Value Catchers: How Were They Found?

I have a habit of investing heavily in catchers in two-catcher mixed leagues.  Like many of my longstanding tendencies, this needs to be reconsidered.  I could have snagged Dan Haren or Jered Weaver for my rotation instead of Geovany Soto, and a quality closer like Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, or Jose Valverde instead of Mike Napoli

This has been a disappointing year for catchers, with at least five of the first ten drafted looking like busts.  But there have always been fantasy players who ignore position scarcity and just try to find bargain catchers late, and if they hit on this strategy their teams are much stronger for it.  A look at this year's top ten fantasy catchers and how they were acquired in leagues:

  1. Alex Avila, Tigers.  In the RotoAuthority League, the team that has Avila added him as a free agent on March 26th, dropping Ervin Santana.  That team dropped him the same day for Joel Peralta, then added him again on March 30th.  Then the team cut him for Julio Borbon on April 3rd, but added him April 7th for the last time while dropping Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Avila hit his second home run of the season in his fifth game, and by then the indecisiveness was over and he remained a member of Philly Cheez.  After an ugly 2010 season offensively, Avila was simply a flier that worked out.  Perhaps a savvy player could have targeted Avila after looking him up in the 2010 Baseball America Handbook, where he was projected as a possible .280/15 home run type.
  2. Victor Martinez:, Tigers.  V-Mart profiled as a top five fantasy catcher, and he required a third round investment.  With all kinds of studs on the board at the end of the third round, and Martinez moving to a pitcher's park, this felt fairly risky to me.  But it paid off.
  3. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks.  Montero was a respected catcher, though after an off 2010 that included knee surgery, he was available in the 11th round in many leagues and the 10th in mine.  The team that took him went for A.J. Pierzynski in the 19th round as their second catcher.
  4. Brian McCann, Braves.  McCann was another of the big investment types, as he went first in the fifth round in our league.  In this case the investment looks good, though we've seen plenty of early round catching busts.
  5. Miguel Olivo, Mariners.  Olivo was drafted in the 23rd round in our league.  Solid value, as I had him projected for 17 home runs this year.  His home run power has not held up at Safeco, so he hit seven of his ten on the road.  This is an example of drafting a catcher who has one particular skill.  One thing that might have been anticipated was increased playing time and therefore bigger counting stats for Olivo.
  6. Russell Martin, Yankees.  Martin was drafted in the 21st round in our league, a little earlier than most.  Back in spring there were questions about Martin's surgically-repaired knee, plus he hadn't shown double digit power since '08.  This pickup might only look good because Martin had a big April.  It remains to be seen if he can hold value all year.
  7. Yadier Molina, Cardinals.  He was a 20th round pick in our league, from the same team that took Olivo in the 23rd.  As a high contact guy Molina can hit .300 in certain years, and that's what's making him valuable right now.  In that regard, guys like A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz, Ramon Hernandez, and Ryan Hanigan might reward you in batting average if you're lucky.
  8. Matt Wieters, Orioles.  Wieters was a tenth round pick in our league, as everyone still kind of anticipates a breakout.  He hasn't done anything amazing, but he doesn't hurt you either.  Really, you expect more than .275-6-31-23-0 from a tenth round pick, though that looks great to the guy who made a huge reach for Soto in the sixth round.  Yes, that's why I'm in last place.  Then again, if Soto repeated his '08 or '10 season over 425 ABs this year the pick would look just fine.
  9. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays.  Arencibia went in the 20th round.  He's doing exactly what was expected - showing 20 home run power and hitting in the .230s.  Pretty much a young fantasy Olivo, but with more upside and a better ballpark.
  10. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers.  Lucroy was picked up in our league on April 21st by a team that dropped Hanigan.  He's basically matched Wieters.  His work in the high minors didn't hint at double digit power.

Only two examples of waiver bait here, so picking your catchers on draft day is important.  A good strategy might be to grab one of the 10-11th round younger upside types, pairing him with a 20th round veteran or Arencibia-type flier.

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Catcher Rankings

It's time to get serious and attempt some position rankings for mixed leagues.  This is how we find the undervalued players.  As always, my dollar values reflect a 12-team mixed league with 23-man active rosters (two catchers).  As such, the 24th-ranked catcher should be worth a buck.

Please note that these rankings are very much subject to change and I welcome your input.  I've included the player's average round drafted per Mock Draft Central in parentheses.  Also keep in mind that playing time is crucial to these rankings, and a swing of 75 ABs one way or another would move a player several spots.

  1. Joe Mauer (2) - $30.12
  2. Carlos Santana (10) - $22.92
  3. Buster Posey (4) - $22.87
  4. Victor Martinez (3) - $22.47
  5. Brian McCann (3) - $20.68
  6. Jorge Posada (14) - $13.90
  7. Geovany Soto (9) - $13.63
  8. Mike Napoli (10) - $13.54
  9. Chris Iannetta (28) - $12.34
  10. Kurt Suzuki (16) - $12.29
  11. Matt Wieters (12) - $11.97
  12. Miguel Montero (11) - $10.59
  13. John Buck (20) - $9.03
  14. A.J. Pierzynski (25) - $7.14
  15. Miguel Olivo (21) - $6.78
  16. Russell Martin (27) - $5.32
  17. Yorvit Torrealba (32) - $5.26
  18. Carlos Ruiz (19) - $5.25
  19. Yadier Molina (18) - $5.08
  20. Nick Hundley (Not drafted) - $4.37
  21. Rod Barajas (31) - $3.15
  22. Ramon Hernandez (33) - $2.90
  23. Chris Snyder (34) - $2.31
  24. Jonathan Lucroy (28) - $1.00

Carlos Santana deserves special mention.  He's not necessarily a better bet than all those catchers listed after him.  I simply think he will do big things if he gets 480 ABs.  It could be a fluke, but his nine steal attempts in 438 PAs last year lead to a seven-steal projection for 2011, which would top all catchers except for Martin.  Throw in a .280 average, 20 homers, and 80 RBIs, and you can see why Santana would sneak past guys with similar numbers but six fewer steals.  Santana is a riskier choice than backstops like Posey, V-Mart, and McCann, but that's balanced by his 10th round ADP.  He had knee surgery in August, and is now doing baseball activities and is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Posada jumps out as a potential bargain.  I've put him down for 500 ABs, which might be aggressive but seems quite possible as a full-time DH.  He is coming off a minor November knee surgery and is 39, so that's why you'll find him in the 14th round.  But he's easily in the top ten if he can hit 20 homers and knock in 80.  Soto is another player coming off surgery; he had a September procedure on his shoulder.  If Soto finds 475 ABs he's a fourth-round value.

Iannetta is so far off the radar that he is not being drafted in mixed leagues.  He's the starting catcher for the Rockies and should have no problem reaching 20 home runs for the first time if he gets 450 ABs.  He only has to fend off Jose Morales for those ABs.  I can see Buck reaching 20 homers again, as the Marlins gave him a big contract and barring injury he should set a career-high in ABs.  Hundley also has a clearer path to a career-high in playing time, with Rob Johnson serving as his backup.

I've always been a big Napoli fan, but he does not have a starting job right now and I'm hesistant to project more than 400 ABs.  Bump him from 400 to 450 and he jumps to $17.53, so take a chance if you think he'll sneak in those additional ABs bouncing around at third-string catcher and backup 1B/DH.  Guys like Ryan Doumit, Jesus Montero, and Kelly Shoppach would also intrigue me with 450 ABs.  Injuries to catchers are common, which is why you have to watch RotoWorld like a hawk.

Back in August I was intrigued by J.P. Arencibia, labeling him the Napoli of 2011 minus playing time issues.  However, I am starting to think the better comp might be Barajas or Snyder.  Can Arencibia crack a .240 average or rack up decent RBI/run numbers at the bottom of Toronto's lineup?  It's possible he gives you 20 home runs and little else, so I'd take him only as a second catcher during the last few rounds.

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2010 Sleepers: Catchers

Thanks to Baseball Monster, here are 2010's top mixed league catchers.  I've also added the round in which they were drafted in March, using data from Mock Draft Central.

  1. Joe Mauer (2)
  2. Brian McCann (4)
  3. Mike Napoli (14)
  4. Miguel Olivo (21)
  5. Geovany Soto (13)
  6. Buster Posey (24)
  7. John Buck (28)
  8. Kurt Suzuki (11)
  9. Victor Martinez (2)
  10. Jorge Posada (11)
  11. John Jaso (not drafted)
  12. Russell Martin (12)
  13. Yadier Molina (19)
  14. Ramon Hernandez (25) 
  15. Jason Kendall (not drafted)
  16. Carlos Ruiz (24)
  17. Miguel Montero (12)
  18. Yorvit Torrealba (27)
  19. Rod Barajas (27)
  20. Ryan Doumit (17)
  21. Matt Wieters (8)
  22. Chris Snyder (not drafted)
  23. Ronny Paulino (not drafted)
  24. Ivan Rodriguez (28)

Those who returned major value: Napoli, Olivo, Soto, Posey, and Buck.  Let's attempt to classify these five players and determine why they were undervalued. 

  • Napoli: Playing time concerns.  Fantasy leaguers must have overreacted to concerns that Jeff Mathiswould get most of the playing time for the Angels behind the plate.  It is true that Napoli benefited from Kendry Morales' freak injury.  But there was no reason to think Napoli would not get 375 ABs, which is why I ranked him sixth among catchers.
  • Olivo: Playing time concerns.  I figured Olivo to be Chris Iannetta's backup and accordingly projected 225 ABs.  He would've cracked the top 15 with 375 ABs.  As early as March 17th Rockies manager Jim Tracy suggested Olivo and Iannetta would split time initially, so savvy drafters knew Olivo's value could skyrocket with an Iannetta slump.  There is an element of luck or Coors Field involved in Olivo hitting .281. 
  • Soto: Had experienced success, but disappointed in previous season.  The "what have you done lately" fantasy mantra caused Soto to drop to the 13th round.  He'd gone in the sixth coming off his Rookie of the Year campaign.  I ranked him seventh among catchers before the season just based on projected numbers.  But we all knew there was room for more given '08 and the weight Soto lost in the offseason.
  • Posey: Playing time and call-up concerns.  We thought Posey's call-up might be delayed until June, and that he'd have a hard time supplanting Bengie Molinaanyway.  But not only is Posey projecting for 300 ABs, he's playing far beyond what I thought he was capable of as a rookie.  Posey raked in Triple A before his call-up, even more so than in 2009, and those numbers combined with positive scouting reports made him worth stashing in May if possible.
  • Buck: History showed major flaw in his game.  Buck was a career .235 hitter entering the season, and his .277 average this year separates him from the Chris Snyders of the world.  Baseball HQ says Buck's expected batting average is .260 this year, but I still think the batting average is mostly a fluke this year.  If you say you drafted Buck because you thought he'd provide his usual power numbers plus a .277 average, I don't believe you.
  • The cases of Napoli, Olivo, Soto, and Posey might be instructive.  Heading into the 2011 season we'll try to identify skilled catchers who are dropping due to playing time concerns or backstops who had big years in 2009 but slumped in 2010.  That's where the sleepers will be found.

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J.P. Arencibia Examined

Unfortunately it's probably too late to pick up Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, who homered twice in his Saturday big league debut.  The 24-year-old's power shouldn't come as a surprise - he hit .303/.360/.639 with 32 home runs in 420 Triple A plate appearances this year.

Keep in mind that Arencibia is more of a 2011 target, aside from the next nine Jays games.'s Jordan Bastian wrote today that All-Star catcher John Buck is on track for an August 20th return, at which point Arencibia will go back to Triple A.  I imagine Arencibia will be back again on September 1st.  However, keep in mind that the Blue Jays want Buck to achieve Type B free agent status, so they're unlikely to sit him an extraordinary amount in September.

Arencibia profiles as next year's Mike Napoli, hopefully without the playing time issues.  I see him smacking 20+ home runs but with a batting average potentially south of .260.  Even after his '08 season Napoli was drafted in the 14th round on average, so you should be able to get Arencibia in that range next year.  Another comparison: after the '07 season, Geovany Soto was going in the 16th round.

Good Catchers Lacking Playing Time

Catchers with 20 home run power are rare, but two such players are mostly riding the pine so far this year: Mike Napoli and Chris Iannetta.  Consider trying to acquire them if you've got second catcher problems in a mixed league.

This is a good opportunity to buy low on either player.  In a two-catcher league, if you let the second spot go on draft day, you might be tempted to piece things together with the Jason Kendalls and Gregg Zauns of the world.  This is a big mistake.  A dozen additional home runs on your ledger at season's end - what kind of difference would that make in the standings?  In the RotoAuthority league last year, second place had 306 home runs and fifth place had 297.  Three points in the standings is a big deal, and Napoli and Iannetta will provide more RBIs than waiver catchers as well.

That's not considering the very real possibility that Napoli and/or Iannetta is thrust into more frequent duty.  Chris Snyder would've been on this list, but Miguel Montero went down.  Dioner Navarro became a full-timer with Kelly Shoppach's injury. 

In this year's RotoAuthority league, I drafted Geovany Soto in the 10th round but foolishly let my second catcher go until a 25th round pick of Ramon Hernandez.  A leaguemate proposed sending me Iannetta for Joel Pineiro, and I pulled the trigger.  Seems like a trade that can work for both sides.

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Catcher Rankings

It's time to bust out our tentative catcher rankings for two-catcher, 12-team mixed leagues using AVG, HR, RBI, R, and SB.  These are subject to change, and I'm open to arguments in the comments.  Current average draft round is in parentheses.

  1. Joe Mauer (2) - $30.33
  2. Brian McCann (4) - $23.19
  3. Victor Martinez (3) - $20.43
  4. Matt Wieters (9) - $17.41
  5. Russell Martin (12) - $16.85
  6. Mike Napoli (15) - $15.67
  7. Geovany Soto (13) - $13.65
  8. Kurt Suzuki (12) - $12.72
  9. Ryan Doumit (18) - $10.80
  10. Jorge Posada (10) - $10.30
  11. Bengie Molina (14) - $9.91
  12. Miguel Montero (13) - $9.55
  13. A.J. Pierzynski (22) - $8.26
  14. Chris Iannetta (16) - $8.16
  15. Yadier Molina (20) - $7.75
  16. Kelly Shoppach (27) - $5.52
  17. Ramon Hernandez (26) - $5.44
  18. Carlos Ruiz (23) - $5.02
  19. John Buck (28) - $3.88
  20. John Baker (27) - $3.53
  21. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (27) - $3.38
  22. Gerald Laird (27) - $1.52
  23. Nick Hundley (28) - $1.20
  24. Gregg Zaun (not drafted) - $1.00

The problem with projecting a lot of these guys is figuring out playing time.  How many ABs will Napoli, Doumit, Posada, Montero, Iannetta, Shoppach, Hernandez, and Baker get?  Right now we can only guess; the projections will be refined if managers are revealing during Spring Training.

We're calling for a bit of a bounceback for Martin, and he is the one real SB threat, but I'm still wary.  If you decide to take a pass on the Big Three, I'd attempt to get Wieters and/or Soto in rounds 9-13.  Those two could enter McCann/V-Mart territory depending on their spots in the batting order.

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What The Hell Is Wrong With...Geovany Soto?

First up in our What The Hell Is Wrong With...series, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto.  The 25 year-old catcher has two hits in 24 plate appearances on the young season.  Granted, the Cubs' season is less than 7% over.  But, Soto has been a complete non-factor in fantasy baseball so far.

First off, Soto's WBC appearance threw off his preparation.  He fell behind in his hitting prep and put on some pounds, according to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald in March.  On April 7th, Soto left the Cubs' game against the Astros due to shoulder soreness/discomfort.  He said it wasn't the first time he's had this type of discomfort.  The MRI came back clean, and Soto returned on the 12th as a pinch-hitter.

Soto set the bar pretty high with his Rookie of the Year numbers - .285-23-86-66-0 in 494 ABs last year.  That's an expectation of about 4 HR and 14 RBI per month.  His worst month last year was July; he posted a .740 OPS and still managed 4 HR and 11 RBI.  You hate to see a catcher get off to a slow start, since you expect to see their best numbers in the first half before they get worn down.

Soto typically was drafted in the sixth round this year, after Russell Martin and Brian McCann among catchers.  I sprung for him in the fifth round of the RotoAuthority league, with Martin, McCann, and Joe Mauer already off the board.  Victor Martinez went in the sixth round, and that pick is working out well for Philly Cheez so far.  (By the way, Cult of Personality snagged Yadier Molina in the 23rd and Brandon Inge was an April 1st free agent pickup by Volvo Wagon Dynasty). 

All of that might be interesting (at least to me) but the bottom line is that with Soto and other slow starters, draft position and the stats so far are sunk costs.  He's on your roster, there's nothing better out there, and you have to wait and hope he starts hitting in May.  At least we have an explanation for Soto's April.  Baseball Prospectus has his Collapse Rate at 16% - basically the chance that his offense decreases by 20%+ compared to his established performance.  I think Soto will be fine, and it's just a matter of catching up after the WBC.

Catcher Draft Trends

Assuming a 12-team league, let's take a look at the typical draft trends for catchers using Mock Draft Central data.

The catcher train typically gets rolling with Russell Martin in the 4th round.  Brian McCann goes a few picks later, and then Joe Mauer a few after that (Mauer often in the 5th).  Those are the elite three, and I have them all within pennies of each other in dollar value. 

The next tier includes Geovany Soto and Victor Martinez.  These guys go around the 6-7th rounds.  In my opinion Soto is worth $4.69 more, so don't treat them as interchangeable.

The next tier doesn't get moving until the 11th round with Ryan Doumit.  I see Doumit with a value comparable to V-Mart, so it's worth waiting if it's between the two.  Matt Wieters goes a few picks after Doumit, an entirely reasonable place for him.  Then you'll see Chris Iannetta in the 12th and Mike Napoli in the 13th.  You know I'm a big Napoli fan.

In the 15th round, Bengie Molina kicks off the next group.  There's a lull until Jorge Posada goes in the 18th (intriguing) and Jeff Clement goes in the 19th.  Drafters are digging Clement but I think there are better choices.  Four guys go in succession starting in the 20th: Dioner Navarro, A.J. Pierzynski, Ramon Hernandez, and Kurt Suzuki.  I'll take Pierzynski and Hernandez, of that group.

In the 23rd round, Gerald Laird kicks off a string of late picks.  He's followed by Brandon Inge (nice value), Kelly Shoppach, Kenji Johjima, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Varitek, and Yadier Molina.  So now we've seen the top 24 catchers as valued by the market.  Seems like drafters go for names they know at the endgame.

Undrafted backstops worth considering over many of those veterans: Chris Snyder, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and J.R. Towles.

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Catcher Rankings

Here is a tentative look at my catcher rankings and dollar values for a two-catcher 12-team mixed league.  These will definitely be tweaked plenty before draft day.

I used 20 games for eligibility, so Pablo Sandoval (11 games caught) did not make the cut.  If he had, he'd be just below the range of Ryan Doumit and Geovany Soto.  Sandoval's eligibility is a huge factor in two-catcher mixed leagues, especially if the Giants do not acquire a third baseman.  Taylor Teagarden (12 games caught) would also be draftable if eligible.

Here's the list, with draft round in parentheses.

  1. Brian McCann - $19.72 (4)
  2. Joe Mauer - $19.21 (5)
  3. Russell Martin - $18.89 (4)
  4. Mike Napoli - $17.83 (13)
  5. Victor Martinez - $16.61 (7)
  6. Geovany Soto - $15.36 (6)
  7. Ryan Doumit - $15.30 (11)
  8. Matt Wieters - $13.14 (11)
  9. Chris Iannetta - $10.67 (12)
  10. Bengie Molina - $10.53 (14)
  11. Jorge Posada - $9.10 (18)
  12. Ramon Hernandez - $7.42 (22)
  13. A.J. Pierzynski - $6.82 (21)
  14. Brandon Inge - $5.43 (24)
  15. Chris Snyder - $5.06 (27)
  16. Kelly Shoppach - $4.42 (23)
  17. Miguel Olivo - $3.70 (28)
  18. Gerald Laird - $3.28 (23)
  19. Dioner Navarro - $3.11 (21)
  20. Kurt Suzuki - $2.71 (21)
  21. J.R. Towles - $2.13 (28)
  22. Yadier Molina - $1.80 (26)
  23. Rod Barajas - $1.68 (28)
  24. Jesus Flores - $1.00 (28)

The problem with dollar values is that they hinge on playing time.  Among these 24, there is extra uncertainty with Napoli, Wieters, Shoppach, Olivo, and Towles.  Catchers such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Carlos Ruiz, John Baker, Jeff Clement, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Montero, and Kenji Johjima would be in the mix with 400+ ABs.

I like to try to get two of the top seven, but occasionally I'll stretch to the Posada level for my second guy.

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Napoli Could DH's Lyle Spencer continues to beat the drum for the Angels to give Mike Napoli significant time at designated hitter in 2009.  He says Mike Scioscia's stance has softened on the idea recently and it will be discussed during Spring Training.

With 406 ABs, we have Napoli as an $18 player given his catcher eligibility.  We're currently ranking him 5th among catchers due to a projected 26 HR.  Bump that to 500 ABs, though, and Napoli easily passes Joe Mauer as fantasy baseball's most valuable backstop.  His only negative would be a .250 AVG, easily overcome by his other stats.

Napoli is currently being drafted in the 15th round, 10th among catchers.  In a recent Mock Draft I did, I was chilling and waiting to take Napoli in the 14th or 15th.  Instead, some guy using AutoSelect took him in the 11th.  Not sure if it means anything.  MDC says Napoli has been picked as early as the 8th round.  If you become dead set on Napoli, and that's a dangerous thing to do with any player, you might have to plan to take him around the 11th or 12th round.  Last year I reached on Rafael Furcal, Corey Hart, and Matt Kemp, and it paid off for the two outfielders.  It is possible to get too reliant on Average Draft Position data.

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