Drafting Catchers: What’s the Rush?

OK, RotoGraphers.  Your Monday morning cup of coffee from this week forward will be accompanied by some sort of discussion revolving around catchers and all the fantasy deliciousness they provide.  Since the season has yet to begin and several of you are still waiting to draft, let’s talk about when is the best time to grab your help behind the dish.  Is it wise to invest a late 2nd/early 3rd round pick on Joe Mauer or is the position deep enough to wait until later?  Fresh cup of java in hand….let’s get to it…

Bottom line for me is that unless you have some unhealthy obsession with a particular player, selecting a backstop as early as Mauer has gone in some of the mock drafts I’ve done is ridiculous.  I just don’t see it.  Yes, the batting average is phenomenal.  I won’t deny that.  But if I wanted 10 HR and 75 RBI, why wouldn’t I just wait 15 rounds later and grab A.J. Pierzynski?  Is the batting average that important?  Even if Mauer finds a happy medium between 2009’s career totals and last year’s drop-off, his numbers aren’t that much better than atleast a dozen other catchers out there.  So essentially, you’re wasting a crazy high draft choice for a single category.

Beyond Mauer, I see Victor Martinez and Brian McCann coming off the board pretty soon after and you know what…?  They can have ’em!  There’s plenty of mileage on each of them, injury histories that can’t be ignored, and let’s not forget the fact that V-Mart is now calling a park where he’s hit .184 with no HR and 3 RBI in 38 AB over the last 3 seasons, home.  A small sample size?  Absolutely.  But a shoddy track record nonetheless.

The only guy from  the top tier of RotoGraphs’ Catcher Rankings that I can see taking for a quality value based on draft position is Buster Posey and that’s only if A. it’s a keeper league, B. you firmly believe that he will hit .300, and/or C. you’re not getting him earlier than a 4th round pick.  Personally I think he’s going to be the studliest of backstops by year’s end which makes him worth the reach.

The others, not so much.

Check out the ADP Rankings over at Mock Draft Central and look at how far down the other catchers, beyond the aforementioned top 4, are being taken.  Geovany Soto is the next highest to be taken and that’s somewhere around the 99th pick — 8th round in a 12 team mixed league.  Even with time lost due to injury, he put up numbers comparable with all four.  Imagine getting V-Mart production without V-Mart prices?  Couple that with the fact that you’ve spent your first 7 picks building up everywhere else and you’ve got a seriously well rounded squad.

And the further down you go in the rankings, the production still seems to be prevalent.  Mike Napoli and his 20 HR in 400 AB as the 120th overall pick?  What about everyone gushing over Carlos Santana?  Bill James is projecting a .280-22-91 batting line and he’s going somewhere around the 132nd pick.  There’s been a ton of talk about the power potential of J.P Arencibia and now we’re talking about the 320th pick.  That’s the 21st round of a 15 team league.

The point is, you don’t need to go running after the top tier talent in your draft if you feel that other positions are important.  Yes, it’s nice to have the security of knowing you’ve got some seriously proven talent back there, but not at the expense of building yourself up a stronger infield or a deeper pitching staff.  If you think you know the rest of your league owners well enough to know that you’ll be able to build a solid squad and snag a top catcher, then power to you.  Go right ahead.  But if you aren’t sure about what you can do for yourself later in the draft at, say, third base or shortstop, then put the catchers on the back burner.  You’ll be able to find someone productive much later on.

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

38 Responses to “Drafting Catchers: What’s the Rush?”

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  1. Resolution says:

    Yahoo ruined the fun by pre-ranking Carlos Santana at like 70…

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  2. Yreb says:

    Ditto to what Resolution said. You have to pay attention to pre-rankings when interpreting ADP. There’s no way Santana makes it to 132 in a Y! league.

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  3. Jason says:

    Same as ESPN, he’s like pick 70 or something there as well.

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    • Friedman says:

      91…sad that if i want him i have to reach. in those i’d rather wait a couple of rounds and grab soto

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  4. RotoChamp says:

    I really think you are leading people down the wrong path and making a mistake that is common amongst fantasy pundits.

    When we isolate batting average in RotoChamp as the only hitting category in order to see how valuable a player is in that category, Joe Mauer is a $51 player in the fictional 1-category league.

    If we isolate HRs then Mike Stanton is a $34 (slightly more valuable than Pujols because of positional scarcity).

    If we isolate Runs then Pujols is at the top with a $36 price tag.

    If we isolate RBIs then Cano is the most valuable at $34.

    If we isolate SBs then Ellsbury is the most valuable at $42.

    Mauer isn’t just good in 1 category, he’s unbelievably good in that category and better in that category than anybody else in any other of the 5×5 categories.

    The key to drafting Mauer is to have a strategy beyond Mauer. If you were to draft him and then you must be aware that you need to heavily…and I mean heavily…invest in guys like Adam Dunn and/or Mike Stanton (or low average high steal guy like Bourn). The problem is when you draft Mauer and then end up with Billy Butler as your 1B. If you are projected to win batting average at then end of the draft after drafting Mauer then you may not have done a good job with your remaining picks. Your goal should be to finish around 2-4th place in all the categories so that you always have points to gain during the season. If you end up with a .290 batting average and the next team is .286 then you have de-leveraged Mauer’s skill and not gotten full value from your pick. However, if you finish in 3rd place in batting average then you have leverage all of Mauer’s main skill.

    My guess is that many fantasy managers that pick Mauer will end up winning batting average and not leveraging his full value. Thus, they have drafted sub-optimally and are left buying into the false theory that Mauer isn’t worth a high pick.

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    • todmod says:

      Mauer also isn’t a one category player. That analysis just blatantly ignores runs scored. Mauer had 37.5% more runs than the 2nd highest catcher last year (VMart, 88 to 64). That is a giant difference, worth several points in the standing just compared to another highly drafted catcher.

      Pretty shoddy analysis. I don’t even like taking a catcher early, but you can at least present it honestly.

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      • adohaj says:

        You make his arguments more convincing. So Mauer is by far the best pick to inflate your BA, but you get runs too.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      “Mauer isn’t just good in 1 category, he’s unbelievably good in that category and better in that category than anybody else in any other of the 5×5 categories.”

      I’d rather draft Ichiro who seems to be going about 10 picks later. Rivals Mauer in BA and runs scored AND he kicks in the SBs.

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      • tcyoung says:

        But the point isn’t to compare Mauer to all other baseball players. Mauer’s value lies in the fact that he plays catcher. He has ridiculous avg and run numbers when you compare him to your other options at Catcher. The point being, if you don’t draft Mauer (or Posey, for that matter) you are going to take a hit in production. You can’t take Ichiro INSTEAD of Mauer, until Ichiro plays 5 games at catcher. I wouldn’t put that past him, though.

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  5. Brad Johnson says:

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from Howard but this is kind of a one league fits all analysis. Sure, in a 12 team, 1 catcher league, I wouldn’t be caught dead paying premium cash for a catcher. However, if you make it a 16 team league where something closer to 25 catchers will be rostered or change that 12 team league to a 2 catcher league with around 28 catchers roster, the value of investing in the premium names can really add up, especially because inflation is likely to push you from investing in AJ to something more like Josh Thole, Ronny Paulino, or Jeff Baker. In my 12 team, two catcher league, Jason Kendall and Gregg Zaun were the top C available until June.

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  6. RG says:

    It seems every discussion of catchers leaves out the most important factor to consider, and why you should ALWAYS wait on a backstop: PAs.

    Mauer led the way last year with 584 in 137 GPs. Even at that amount you’re not going to drag your team average up an amount to justify the pick you spend on a C. Picking a guy in the first 1-10 rounds that is gauranteed to play < 140 games and go to the plate about 500 times isn't risky, it's just not being aware of how C are managed at the ML level. (note: qualified Cs that actually play other positions, eg Posada, Posey, and VMart, can be a loophole)

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    • Blue says:

      Yep. Most people don’t understand how BA really affects their rotoscore–really what you want to accumulate (and what you should measure) are the number of HITS a player gets above or below the average number of hits that would be expected at the league batting average OF PLAYERS ACTUALLY DRAFTED IN YOUR LEAGUE.

      It’s part of a general lack of understanding that roto is a zero sum game and it is really about accumulation of shares of total league production.

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    • OzzieGuillen says:

      Yes, ABs are correctly factored into most ratings systems when determining the effect of AVG for that player. I know Yahoo does this with their player rater.

      This does not mean we should wait to draft a catcher. Even at a reduced amount of ABs, catchers can provide a large premium over replacement level. In my 12 team 5×5 league, Joe Mauer is worth about 5 extra roto points in the standings over Suzuki (depending on projected stats for those players). This puts Mauer in the Sabathia, Dunn, Kemp range of player values (about #25-35 overall).

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      • RG says:

        Replacement doesn’t mean Ichiro can play C though. An average true everyday position player is always going to significantly outscore the average C and the best Cs are rarely going to accumulate enough PAs to produce the same raw totals as the top deviation of position players. In addition, because of the low PAs, it’s best to load up on the guys that gobble run producing stats – (nearly) forget BA when considering Cs.

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  7. Howard Bender says:

    I suppose the question I should have posed is: Is the production you get from Joe Mauer really worth a late 2nd/early 3rd round pick? Doesn’t matter if it’s a 1 catcher or a 2 catcher league, 12 teams or 16 teams…are you not better off bulking up elsewhere rather than using that high of a pick on a catcher who has a great batting average and good runs scored, but is barely average everywhere else? If you can grab yourself 7 solid players and then take Soto in the 8th round, are you going to be that much worse off than the guy who takes Mauer with his 3rd round pick? Not if you’re smart about your first 7 picks, you’re not.

    I understand the benefits of having Mauer on your team. I just don’t see using a pick that high to reap those benefits as being sensible.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I’ve stopped doing snake drafts so I couldn’t tell you. I can say that investing $40-45 in a 2 C league for a pair of top 5 backstops and a $1 OF will pay out way higher than a couple price inflated $6 receivers and a $35 OF. You can churn and burn OF until you stumble over a playable guy but you can’t do the same with catchers.

      And if you’re in a league where a pair of top 5 catchers costs more than $45, then you are better off waiting until the middle for catchers because you’re in an irrationally exuberant league.

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      • Blue says:

        Depends on the league. We have a 12 team NL-only with 5 OF and a util slot. In a very limited position player league like that you’re best off just ignoring position entirely and getting the best available offense production.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        That was my original point.

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    • RotoChamp says:

      “Doesn’t matter if it’s a 1 catcher or a 2 catcher league, ”

      It makes a huge difference if you are playing 2-catcher vs. 1-catcher. In a 2-catcher league Mauer has even more value and should be your primary 2nd round target. In a 2-catcher league I would draft him and also Carlos Santana because both are highly undervalued if you are using z-scores and positional scarcity to determine value.

      In a 2-catcher league the spread between Mauer and the average catcher spreads so much that he becomes top-5 value, though nobody ever picks him that high.

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      • Blue says:

        Z-scores are stupid because they assume normal distribution and positional scarcity makes sense if and only if the pool of available free agent talent in your league includes a reasonable selection of full time players.

        Look at it this way. In our 5×5 NL only league with 2 catchers I have Posey rated as the 50th best hitter in the NL. His ADP in CBS roto on the other hand is 14.

        So your choices are as follows: Either add Posey and a truly awful additional position player at the end of the draft (think Erik Hinske or worse) OR draft, say, Matt Kemp and a random scrub catcher like Jose Morales who doesn’t screw you in batting average.

        Posey + Hinske: 101 Runs, 26 HR, 97 RBI, 4 SB, – to batting average
        Kemp+Morales: 112 Runs, 25 HR, 109 RBI, 29 SB, neutral batting average

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      • RotoChamp says:

        I don’t buy your argument at all, especially the part where you are trying to support your argument by saying somebody has to take Hinske with his last pick. That guy isn’t even being drafted and there are some decent options in the last round or 2 that would blow your theory out of the water. Try putting in Omar Infante as your last pick and see if A +B > C + D.

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      • Blue says:

        In our league–12 teams, NL only–Infante is likely to go in round 10 of a 23 round draft.

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  8. Bobbo says:

    I waited so long to draft a catcher that I actually didn’t draft one. I drafted multiple middle relievers who may be closers or closers-in-waiting, and I figured I could pick up a catcher in a couple weeks after those murky closing situations have cleared up a little bit more.

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  9. shibboleth says:

    The beauty of the Catcher position is that it provides you with a minimum line to work from. In a 1-catcher, 10 team league, you can be reasonably assured that the tenth ranked catcher will be available to you. RotoGraph’s catcher rankings say it’s Suzuki, and the fangraphs fans project 64-13-66-4-.268/.329/.393 for him. At the least, I know I will have a

    If during the course of the draft I see my team is developing deficiencies, I will consider a catcher to meet those needs (Mauer for runs, avg and obp, Vmart and Napoli for power, Soto for upside, etc)

    Essentially, I let the catcher address the need, but only after that need has made itself apparent.

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  10. Matt says:

    So where would you guys draft one of the top three catchers?

    I’ve been toying with drafting Mauer in a 10 team league at the turn (last pick 2nd / first pick 3rd round) or VMart or McCann the next round (last 4th, first 5th).

    I generally go Halladay or Zimm if and when they are available. Right now I have Mauer over Kemp and Pedroia. Both those guys have questions Mauer doesn’t, even if he only hits 10-12 homers this year the runs, average, and even RBI make up for it when compared to other catchers.

    I’d rather have VMart or McCann than OFs like Heyward, Pence, Worth, SPs like Greinke, Josh Johnson, or others like Jose Bautista. I’ve got a few guys after VMart but before Posey and McCann (I’ve got Posey higher than McCann but he always seems to get picked first). Choo, Cruz, McCutchen, Uggla, Youk.

    I think I’d definitely rather have those guys as my catcher than the names a bit further down the list like Jeter, Brandon Phillips, Adrian Beltre, Adam Dunn, or Alex Rios.

    Don’t really want to get a pitcher at that point, either.


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    • Howard Bender says:

      It’s kind of a moot point as to where I would draft one of the top 4 catchers as they would never fall to a spot in which I am comfortable drafting a backstop. You have to take them where they usually go which means nothing lower than a late 4th round pick….or more likely early 4th.

      All I’m saying is that I would prefer, and think you are better off, waiting on the position rather than using such an early pick on one of them. For my first 5 picks, I like to go with the best production possible and that usually means 4 elite hitters at more productive positions and 1 elite starting pitcher. I think drafting Mauer so early is a bit of a waste when you can probably get Zimmerman or King Felix in that spot. To me, both have more value than Mauer.

      Just sayin’

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  11. Jimbo says:

    The reason I don’t like the Mauer + Dunn approach is that you’re counting on the single most demanding position player on your team to stay healthy.

    If Mauer gets hurt, then your “foundation” for average goes bye bye and I do consider the replacement potential. If Ichiro is my foundation and gets hurt, at least there’s a chance I find another OF who contributes. Mauer goes down and any semblance of 5×5 balance is toast.

    I view C much closer to SP in terms of risk…and I don’t want SP in the first 5 rounds so why would I take a catcher??

    Have to know your league too. My league ALWAYS undervalues these guys. So while Mauer might go in the late 3rd (vs late 2nd ADP), the real bargains are in the middle tiers when guys like Napoli/Wieters/Posada are going to fall 4 or 5 rounds further than they ‘should’.

    If they wait on Posey I’ll have a tough choice…

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    • RotoChamp says:

      I agree with what you say. In 1-catcher leagues I wouldn’t be targeting Mauer because Carlos Santana should be an even bigger bargain later in the draft.

      The injury risk argument is also somewhat valid, but it really doesn’t apply to replacement theory. If you say it is easier to replace your 2nd round OF than it is to replace Mauer in the 2nd round you are actually supporting the reason to take Mauer in the 2nd round. The easier it is to replace a guy the less reason you need to take him early in your draft.

      If you are doing valuations properly then it is just as costly to replace the 12th pick as it is to replace the 13th pick, regardless of the position.

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  12. Chad says:

    Last year I took V-Mart in the 4th and was stuck during the time he missed with injury and two years ago I got burned taking Russell Martin early. This year I vowed to wait and just about everybody else seemed to be doing the same thing, which made people wait even longer. Mauer fell to the 4th (11-teams), Posey and McCann went shortly afterwards, and I ended up with Santana in the 9th, which I’m happy with.

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  13. Kris says:

    You guys really dismissed Blue’s incredibly important comments about Z-Scores. Relying solely on Z-Scores relative to a position discounts a huge-normous part of fantasy baseball especially when you’re comparing across position. Joe Mauer may be X STD_DEV better than the mean, but that’s useless to us unless we know the distribution and the number. It just tells us that he’s better than the mean and the Z-Score will be skewed if the distro isn’t normal.

    IF you know you’re a waiver-wire wizard, I’m all for drafting one of those catchers. It makes a lot of sense to *waste* an early pick on ‘teh awesome’ when you know you can find a diamond in the rough from the huge OF player pool at some point early in the season.

    You could overdraft every traditionally shallow position and still win your league because you’re that awesome.

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  14. redsoxtalk says:

    Howard, I mostly agree with you.. Except for the part about Joe Mauer. In our model where we rank players by how many fantasy points they would net your team in a typical 5×5 roto league, Mauer comes out at a whopping +5.1, with the next best catcher being Mike Napoli at +1.6. Victor Martinez and Buster Posey are the only other two catchers who come out positive at all, meaning the other guys will actually hurt you quite a bit in BA and other production categories.

    My point is that most of the starting catchers are not very different, except for Mauer. In my opinion, batting average is very undervalued in fantasy, because raising your team’s average by just 1 point could net you one point in the standings. Now imagine what a catcher like Mauer does for you, compared to AJ Pierzynski, who you brought up. Of course, this only holds as long as your team is middle-of-the-pack in batting average. If you already have Pujols and Ichiro on your squad, you don’t need a catcher like Mauer unless you’re planning on also drafting Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn.

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  15. Kirk says:

    I don’t think that a guy who doesn’t understand positional relevance should be allowed to post fantasy analysis.

    “If batting average is so important, I’ll just get Ichiro 10 picks later” is one of the most outrageously flawed thing I’ve heard an “expert” ever post. Embarrassing.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      I was speaking off the cuff, Kirk. Obviously I understand the notion of positional relevance. The argument at hand is whether or not you take Mauer as a third rounder over a player who produces greater stats across the board. While some love Mauer for his BA and runs scored at the catching position, I choose not to put so much stock in average and would much prefer to load up on players with stronger HR and RBI (maybe kick in some stolen bases as well) totals and have batting averages that drop in closer to league averages. I choose not to use such a high pick on a catcher when I know I can get a fairly productive one much later in the draft and try to ensure grabbing a better third baseman, for example, as the bottom tends to fall out on that position fairly quickly.

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      • Kirk says:

        Except you can’t grab anybody better than Mauer, because nobody is better than Mauer at catcher. Hell, your catcher rankings even said so.

        The fact you keep saying “I’d rather grab better players that play outfield” just further validates my belief that you have no clue about positional relevance.

        If the goal was to field the best 15-20 players regardless of performance, then of course Mauer is like the 40th best player or whatever. But it’s not. It’s not Mauer vs Ichiro. It’s Mauer and Arbitrary 15th round pick vs John Buck (like the 200th best player, 12th best catcher) and Shin-Shoo.

        The player valuation site using a composite of projections has Mauer as a late first round pick. There are a multitude of reasons not to take Mauer 10th overall. Concern about last year’s injuries, a sudden drop in power, possible overcorrection by projections systems who think he will rebound from last year, to name a few. Putting up less valuable numbers than the 10th most valuable outfielder is not one of them.

        Also, you said “I choose not to use such a high pick on a catcher when I know I can get a fairly productive one much later in the draft”

        Who? I’ll once again use Buck as an example, as he is the 12th rated catcher by my projections. Mauer has an 80 point edge in projected BA. That is such a disgusting gap, that it nearly renders meaningless the edge Buck has in the power categories. If Buck is “fairly productive”, then I shudder to think of the adjectives one could use to describe Mauer.

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  16. Howard Bender says:

    OK, Kirk….let’s kick this dead horse once more since it apparently hasn’t been beaten enough…

    Perhaps there’s more to it than just cut and dry numbers. As you said, there are last year’s injuries to take into consideration, something I think about with all catchers. I believe there is a greater risk of injury to backstops than most and I’m sure others would agree. Regardless of position scarcity or relevance, I would much prefer to take a player who stands a lesser chance of being injured or even just getting some extra rest like most catchers do.

    You also have to consider the fact that maybe Mauer’s runs scored aren’t as high these days if Morneau doesn’t come back and play like before. He’s starting the season, but between the concussion and the cranky back, who knows? Runs scored are as much a part of the hitters behind you as the are your OBP.

    And it’s not that I’m comparing Mauer to Ichiro….or to any other player that isn’t a catcher. I’m just saying that the catchers, on the whole, aren’t as important to me as filling in your other positions with high quality 3rd round talent.

    Call it a personal preference.

    You have Buck rated as the 12 best catcher? Why? Because one year in a hitter’s park with a strong hitting surrounding lineup the guy actually hit higher than .247 in a season? Because he finally hit 20 HR? What about the fact that he’s switching to the NL, hitting in a weaker overall lineup and moving to a massive pitcher’s park? You’ve got him 12th? I have him in my personal rankings, 18th, and that still might be too high. But it’s your personal preference. Maybe you’re just going by the numbers and assuming that last year’s totals can be repeated. Who knows? I don’t think he stands a chance of coming close, so obviously my opinion of Buck differs from yours and my expectations for him are apparently a lot lower. But again, that’s your preference.

    Just like it’s my preference to wait on catchers regardless of how many Joe Mauer fluffers try to berate me for my opinion.

    It’s like my granddaddy always used to say, “Opinions are like a**holes. Everyone’s got one and most of ’em stink!”

    Perhaps we can just agree to disagree and move on…

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    • Kirk says:


      You didn’t say any of that stuff in your piece. You said something to the effect of “other players put up better numbers” when those other players played different positions. If you had said “I’m concerned about his injury, and Morneau maybe dropping off” and whatnot, fine, I’m with you to a degree. But no. You talked about Mauer’s actual stats from the last couple of years and how they weren’t as good as other players, when valuations have shown that they were pretty much worth a first/second round pick.

      Mauer’s projections from Marcel/Cairo etc take into account that he plays a demanding position. He’s only projected for 520 at bats, anywhere from 60-100 less ABs than he’s accumulated for the last 3 years straight. So while catchers as a whole may be more injury prone, it’s already factored in to the projections.

      Who I have as the 12th catcher is completely irrelevant. I should have said “Generic #12 Catcher.” The point stands regardless. Take your 12th ranked catcher, and then compare the two pairs instead of Mauer vs who you’d rather have in the 3rd round.

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  17. Michael Baroz says:

    In a 12 team mixed league I took Mauer at 3.7, is that good value?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Depends on who you’re asking….

      If it’s a 1 catcher league and you’re asking me, then I say no because I just don’t believe in investing that high for a backstop. If you’re asking those that feel that, based on positional relevance and scarcity, Mauer is the greatest thing since sliced bread, well then yes…taking Mauer with the 7th pick in the 3rd round is a good value.

      All a matter of opinion, Michael

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