Catching Low with Upside

Consider that Rod Barajas and his .711 OPS is probably the 12th best catcher in most formats currently, and you’ll realize how thin the catching position really is. The buy-low catcher is an important phenomenon, especially in two-catcher leagues. Let’s take a look at two guys that could yet net you a top-12 finish at the position, despite their currently ugly stats.

Geovany Soto – Almost every secondary statistic screams that Soto is a great buy-low. Of course, any player with “Sweet” Lou Piniella as their manager has to come with an asterisk next to their name. They could be subject to the vagaries of their impulsive manager, and just as likely to end up in AAA as starting regularly. That’s how Soto ended up on the bench for a two game mental breather this past week. Maybe Piniella will take credit for the impending hot streak.

Yes, his four for eight so far this week (with a home run) should be the beginning of something good for Soto. Let me count the ways. The first is that his BABIP is a meager .261 against a .328 career number. This is in the face of a 20.9% line drive percentage, which is both decent and in line with his career percentage (20.6%). His fly ball rate, ground ball rate, walk rate and strikeout rate are all either the same as his career rates – or better. He’s walking more than ever and striking out less than ever. Pitchers are sending him more or less the same mix of pitches, and he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone.

When all of a player’s career numbers are the same or better, and only one number isn’t right, it’s a great bet that the player will recover to his career norms. A quick check at the speed of balls leaving his bat (thanks to Harry Pavlidis and his look at the speed of balls leaving the bat) shows us that Soto has about as many 90+ mph balls leaving his bat as Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley. Yes, he’s a good buy-low.

Chris Iannetta – This situation is not as clear. Early on in the season, I took a look at Iannetta’s legendary batted ball statistics. Back then he had a 5.1% line drive rate, easily the worst in the league. Along with his 69.2% fly ball percentage, his stats painted the picture of a young catcher swinging for the fences.

As with all outliers in small sample sizes, these numbers quickly came back into the fold. Iannetta is sporting a relatively robust 13.8% line drive percentage now, and a more modest 55% of his balls are traveling through the air. He’s still swinging for the fences – and now that it’s not so extreme, this is probably a good thing.

All the other numbers are mostly trending positive. He has the highest walk rate of his career, and his strikeout percentage is now at a three-year low. He’s swinging at fewer balls outside the zone than his career rate, and his contact rate in the zone and overall are above his career numbers.

Considering that his career line drive percentage is 19.5% in 865 career plate appearances, the ZiPS RoS prediction of a .261/.369/.479 finish to the season (with 10 more home runs) seems very achievable. If he can combine a higher line drive rate with the career-high fly ball rate, he could, of course, better the projection considerably, making him another good buy-low candidate.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

One Response to “Catching Low with Upside”

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  1. Kampfer says:

    Maybe someone told Iannetta to use Coors Field more than he had been.

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