Catcher started out as a deeper position this year than it has been in years past, but the injuries seem to be mounting up behind the plate more quickly than at almost any other position — pitchers notwithstanding since there are about as many of them as there are position players even before articulation is taken into account. This month alone Miguel Olivo, Josh Thole, Chris Iannetta, Wilson Ramos, and most recently Sandy Leon have all been placed on the disabled list, leaving owners looking for a replacement.
To that end, here is a pair of catchers who are getting enough playing time to be considered plug-and-play and producing enough to be worth rostering.
A.J. Ellis (ESPN: 5 percent owned; Yahoo!: 14 percent owned)
For single catcher leagues, the pool of available talent isn’t drying up quite as quickly, but for two catcher leagues, things are getting a little bit dire as far as known quantities are concerned. Fortunately, this season has given owners a veritable wealth of lesser-known options that are playing at a relatively high level. Jonathan Lucroy, A.J. Pierzynski, and Ryan Doumit are all readily available in most circumstances, but Ellis might just be the best of the bunch.
Unlike someone like Pierzynski, power isn’t going to be part of Ellis’ package, but he’ll provide the best average of the bunch and seems to be moving up in the Dodgers’ order, which should mean more RBI chances than he was getting. Ellis’ 19.1 percent walk rate not only gives him additional value in OBP leagues, but also is part of why Ellis is hitting .314. According to Pitchf/x, Ellis is swinging at just 13 percent of pitches out of the strike zone; he’s not helping pitchers out much at all and as a result, he’s getting good pitches to hit.
I can’t blame anyone for pointing at Ellis’ bloated BABIP — .381 compared to a career average of .329 — and asking about regression, but Ellis’ 21 percent line drive rate and tremendous plate discipline give me hope that he’ll be able to fight off the regression monster for a while.
Ryan Doumit (ESPN: 12 percent owned; Yahoo!: 30 percent owned)
No hitter with catcher eligibility has more home runs over the last two weeks than Doumit, who has four. His updated ZiPS projection is up to 14 for the season, something that I suspect will rise again before too long. Production hasn’t typically been an issue for Doumit, who boasts a .271 career average and would average 17 home runs if he played 150 games or more in a season, given his career home run rate, except that a) he’s never hit 17 HR in single season before and b) has never played even 130 games, let alone 150. But I just told you that I think he’s rosterable, so clearly there’s a moving piece here.
The Twins’ plan with Doumit and Joe Mauer all along was to rotate them out from behind the plate in an effort to keep both healthy and in the lineup. So far, other than Mauer taking a foul ball to the knee, their plan has worked. Doumit has played in 31 of the team’s 35 games, a plurality of which have come behind the plate, though he’s been used almost exclusively as a DH so far this month. No matter where he plays, the Twins — who have the third fewest runs scored in baseball — aren’t about to pull one of their five hitters with a wRC+ above 100 out of the lineup. Even after Justin Morneau comes back, I just can’t believe that Doumit won’t be in the lineup nine days out of every ten.
His average isn’t great at the moment, even despite his 22 percent line drive rate, due in no small part to a BABIP about 40 points below his career average. If he stays healthy, the power numbers will be there — probably no more than 20, but 15-20 HR off the wire isn’t a bad grab for a second catcher — and his average should rise to give him a well-rounded profile. Traumatic injuries can’t be predicted, but everything that has happened with the Twins so far gives credence to the idea that Doumit should be available to Ron Gardenhire as often as he wants to use him.