Positional Overview: Catcher

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to review every position and take stock of where we’re at heading into the offseason. We will tackle the primary skills, look at some playing time jumpers, check in on some prospects, peek back at 2017’s ADP, and get an early look at the 2018 pool. There is definitely going to be similarities across all the positions with these overviews, but each will have its own idiosyncrasies tailored to the depth and expectations. Let’s start with fantasy baseball’s thinnest position and dive in on catchers!

POWER

Looking at the power output based on ISO and HR/350 PA. The ISO will be 25% over the three year average as the cutoff which is .187 for catcher. Same goes for the HR/350 which is 13 HR for catcher. Why 350? That can be a full season for catchers these days, especially if you’re in a 2-catcher league. Just about 24 catchers per year reach 350 or more plate appearances.

ISO of .187+ since 2015: Gary Sanchez (.283), Robinson Chirinos (.236), Evan Gattis (.225), Curt Casali (.217), Willson Contreras (.216), Yasmani Grandal (.211), Mike Zunino (.208), Geovany Soto (.199), Salvador Perez (.193), Welington Castillo (.192), and Brian McCann (.190)

13+ HR per 350 PA: Sanchez (25), Casali (17), Gattis (17), Chirinos (17), Grandal (17), Zunino (17), Hector Sanchez (16), Soto (16), Contreras (16), McCann (16), Castillo (15), Perez (15), Russell Martin (14), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (13), Wilson Ramos (13), Hank Conger (13), and Cameron Rupp (13)

There’s a reason Sanchez is so highly drafted. He is just such a power monster. The craziest part is that he’s 6th in total HR since 2015 with 53 despite essentially half the plate appearances of the rest of the guys. Gattis is pacing the league with 71.

Don’t forget about these guys, who showed met one or both of the thresholds in 2017 with at least 250 PA. Keep in mind that I lowered the PA bar and the 13 HR/.187 ISO were garnered from three years so 2015-16 brings them down in comparison to this past season.

SPEED

Let’s not waste too much time here, as catchers just don’t run. Here is a list of guys with at least 9 SB since 2015: J.T. Realmuto (28), Yadier Molina (15), Derek Norris … lol (14), Buster Posey (14), and Chris Herrmann (9).

A few others worth mentioning who have nabbed at least 4 per 350 PA include: Austin Barnes (5), Christian Vazquez (5), and Blake Swihart (4). Realmuto and Herrmann are both leading with 6 per 350.

BATTING AVERAGE/CONTACT

Two rate categories to look at here with batting average and strikeout rate. A strong strikeout rate won’t guarantee a good batting average, but it’s a leading indicator. The positional average over the last three years is .245 and I used .270+ as the cutoff while strikeout rate is at 22% and I used a 16% cutoff.

AVG of .270+ since 2015: Buster Posey (.308), Yadier Molina (.284), Gary Sanchez (.283), J.T. Realmuto (.281), Willson Contreras (.278), Jonathan Lucroy (.275), Omar Narvaez (.274), Kevan Smith (.274), Francisco Cervelli (.274), Manny Pina (.274), Nick Hundley (.271), and Blake Swihart (.270)

K% of 16% or lower: Brayan Pena (9%), Posey (10%), Molina (12%), Kurt Suzuki (13%), Narvaez (14%), Lucroy (15%), Chris Stewart (15%), and Carlos Ruiz (16%)

Posey’s ISO has dropped in each of the last three seasons, but his AVG surged to a 5-year high of .320 and his worst mark in a 350+ PA season is .288 back in 2016. Sanchez isn’t just power which just further shows why he’s drafted so highly.

Here are the guys who met one or both thresholds in 2017 (min. 250 PA), but didn’t make either of the “since 2015” lists:

PLAYING TIME SURGES

A major part of many breakouts is a surge in playing time. We’ve been using that 350 PA threshold throughout so here I’m looking at anyone who added at least 175 PA (or 50% of our goal) from 2016 to 2017: Austin Hedges +391 PA, Gary Sanchez 296, Manny Pina 278, Kevan Smith 278, Mike Zunino 243, Austin Barnes 225, Martin Maldonado 218, and Omar Narvaez 178

Hedges, Sanchez, and Zunino were expected. They’ve been tabbed as the next class for a while and they’re starting to pay dividends on their prospect status by handling full-time workloads. Zunino’s wasn’t a career-high (476 in 2014), but he was much better in his 435 this year (87 v. 126 wRC+) so this looks like his breakout season.

Spinning it forward, let’s look at the guys who have a path to playing time surges in 2018. These are the guys with fewer than 350 PA in 2017 penciled in for a starting role or flexibility around the diamond that should add to their PA count.

  • Wilson Ramos, TB (224 PA in 2017) – He was returning from a late-2016 torn ACL so his low output wasn’t surprising. He averaged 370 PA from 2011-16 and should get plenty of burn at C and DH in Tampa Bay.
  • Austin Barnes, LAD (262) – As much as I like Barnes, Yasmani Grandal still exists and will get plenty of burn in LA barring a trade, buuut Barnes did appear in 21 games at 2B. Logan Forsythe was a nightmare vs. righties (.576) and while Barnes bats righty, too, he’s a career .785 against them.
  • Christian Vazquez, BOS (345) – He barely missed the threshold, but I think he’ll pass it in 2018 and could do so easily (with ~400 PA). He played in 70% of Boston’s games from July 1st on, up from 54% in the first three months. Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart muddy the water a bit, though word is out that Swihart could be moving to 2B.
  • Bruce Maxwell, OAK (253) – He took over in the second half, playing in 75% of the A’s final 80 games. There wasn’t a ton of production (.648 OPS), but he does have an .894 OPS and 12 HR in 312 PA at Triple-A over the last two seasons.
  • Jorge Alfaro, PHI (114) – As I mentioned in this recent piece on Post-Hype Prospects, I generally fade catching prospects, but he doesn’t come with the high price tag attached to so many before him. He’ll be a C2 option with boom-or-bust appeal.
  • Andrew Knapp, PHI (204) – This could be Alfaro’s yellow light en route to 350+ PA. It probably depends on whether or not they move29-year old Cameron Rupp and just go with a pair of young bucks. Knapp doesn’t have anywhere near the upside of Alfaro, but part of my disdain for catching prospects is that guys like Knapp will often get time over guys like Alfaro as a steady-but-low-floor prospect compared to the flashy-but-volatile über prospect early in their development.
  • Chance Sisco, BAL (22) – This a longshot as the Orioles could have the more common twist on what I mentioned above where the boring veteran caddies the up-and-comer along, severely curbing the latter’s fantasy output. Caleb Joseph (32 years old) could assume starting catcher duties with Castillo gone and bring Sisco along, especially since Joseph has routinely graded well in pitch-framing.

Teams where the incumbent is a Free Agent: BAL (Welington Castillo), MIN (Jason Castro), ARI (Chris Iannetta), and COL (Jonathan Lucroy).

PROSPECTS

Don’t go overboard on prospects behind the dish, but here are some catchers with rookie eligibility who could make a fantasy impact:

  • Francisco Mejia, CLE – Of his 8 starts, 5 were at DH so he’ll enter 2018 at UT-only and then he played 3B in the Arizona Fall League so even if he finds significant playing time, it might not be C-eligible.
  • Chance Sisco, BAL – See the Playing Time Surges section above.
  • Zack Collins, CWS – The 23-year old 1st rounder from 2016 hasn’t reached Triple-A yet, but Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith aren’t blocking anyone.
  • Victor Caratini, CHC – A dominant year at Triple-A (.951 OPS) earned him 66 MLB PA and while he’s not overtaking Willson Contreras, the backup spot is open and he can play all four corners (1B/3B/LF/RF), too, which could offer alternative paths to time.

Note: Carson Kelly is no longer rookie eligible and he also plays behind Yadier Molina.

ADP REVIEW

Here’s a quick look back at the 2017 NFBC draft data behind the dish.

Top 10 Rounders Catchers taken in the top 150 picks:

Buster Posey (44th overall pick), Gary Sanchez (48), Jonathan Lucroy (56), Willson Contreras (89), J.T. Realmuto (112), Evan Gattis (116), Salvador Perez (137), and Yasmani Grandal (142).

Flops Biggest fallers from the Top 15 drafted… well, 16 because I had to make an exception for that special flop:

Lucroy (3rd drafted C/23rd on Player Rater), Gattis (6th/17th), Russell Martin (9th/27th), Matt Wieters (12th/30th), Stephen Vogt (14th/ 34th), Cameron Rupp (15th/36th), and Tom Murphy (16th/109th)

GemsCatchers taken after pick 300 who finished Top 24 at the position:

Yan Gomes (pick 303/24th on Player Rater), Tyler Flowers (341/12th), Tucker Barnhart (382/22nd), James McCann (328/21st), Kurt Suzuki (485/9th), Austin Barnes (541/16th), Chris Iannetta (545/20th), Robinson Chirinos (555/18th), Christian Vazquez (570/11th), Manny Pina (573/14th), and Alex Avila (661/15th)

A LOOK AHEAD

Here’s an early list of my Top 25 catchers for 2018:

Early Top 25 C for 2018
RK Player Comment
1 Gary Sanchez You’re trying too hard if you take anyone else at #1.
2 Buster Posey Still a great AVG for 550-600 PA, plus 12 SB last 2 yrs.
3 Willson Contreras Imagine what he’ll do with 500+ PA.
4 J.T. Realmuto Legit speed keeps SB (avg. of 9 since ’15) in play.
5 Salvador Perez Another 2H swoon (.692 OPS) says sell in June.
6 Wilson Ramos Showed ’16 pwr wasn’t a fluke w/11 HR in 64 gms.
7 Jonathan Lucroy This assumes a return to Coors Field.
8 Yadier Molina Got in on pwr explosion w/+7% FB and nabbed 9 SBs!
9 Yasmani Grandal Will play in LA or be dealt despite just 11 playoff PA.
10 Welington Castillo LD & Hard contact rates make ’16-17 BABIP plausible.
11 Mike Zunino Had 35% K% during 2H surge (.281 AVG, .943 OPS).
12 Austin Barnes Skills are there, this rank assumes 350+ PA at C/2B.
13 Brian McCann 2 DL stints (concussion, knee) curbed playing time.
14 Evan Gattis 2 DL stints (concussion, wrist) curbed playing time.
15 Tucker Barnhart Played 80% of 2H gms; .831 Aug-Sept OPS; won GG.
16 Austin Hedges Sold out for pwr (18 HR); glove keeps him in lineup.
17 Travis d’Arnaud Another DL stint (wrist), but .999 Sept/Oct. offers hope.
18 Russell Martin Gtd PT when healthy offers solid floor, but he’s 35 now.
19 Christian Vazquez Buy a .275 AVG; real shot at 400+ PA in solid lineup.
20 Tyler Flowers 2nd-best Hard% at C since ’16 (min. 400 PA).
21 Kurt Suzuki Crazy 19 HR yr is aided by FB%, Pull%, & Hard% surges.
22 Matt Wieters PT alone sustains value; .561 OPS after April.
23 Robinson Chirinos Age-34 w/just 1180 career PA, but no one else in-house.
24 Stephen Vogt Rebounded in MIL (.789 OPS), but will share time with…
25 Manny Pina …another late-blooming vet who can hit a bit.



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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. He is the purveyor of the SP Guide (on hiatus for '17). Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer, on Snapchat at psporer, and on Twitch at psporer24.

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What is the lol after Norris for? I mean I agree with the general statement, but not the context when talking about catcher speed.