. With 650 plate appearances, Mauer would be a good bet to post a Roto line as follows: 80 / 15 / 80 / 0 / .320.

On the surface, that still may not look like much; however, it's important to keep in mind the sheer volume of contribution that he'd offer in the AVG category. After all, not all batting averages are created equally. When one compares the categorical contribution of a player hitting .320 over 400 plate appearances as opposed to hitting .320 over 650 plate appearances, the difference is significant. In fact, one can make the case that the only player who would project to be more impactful in any category than Mauer would in AVG is Billy Hamilton in SB, and we all know the risks in drafting him.

The stars have aligned for one last year of fantasy greatness for Joe Mauer. In most cases, a player must significantly outperform his previous level of skills to turn a profit for a fantasy owner. On the contrary, Mauer simply has to continue to hit like he always has in the past. With everyday playing time, any dollar value generator that takes into account replacement level at catcher would rank Mauer as a third-round pick at worst in a two-catcher league. And yet, Mauer continues to last on draft boards until at the end of the sixth round.

I fully recommend you mimic my colleague Mark Polishuk, who wisely drafted Mauer in the fifth round of Friday night's RotoAuthority Mock Draft. More on that mock draft tomorrow...



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Catcher

RA Rankings are back with our second installment--if you missed Outfield on Tuesday, check it out now. If you're caught up, feel free to enjoy, utilize, argue with, or otherwise experience our Catcher rankings. These rankings are the product of the RotoAuthority expert team.

Within catchers, the rankings are the same whether you play with one catcher or two, but you're position scarcity matrix is completely different relative to the others. If you play in a single-catcher format, definitely wait on the position: there are plenty of rosterable catchers to go around.

But if you play in a league with two catchers...well that's when this becomes a thin position. Move catchers up significantly your overall rankings or dollar values, because the dropoff this year is an abyss.

That's enough intro. Too much! On to the rankings!

Tier 1: Impact in All Formats

1. Buster Posey

Posey stands alone. Why? Two years ago he was the MVP...his 2013 numbers look like his floor. You get safety and upside.

Tier 2: Choose Your Weapon

2. Joe Mauer

3. Brian McCann

4. Carlos Santana

You've got two choices (and three players) on the next level, once Posey's off the board. McCann and Santana offer serious power (especially with McCann in New York), while Mauer does his Mauer thing with batting average. Ask yourself what kind of production your team needs.

Tier 3: Still Awesome

5. Wilin Rosario

6. Yadier Molina

Same choice, less good options. But still excellent ones. Rosario has OBP issues and doesn't seem to have the faith of his team (Colorado was in the catcher market this winter), so those red flags keep his value below that of McCann and Santana. But he'll probably be a similar player. Molina is like Mauer...only a little less so. You aren't going wrong with either of these guys.

Tier 4: The Safety Net

7. Jonathan Lucroy

8. Salvador Perez

9. Matt Wieters

Lucroy and Perez look very similar, though if Lucroy keeps the homers up, he could launch himself into the next tier. Wieters is Rosario-lite (or what could happen if the latter's BABIP crashes) but his 22 homers still play well in fantasy. This group is the last tier for whom you can comfortably say you know what you're getting into. But that doesn't mean they aren't the last players worth targeting....

Tier 5: Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

10. Yan Gomes

11. Wilson Ramos

12. Jason Castro

13. Evan Gattis

This is my favorite tier to target, actually. In a one-catcher league, I just wait until everyone else is gone and grab one of these guys. In a two catcher, I might do the same...just grab two of them. The reason is upside. Gomes and Ramos looked pretty tremendous in limited playing time last year, and both ought to be full-timers in 2014. Castro was basically an out-of-nowhere star, and Gattis, well he was flavor-of-the-week just early enough for the shine to come off his star. All four of these guys are risks, but catcher is a great position to take a risk since playing time considerations keep even the best catchers from putting up the same numbers other top players do. You just don't lose as much if the dice don't roll your way.

This, by the way, is the last tier that I see as viable starters.

Tier 6: Well do you? Punk?

14. Dioner Navarro

15. Miguel Montero

16. A.J. Pierzynski

17. Ryan Doumit

18. Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Admittedly, Navarro probably won't do anything like replicating last year's half-season in 500 AB. But if he does...well, it's worth the risk in a two-catcher league because his floor is replacement level (like most of the rest still available) and his ceiling is...above that (unlike most of the rest). Will this Montero bounce back? Quick answer: no idea. That's enough to give him a shot.

Pierzynski is for those who don't like to take risks: he is very steadily okay, which is pretty valuable. Doumit and Salty offer a little pop, not much else.

Tier 7: No, Not Really Feeling that Lucky....

19. Travis D'Arnaud

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Russell Martin

22. Mike Zunino

23. Carlos Ruiz

24. Yasmani Grandal

25. Alex Avila

26. Welington Castillo

27. Derek Norris

28. Josmil Pinto

29. Chris Iannetta

30. J.P. Arencibia

If you're taking a second catcher from among these guys (or looking for a bench catcher for some reason), you can choose between low-ceiling veterans like Martin or maybe-this-time prospects like D'Arnaud or Zunino. The real key, of course, is to not have to choose from this tier at all because the upside is so low. If you are forced to draft one of these guys, I'd say wait until the very last round or the very last dollar--why pay more for replacement level?

Speaking of why pay more, check us out again next week: Tuesday will feature First Base, and we'll be back again Saturday with Third Base.



The Market Report: Catchers

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

As I mentioned in my analysis of Round One last week, this week begins our  look at how the market values players at each position. I've opted to use ADP values from Couch Managers, as the mock draft site has more data than Mock Draft Central as of now in the offseason.

As I'll do each week, I've placed players with similar ADPs in tiers to give an idea as to which catchers are considered roughly equal in value in the fantasy marketplace. I'll then identify a few players whom I consider to be undervalued or overvalued. With that out of the way, let's examine the market for catchers entering 2014. ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Buster Posey (38)

2. Carlos Santana (42)

Tier Two

3. Yadier Molina (67)

4. Wilin Rosario (74)

5. Joe Mauer (76)

Tier Three

6. Jonathan Lucroy (90)

7. Brian McCann (98)

8. Salvador Perez (104)

9. Matt Wieters (110)

Tier Four

10. Jason Castro (130)

11. Wilson Ramos (140)

12. Evan Gattis (151)

13. Yan Gomes (155)

Tier Five

14. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (197)

15. A.J. Pierzynski (198)

16. Miguel Montero (207)

Undervalued

Brian McCann (ADP 98)

It feels like McCann has been around forever, but he'll actually be just 30 next season. At a position that has lacked much punch for years now, the new Yankees backstop has been a consistent source of power, hitting at least 20 HR in seven of his eight full seasons. It seems like the fantasy community has given McCann a slight boost in value with the move from a neutral park for left-handed HR to one of the friendliest; however, I don't think fantasy experts fully appreciate the extent to which he'll benefit from his new hitting environment. As a dead pull hitter, McCann and the new Yankee Stdadium are perfect for one another. Sure, he's no spring chicken, but he finished right behind Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in average flyball distance this past season. With Joe Mauer moving to first base, only Yadier Molina hit the ball hard more frequently than did McCann among catchers. While most may no longer view him as a positive contributor in the AVG category, he should back bounce from this past season, given the wide discrepancy between his .261 BABIP and his .296 xBABIP. Finally, given that the Yankees plan to use the DH to rest players, McCann could set a career high in at-bats with the move to the American League. Overall then, while most view McCann as a top-seven catcher, I'd rank him behind only Mauer and Posey.

Wilson Ramos (ADP 140)

It's still early in the offseason, so Ramos may no longer be undervalued come March. After all, other fantasy sites have also noted the potential of the Nationals catcher. Still, the power that Ramos displayed last season was nothing short of phenomenal. Only three players hit the ball farther than Ramos on averageCarlos Gonzalez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Pedro Alvarez. That's it. Two of them are first-round picks, and the other has a good chance to lead the NL in HR. Like McCann, Ramos too was subjected to quite a bit of bad luck in the batted ball department with a .270 BABIP compared to a .304 xBABIP. Indeed, only a handful of players underperformed their expected production more so than Ramos in 2013. The one caveat with Ramos is health, as he's missed significant portions of the past couple seasons with leg injuries. Barring injury, however, few catchers possess the power upside of this Nationals backstop now entering his prime.

Overvalued

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (ADP 197)

Salty enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, finishing as a top-ten catcher for the Red Sox. As a free agent, the backstop then surprised some by signing with the Marlins for three years this offseason. And with that news for me Salty became replacement level at catcher, assuming a two-catcher 12-team mixed league. One of the most underappreciated elements of this game is context. Depending on the circumstances, the same player can be placed in a different environment and witness a drastic change in value. We only have two years of data for Marlins Park at this point, so conclusions can only be drawn with a grain of salt. That being said, in moving from Boston to Miami, Salty enters new surroundings that will severely depress his fantasy value. From a power perspective, the tradeoff may actually not be too bad.

Ignoring park factors, though, let's just focus on the offenses. The Red Sox led all of baseball with 853 runs last year (by a wide margin, no less). On the other hand, the Marlins brought up the rear (again, by a wide margin) with a measly 513 runs. In short, say goodbye to the counting stats. Finally, a key contributor to Salty's value this past season was that he actually helped out fantasy owners with a .273 AVG. Needless to say, this is no True Talent .270 hitter; this is a .250 hitter... at best. As you might expect, luck was on his side in 2013, evident in the stark contrast between his .372 BABIP and .327 xBABIP. When picking your second catcher, you'd like to acquire someone with the potential to perform among the top ten at the position. I just don't see any upside in drafting Saltalamacchia; speculate elsewhere.



Go Bold or Go Home: Yan Gomes Can Be Your Hero Too

 You know Yan Gomes is a hero. Everyone knows. Well, okay, maybe you don't, but he’s a hero in Brazil. In America he plays for Cleveland, so maybe you didn’t know about his heroic deeds.

But you’d better find out before this year’s draft day, because Gomes is the catcher for you.  Those of you who actually read the article I linked above (not most of you) know that Indians manager Terry Francona wants Gomes for his starting catcher next year, over lead-gloved superstar Carlos Santana. Plus, Cleveland can actually put a better lineup on the field that way, with Santana going to first (or third?) and Nick Swisher to the outfield.

Before we dive into the Gomes’s stats, let’s just think about that and let it sink in. The Indians have one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. But they move him to first base. They have a decent hitting first baseman, but they move him into an outfield corner. New guy comes in to play catcher. And the offense gets better?

That’s not how it usually works, and it tells us something special about Gomes: the Indians think he’s better than any of their options to play corner outfield, first base, or third base. That may say bad things about the Indians’ hitting options…or it may say some very good things about Yan Gomes. I’m sure defense comes into play here as well, but that didn’t stop Cleveland from splitting the difference and giving Santana half-time work at catcher the last few years. At very least, Gomes’s management believes in him, and that’s a good place to start. 

I mean, what if Mike Napoli’s management had believed in him when he was an Angel? He would have been fantasy gold. Gomes is too.

My Mike Napoli comparison isn’t exactly fair. For one thing, it looks like Gomes can play catcher effectively—hence the increasing playing time. For another, it looks like he can sort of hit for average, as he batted .294 in 88 games last year. He did this with a lofty .342 BABIP, but the result was good enough that if his BABIP regresses to the mean, he shouldn’t kill your average. 

But you aren’t drafting Gomes for his average—I mean, that’s not why anyone drafts Napoli. You’re drafting Gomes—and you are, I know it—for his power. His .481 slugging was behind only Wilin Rosario and Jason Castro among catchers with at least 300 PA. For those keeping score, that’s better than Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, and his own teammate, Carlos Santana. 

Like I was when I first investigated Gomes, I know you’re thinking, “Small sample size!” And you’re right to do so. But Gomes has been doing this for a while. In 2012, he crushed the ball in AAA. The year before, he did the same thing in AA, and the year before that…well, you get the picture. He’s got three years in a row of .200-plus ISO’s in the minor leagues under his belt, which is to say that his Major League success isn’t really a surprise. It’s more like the logical next step in his development.

Now, one caveat is that he was old for each of those levels when he played at them and he doesn’t come with any kind of top-prospect pedigree. I don’t know if Gomes will be a great catcher for years and years to come; he might be one of those guys who comes up a little late and doesn’t last all that long.

Who cares? (Except, you know, Gomes, the Indians, and every incipient baseball fan in Brazil.) Unless you’re drafting for a dynasty league, we could care less what happens to Gomes after 2014 and all the indicators seem to say that right now, this year, his talent is ready to play at a high level in the Major Leagues. Gomes can catch and he can hit for power and that’s a great fantasy combination. 

If you’re in a single-catcher league, you can safely wait quite a while to snag Gomes. There are a lot of more exciting name-brand options out there, and frankly, all but the last couple teams to draft a catcher in that format will probably be happy with their production. If you target Gomes, you won’t need to break the bank on Yadier Molina or Brian McCann, but you won’t need to settle for Evan Gattis or Jarrod Saltalamacchia either.

In two-catcher leagues, the stakes get higher, but that’s all the more reason to nab Gomes. He’ll produce like a number one catcher if you need him to, but you should be able to draft him late enough to pair with one of the elite options and get a serious advantage in the catcher slot. 

Whatever your format, whatever your strategy, I’m prepared to boldly predict that Yan Gomes will have a great year, and slug over .450 in full playing time. (By the way, that’s exactly .001 points better than Steamer projects him for. Thanks for the support, Steamer.) In a better-than-you-think Cleveland lineup, Gomes ought to be pretty helpful in the counting stats as well. With some BABIP luck, he could be a four-category guy.

Gomes is a national hero in one of the world’s biggest countries. And he can be a hero on your fantasy team too.



2013 Position Rankings: Catchers

Welcome back to RotoAuthority's Position Rankings. Last week, we ranked Outfielders, and today we continue on with Catchers. Slightly less numerous in real and fantasy baseball, our catcher list goes up only to 30...but do you really want the catchers after that? Probably not, and if you do, they'll be waiting on the waiver wire. The players are divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. Positions in parentheses mark other eligibilities the player has. As before, these rankings were crafted after a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff.

2nd Round

1. Buster Posey, SFG (1B)

I'm not normally an advocate of taking a catcher in the second round...but I'd probably make an exception for Posey. He's the top catcher by a mile.

4th Round

2. Carlos Santana, CLE (1B)
3. Yadier Molina, STL
4. Joe Mauer, MIN (1B)

I agonized for a while over who to install second on this list, Santana or Molina. Finally, I was won over by the possibility of Santana building on his power and the likelihood of Molina's homer total returning to its 2011 level. Mauer is more easily behind the other two, because his low power reins in his upside and his history of injuries makes his downside extra-steep.

5th-6th Rounds

5. Wilin Rosario, COL
6. Matt Wieters, BAL
7. Mike Napoli, BOS (1B)

Rosario came out of nowhere (or almost nowhere) to lead catchers in home runs. There seems to be a pretty good chance he does it again, playing in Colorado. Playing first for Boston, Napoli could put up some big numbers. Unfortunately, his health status limits his draft position almost as much as it did his real-life contract. If his own team isn't sure about him, neither am I.

9th-10th Rounds

8. Salvador Perez, KCR
9. Miguel Montero, ARI
10. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
11. Victor Martinez, DET

Perez has put up two awesome partial seasons, and you can count me among those who think he can put them together. This Montero seems to be the rare case of a player getting overrated who does lots of things pretty well but excels in none. I don't think he's in line for a bad season or anything, but I wish he had more power. Martinez is a big question mark, having missed all of last season, but the extra plate appearances he could get as a full-time DH make him a worthy risk.

11th-12th Rounds

12. Brian McCann, ATL
13. Jesus Montero, SEA

A disastrous BABIP killed McCann's batting average last year, but I'd still be willing to draft him closer to his old position if he were expected to be healthy to start the season. Instead, expect to shelf McCann for a little while, though his exact timetable is in flux. He should still be great value, though--by the end of the year you'll have forgotten the weeks you spent with a placeholder catcher. This Montero should benefit from the moving fences in Safeco, though by how much remains to be seen. He could still make the jump to elite-hitting catcher, but the chances go down each year.

13th-14th Rounds

14. Ryan Doumit, MIN (OF)
15. A.J. Pierzynski, TEX

Doumit has some sock, and should get extra at bats playing in the outfield. His ranking makes him among the first second catchers, but don't be unhappy if he's your starter. Pierzynski shocked us all last year. We aren't exactly expecting a repeat, but if even a little of that power sticks with him in Texas, he will be huge value at this point.

17th-18th Rounds

16. J.P. Arencibia, TOR
17. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, BOS

These guys are the same. Lots of power, awful batting averages. Last names that make me question everything I know about spelling. There's a pretty big gap between these two and Pierzynski, because their downside is so low, and even at their best that batting average really drags you down. But they do hit home runs....

20th-22nd Rounds

18. Tyler Flowers, CHW
19. Rob Brantly, MIA
20. Wilson Ramos, WAS
21. Chris Iannetta, LAA

There's another big jump, as we get to the last few catchers started in two-catcher leagues. Flowers is interesting, but his upside appears to be joining Arencibia and Saltalamacchia. Accordingly, make sure they're off the board before you nab Flowers. Brantley could contribute in average, while Ramos and Ianetta might add a few bombs.

23rd and Beyond

22. A.J. Ellis, LAD
23. Welington Castillo, CHC
24. Russell Martin, PIT
25. Alex Avila, DET
26. John Jaso, OAK
27. Travis d'Arnaud, NYM
28. Carlos Ruiz, PHI
29. Yasmani Grandal, SDP
30. John Buck, NYM 

Well, it gets pretty rough back here. Fortunately, only three teams are selecting a starter from this bunch (and one of those is just an injury-replacement for McCann). Ellis and Jaso should get a bump if your league counts OBP. If it doesn't, at least they might score some runs. D'Arnaud is pretty much a prospect stash, while Ruiz and Grandal should only be stashed if you have a ton of bench spots or your league lets you keep suspended players on something like the DL.

Catchers are surprisingly deep this year. Most years, the names start getting ugly really fast, and you're getting a scrub if you don't have a top-six backstop. This time around, though, you can get some quality catchers quite late. In a two-catcher league, my favorite pre-season strategy for this position is to get both of my starting catchers between the ninth and fourteenth rounds, landing me two of the players ranked between eighth and fifteenth on this list. I won't have paid a premium price for my first catcher, and I won't be stuck with bad production with my second. In a single-catcher league, I'll probably try to be among the last to draft a catcher, because the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth catchers are all pretty good. Unless, of course, Buster Posey falls to the third round....



Sleepers & Busts: Injured Backstops

Buster Posey made a lot of people look smart in 2012. His hype machine was derailed somewhat by a grotesque injury, but those who put their faith in him on Draft Day reaped the benefit of said injury's negative impact on his value.

It's not an uncommon scenario. Well, ok, a catcher blowing out his knee then returning a year later to win the MVP is slightly uncommon in real baseball, but in terms of fantasy baseball we see the re-emergence of injured players each and every season. Here are three banged up catchers that are in comparable situations...

Victor Martinez, DET - ADP 109

Martinez enjoyed a strong season in his first year with Detroit, hitting .330/.380/.470 and driving in 103 runs. His power dipped (12 homers), but to call that "elite" production from a catcher would be putting it lightly.

However, V-Mart would then injure his left knee during his offseason training regimen. While there was some speculation that he could return late in the season, Martinez didn't play a single game in 2012.

He's currently the 10th catcher off the board over at MockDraftCentral, going ahead of Salvador Perez. If you look at ESPN's preseason rankings Martinez is the sixth catcher. That places him ahead of Perez, Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero and Wilin Rosario, to name a few.

I understand that Victor Martinez has long been a strong hitter, but the fact of the matter is that he recently turned 34, his power dipped in 2011 as it was, and he's coming off of major reconstructive knee surgery. In fact, before he could even undergo surgery to repair his torn ACL, he first underwent microfracture surgery and had to have his MCL and meniscus repaired. That's not an encouraging injury for someone who caught 6,532 innings from 2004-10 (fifth most of any player in baseball).

If you're still a believer, take a look at the last 20 years of catchers' age 34-36 seasons (min. 400 PAs). Only 10 times has a catcher even managed to be a league-average hitter, per wRC+. Only nine times has a catcher clubbed 15 or more homers at age 34-36.

Martinez at one time was an elite offensive force, but I can't see the justification of drafting him ahead of Perez's .301/.328/.471 batting line with 11 homers (76 games). Nor do I find him justified to be ranked ahead of any of the aforementioned players on ESPN.

Martinez is going two rounds ahead of Perez, per MDC, and a full five rounds ahead of fellow injured backstop Brian McCann. McCann may miss the first few weeks of 2013, but he said mid-January that he's targeting an Opening Day return. Even if he does miss a few weeks, I'll wager that 90% of a full season from the 29-year-old McCann ends up being superior to a full season of the 34-year-old Martinez.

Final ruling: Bust

Brian McCann, ATL - ADP 170

Speaking of McCann, let's discuss the former Top 3 backstop. He underwent shoulder surgery following the season after playing through some serious damage. He received a cortisone shot in August which allowed him to push through October, but an MRI following the Braves' playoff exit revealed a torn labrum. After doctors opened him up, it was discovered that the tear was larger than the MRI had shown. Whoops. And ouch.

As I stated above, McCann is projected to miss the early weeks of 2013, though he himself remains confident that he'll be able to be in the Opening Day lineup. Even if he's out for the first month or so, remember that this is a once-elite catcher who still managed to post his fifth consecutive 20-homer season despite a torn muscle in his shoulder.

He hit a career-worst .230, but that was largely because of a career-worst .234 BABIP. McCann saw his pop-up rate and ground-ball rate both rise, both of which could potentially be attributed to bad swings due to a bum shoulder. He also hit just .623 on line drives (more than 100 points below average).

McCann's plate discipline remained keen. He still whiffed in just 15.6 percent of his plate appearances and walked nine percent of the time. He rarely chased pitches out of the zone (28 percent), and his 87 percent contact rate was the best of his career. He swung through pitches just 5.4 percent of the time -- a noticeable departure from the league average of 9.1 percent.

McCann's value is being deflated by his injury, but he looks primed for a rebound season. Even if his shoulder has deteriorated, McCann still has 20-homer pop in his bat and will hit in the middle of a stacked lineup. If he does miss the early weeks, stash him in a DL spot and employ Erik Kratz for the first 25 games. Carlos Ruiz will be suspended for those games anyhow, and Kratz posted a sky-high .255 ISO for the Phillies last season. That may not be repeatable, but his .206 mark over seven Triple-A seasons suggests he can come close.

I prefer a McCann/Kratz pairing (if Kratz is even necessary) to Ryan Doumit, Jonathan Lucroy and certainly Martinez. Feel free to reach a round or two -- the power and RBIs will be worth it from your catcher slot.

Final ruling: Sleeper

Wilson Ramos, WAS - ADP 278

Ramos may have had arguably the worst 2012 ever. His season began with being kidnapped duringWinter Ball in Venezuela and ended when he tore his ACL in early May. Not exactly the follow-up to his .267/.334/.445, 15-homer 2011 season that many were anticipating.

With a (somewhat) rejuvenated Kurt Suzuki in the fold for the Nationals, Ramos will once again have to beat out an underwhelming veteran to secure the role of Davey Johnson's everyday catcher. Suzuki rebounded offensively to an extent with the Nats, but it barely moved the needle on what has been a horrible three-year stretch. Dating back to 2010, Suzuki has batted .238/.295/.361. And while he's typically around league-average in limiting the running game, he caught just five of 33 potential thieves with Washington in 2012.

In other words, Suzuki doesn't appear to be an iron-clad road block for Ramos to reclaim the starting job. Ramos was long considered one of the game's best catching prospects while with the Twins organization, and he delivered on some of that upside with a strong 2011 showing. He has 15-20 home run power and will be in a better lineup than in 2011.

Still, Ramos is a forgotten man among draftees. He's coming off the board after the likes of Wellington Castillo, Derek Norris (who no longer has a starting job) and Tyler Flowers (career 34% K-rate). Ramos should be a late steal in two-catcher leagues and is a wise target in NL-only leagues as well. I don't anticipate a Top-12 finish, but as the 28th catcher off the board currently he's clearly undervalued.

Final ruling: Sleeper



Grandal Sparks The Padres, Fantasy Lineups

Catcher is baseball's weakest offensive position - the league average for backstops is .246/.314/.397 this year - and arguably the shallowest position in fantasy. You have the elite guys like Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer, the bottom-feeders like Miguel Olivo and Russell Martin, and not a whole lot in-between. Any time an A.J. Ellis-type surprises, he's plucked off the waiver wire in short order. Unless you're rostering one of the top guys, you almost have to hunt catchers like saves in free agency and ride hot streaks.

The latest catching fad is 23-year-old Yasmani Grandal, a switch-hitting rookie who's clubbed four homers in five games since being called up by the Padres last week. Part of last winter's Mat Latos trade, Grandal became the first player in baseball history to hit a home run from each side of the plate for his first two career big league hits. His pinch-hit, two-run dinger off David Hernandez yesterday gave San Diego their fifth straight win. Overall, Grandal has a .300/.300/.900 batting line in 20 plate appearances, a shiny performance in an insignificant sample.

Baseball America ranked Grandal as the fourth best prospect in Cincinnati's system prior to the trade, then placed him 53rd on their Top 100 Prospects List this spring. "[He] will provide above-average offense" because he "has a balanced approach, controls the strike zone and uses the entire field," they wrote in their subscriber-only scouting report. Grandal backed up that scouting report by hitting .335/.443/.521 with more walks (37) than strikeouts (35) in 235 plate appearances in Triple-A this year before being recalled, and it's worth noting that Tucson is a pretty neutral offensive environment according to StatCorner. He's a career .315/.415/.498 hitter in 709 minor league plate appearances after being the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

Now obviously Grandal will not continue to hit homers at this pace, especially since he's yet to step to the plate at Petco Park since being recalled. His five games since last week have been played in Coors Field (two) and Chase Field (three), some pretty good hitting parks. Petco is quite the opposite. That said, the catcher offense bar is so low these days that Grandal is worth a roster spot just on his potential. He'll always be at the platoon advantage as a switch-hitter and he has the skill set to hit for average and pop some homers. His runs scored and RBI totals don't figure to be anything special given the lineup around him, but getting help in two of the traditional 5x5 scoring categories from your catcher is more than most guys can offer. There aren't many position players on the Padres worthy of a fantasy roster spot, but Grandal is clearly one of them.



Recent Call-Ups: Conger, Kirkman, Moore

Let's round up three recent call-ups and their fantasy impact. Two hail from the AL West, the third from the NL East.

Hank Conger | C | Angels

Had it not been for an elbow strain earlier this season, Conger would have been up a long time ago. Chris Iannetta broke his wrist in early-May and the Angels had to turn to Bobby Wilson and John Hester to replace him while their top catching prospect was out. Now that he's healthy -- and Bobby Wilson is on the 7-day concussion DL -- Conger is in the big leagues but playing second fiddle to Hester. He's only started three of eight games since being recalled, including just one of the last six. Hester's solid batting line -- .256/.333/.349 with one homer in 48 plate appearances -- is a hindrance, as is manager Mike Scioscia's affinity for defense-first catchers.

Conger, 24, is seen as an offense-first backstop with a line drive swing from both sides of the plate according to Baseball America. He has more over-the-fence power from the left side and his minor league plate discipline rates -- 14.4% strikeouts and 8.7% walks -- are evidence of his contact-oriented approach. This isn't another Mike Napoli situation but it's similar, the Angels are focused more on defense than offense behind the plate and that works against Conger. With Wilson expected back as soon as this weekend, Conger might find himself back in Triple-A. He's a fantasy non-option until we know he's going to get regular at-bats.

Michael Kirkman | RP | Rangers

The Rangers have lost Derek Holland (shoulder), Neftali Feliz (elbow), and Alexi Ogando (groin) to the disabled list in recent weeks and with Roy Oswalt still a few weeks away, they had to dip into their farm system for a replacement starter. Kirkman, 25, has 29 appearances and 48 2/3 big league innings to his credit already, but all of them have come in relief. He's worked primarily as a starter in Triple-A but his performance hasn't been anything to write home about: 5.25 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9. The walks are a problem now and have been throughout his career based on his 4.9 BB/9 in over 600 minor league innings.

I like Kirkman -- who Baseball America ranked as the teams 28th best prospect coming into the season -- more than most because he's a four-pitch lefty with some funk and deception in his delivery. He's slated to start at home against the Astros on Saturday, making him a fine end of the week candidate if you're desperate for counting stats or need to roll the dice on someone for help in the rate categories. Kirkman might not be long for the rotation with Holland reportedly on the mend, but if he sticks around he'll pick up SP eligibility soon enough.

Tyler Moore | OF | Nationals

Bryce Harper garners all of the attention and rightfully so, but the 23-year-old Moore has two straight 30 homer seasons to his credit in the minors and tagged Triple-A pitching to the tune of .310/.372/.660 before being recalled. He hit two homers yesterday -- the first two of his big league career -- and has started three of Washington's last five games after coming off the bench for the previous month. Baseball America only ranked Moore as the team's 16th best prospect coming into the season because of his high strikeout rate (23.5% of all minor league plate appearances) and defensive shortcomings, but they do acknowledge that his right-handed pop is very real. He's totaled at least 70 extra-base hits in each of the last two minor league seasons.

With Steve Lombardozzi starting to come back to Earth a bit -- .238/.289/.333 in the last 33 team games -- Moore could see more time in left field, particularly against left-handers. He's not going to give you much average or even OBP, but Moore will hit some homers and drive in some runs if given the playing time. Keep an eye on their lineups the next few days, if Moore starts to see more and more playing time, grab him if your team is power-starved.





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