Catcher Tiers – July 2014

Today is kind of a big day for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team. I’m excited. I haven’t really done the chant thing yet, but that’s mostly because I watched their group-stage matches in my home, where for some reason I’d feel more uncomfortable doing it.

I categorized the catchers for this month by USMNT’s all-time leaders in clean sheets. (That’s “shutouts,” which are registered by goalkeepers, for the uninitiated.) The Yanks could use one of those today versus Belgium. I doubt that they’ll be so fortunate, but I expect them to exhibit considerably more promise in the attacking third than they did against zee Germans.

The more clean sheets, the higher the netminder. No subjective hierarchy here. Just like my catcher tiers. Wink wink. You’re welcome to compare to last month’s.

Kasey Keller (47)
Jonathan Lucroy
Buster Posey
Wilin Rosario
Carlos Santana

What can I say about Lucroy? Obviously, I was too slow to acknowledge his ascent to the category of elite for those eligible at this position. He’s a badass. Not just in fantasy baseball. Jeff Sullivan has informed the public that Lucroy has gone Westside Connection on the catcher community.

I’d like to be able to say “I told you so” RE: Santana, but I buckled under the weight of influence. I kind of regret that I dropped him last month.

In a month’s time, Rosario jumped from the low 30s to the high teens in full-season, standard fantasy ratings for backstops. The magnitude of that leap in terms of his placement among them is great, obviously, but the production it took for him to make it isn’t special. I discussed last week his splits that are of concern briefly and the kind of viewpoint I have about his and other players’ performances generally. The dip in his ISO versus RHPs is among a few marks that jump out to me as signs that either he’s encountered his first significant adversity as a major league hitter or other issues (like health) are affecting his performance – or a combo. How will he respond? TBD. When a statistical trend develops like this, a fantasy owner’s worry may follow. It’s not completely unjustified, but it’s much too soon to say that Rosario has been exposed as some kind of fraud. I admit: My fear of Santana-like scenario in part spurs me to stand by Rosario.

Tim Howard (34)
Evan Gattis
Salvador Perez
Miguel Montero
Yadier Molina
Joe Mauer

I had been wondering when Howard would begin to show his age. He has, a bit, because the reflexes aren’t quite what they were and his parries haven’t been clinical, but the 35-year-old still minds the net pretty damn well.

Conversely, I was down on Molina coming into this season and have been reluctant to move him into the top tier. I’m beginning to feel validated on that one. It was a rough June (.210/.278/.309) for the vet. It should be clear by now that his 22 home runs in 2012 represent an outlier. He made his first trip to the DL since 2007 last season for a right knee sprain, and regular, deep playoff runs must take a bit more of a toll on crouchers. The St. Louis Cardinals revealed before this season their hope to reduce the soon-to-be 32-year-old’s workload, but they haven’t done so. This Cards blogger would like to see them follow through, with reason. Former catcher Mike Matheny must find it hard to sit a player who means so much to his team defensively. Molina isn’t a great hitter at his position anymore, though. I don’t proclaim that he’s washed up. He’s still pretty good. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Copy above Santana graf. Paste here. Replace “Santana” with “Perez.” Add: Nice to see signs of life from Mauer, too.

Tony Meola (32)
Derek Norris
Devin Mesoraco
Brian McCann
Yan Gomes
Wilson Ramos

Mesoraco has destroyed major league pitching for three months. I still expect a decent drop-off, mostly because he remains a dead pull hitter. In this breakthrough campaign of his, it’s about how he’ll hit after that happens – assuming it does, an assumption that doesn’t appear to be safe at this stage. Still, nothing about his plate discipline says .300 hitter. I’m not going to predict it, but there is the possibility that the fall could be pretty hard. That development can’t be so much less likely than one in which he keeps this up … can it?

I’m more of a believer in Norris than Mesoraco in the long run, for reasons I outlined a couple of weeks ago. Also, readers appear to be correct: McCann … can’t. I’m not convinced that he’s devoid of power potential, so I won’t call him toast, but it’s been ugly. I’ll look into him more in-depth soon.

Brad Friedel (24)
John Jaso
Russell Martin
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Jason Castro

Not much to say about this tier. There’s been some movement, but that’s mostly because some its former occupants are deservingly gone – I was too generous to a couple of them. The crowd has been panning Castro, but some of that might be bite-back for overestimation of his hitting ability based on his 2013 campaign. I didn’t do much to voice my problems with the optimistic view of Castro prior to the season, but I wasn’t a buyer. Nevertheless, he’s not as bad as his .218 batting average suggests, and he doesn’t have far to go in order to be a respectable No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues that require one.

I haven’t seen many reasons to believe that Martin will continue to hit for a presentable batting average, so the sum result is some give-back for the rest of the season, relative to where he actually sits in fantasy rating for the position.

Brad Guzan (12)
Dioner Navarro
Mike Zunino
A.J. Pierzynski
Carlos Ruiz
Alex Avila
Welington Castillo
Travis d’Arnaud

Guzan is just quality at backup to Howard. It’s possible that the moment would get to him, but at this stage of the pair’s respective careers, Guzan has to be physically superior and would likely present no drop-off.

At catcher, not so much the case with roto and head-to-head gamers’ choices. Pierzynski has floundered along with the Boston Red Sox’s offense. I’m sure that he’ll rebound from this sickly downward spiral, but how well? This is what happens when a 37-year-old catcher’s two-year power spike, aided by plus-plus park factors, disappears and his chase rate moves nearer and nearer to 50%.

Fantasy owners should have a little hope for d’Arnaud, who has gone 8-for-23 since his recall from Triple-A Las Vegas, however. His demotion lasted for less than two weeks, and his .436/.475/.909 slash line in 49 plate appearances while on the farm looks ridiculously promising. Except that the hitting environment at the 51s’ home yard could help Jose Molina win a batting title. According to the team and the player, the major league hiatus was more of an opportunity to cleanse the mind rather than to make any technical alterations – although there was reportedly a minor one of those, also. He’s been much more aggressive since his return than he’s been in his previous stretches in the bigs, albeit that this one is nothing on which we can knowingly hang our hats, but perhaps that’s the beginning of the sign of his freer mind or something.

Arnie Mausser (10)
Stephen Vogt
A.J. Ellis
Chris Iannetta
Hank Conger
Kurt Suzuki
Yasmani Grandal

The Oakland Athletics called up Vogt on June 1 in part because they were hurting for depth in the outfield and he has plenty of experience there. Virtually none of it had come in the majors until this past month, however, and the large majority of it was in left field, not right, where he’s become a semi-regular. The left-handed hitter gives the A’s the flexibility to keep Jaso at DH when they want or need to give Norris a break, too. Oakland is probably happy to have the opportunity to reward Vogt because he’s been a good soldier … who happens to be hitting pretty well, the way he did in spring training and for Class AAA Sacramento. There’s some temp mixed-league value here. It’s just difficult to see where this goes based on his spotty track record and uncertainty about where he fits in the PT picture once more bodies are available. Intriguing, at least, though.

I guess it’s about time that I give Suzuki some credit. His batted-ball data suggests that there’s been a bit of a change to his swing plane. That would align with something a commenter on a previous catcher-themed post reported having read: The Minnesota Twins invested some serious time with Suzuki to improve his hitting mechanics this past winter. The rotisserie output isn’t all that valuable, but there’s something to be said for the possibility of two more months of empty batting average.

Mark Dodd (7)
Caleb Joseph
Tyler Flowers
Ryan Hanigan
Geovany Soto
Josmil Pinto
Robinson Chirinos

Matt Wieters exited the rankings quietly and unceremoniously. The Baltimore Orioles have been going with Joseph, 28, as their primary catcher. He was once a warm prospect in the organization and belted 22 home runs in 2013. That achievement would probably be a little more impressive had it not come in his age-27 season and his fourth go-round at the Double-A level. It’s not like the O’s were going to have a place for him before now, though, and hey, he does have some pop. Add it to Camden Yards, and who knows. What are they going to do, bring Steve Clevenger back up? Joseph can’t be any worse than Flowers, right?

Nick Rimando (6)
Hector Sanchez
Nick Hundley
Ryan Doumit
Brayan Pena
Chris Gimenez

I can’t say for certain that I’ve seen any of Rimando’s 14 career national-team caps, but he has a fine reputation, forged from exceptional play in MLS. USMNT have some nice depth at the position in the World Cup, should it ever come to that.

That’s more than I can say about your fantasy baseball team if you’re using one of the catchers in this final tier, even as your second backstop in an -only league. Those in this handful just have that C and kind of sit on the cusp of more playing time for one reason or another. They’re surely interchangeable with plenty of those who loiter with the dregs of this spot.

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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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So if you replace “Santana” with “Perez,” why isn’t Perez in the top tier (and he’s also been more valuable than Rosario)?