Reviewing 2017 Pod’s Picks & Pans — Catcher

A regular season in the books does not mean my work is over. I still have 27 recaps of pre-season articles to share! Yes, 27. Hope you’ll stay with me through the playoffs and the NFL season to grade my advice performance and many, many lists. We’ll start with the Pod’s Picks & Pans series, which compares my rankings to the RotoGraphs consensus, highlighting those players whose rankings I differ from most. I’ll use the final CBS rankings as the determinant of end of season value. Let’s see who was right on those headscratching hitters at the catcher position.

We begin with the three catchers I was significantly more bullish on than the rest:

Pod’s Picks — Catcher
Name Mike RG Consensus Diff Actual Rank Winner
Salvador Perez 4 9 -5 4 Mike
Stephen Vogt 9 15 -6 31 RG Consensus
Yadier Molina 8 13 -5 2 Mike

As discussed in my initial article, I wasn’t concerned about Salvador Perez’s spring knee injury, and it didn’t end up affecting him during the season. My optimistic ranking was predicated on Perez’s batting average rebounding off a career low .247, and rebound it did, up to .268, his highest mark since 2013. The jump in average was driven by a small strikeout rate improvement off his career worst 2016 mark, and a career high HR/FB rate (something many hitters enjoyed this season!). He has become an extreme fly ball hitter, so 20+ homers should remain a lock, but his average isn’t going to inch up much higher unless he gets that strikeout rate back into that 2013-2015 range.

I noted that Stephen Vogt had the largest rank split between all us rankers, meaning we really had no clue what he was going to do. The answer? Stink. Though he missed a month with a knee injury, his strikeout rate jumped back toward his 2015 level, while his BABIP plummeted to a career low. The power was there though, but he didn’t get enough plate appearances to jack up those counting stats and give himself any sort of chance of a top 10 finish in the rankings. I love him in Milwaukee (I like anyone there), but I doubt he’ll be set for 400+ at-bats heading into the season. That means he’s a nice NL-Only sleeper, but that’s it.

I was very surprised to learn I was relatively bullish on Yadier Molina, as I don’t like old catchers reliant on batting average. But who saw this coming?! He combined a career high strikeout rate with the highest fly ball rate since 2006 and second highest HR/FB rate of his career to fuel his first teens level homer total since 2013 and the second best mark of his career. Sounds like a conscious change in approach to a more power oriented one, but it didn’t make him any more productive a hitter in real baseball, just more valuable in fantasy. Now with his price rising and heading into his age 36 season, I won’t be buying.

Now let’s get to the hitters I was significantly more bearish on than the consensus:

Pod’s Pans — Catcher
Name Mike RG Consensus Diff Actual Rank Winner
Russell Martin 12 7 5 26 Mike
Jonathan Lucroy 3 2 1 25 Mike
Willson Contreras 7 5 2 6 Tie
Yasmani Grandal 11 8 3 9 RG Consensus
Welington Castillo 16 12 4 8 RG Consensus

I was the most bearish on Russell Martin as he didn’t believe he could sustain either his HR/FB or fly ball rates. I was right about his fly ball rate, wrong about his HR/FB rate. He even cut his strikeout rate back to pre-2016 levels and posted the second highest walk rate of his career. Sounds like a banner year! Yeah, but injuries. He missed time with a shoulder injury and then a strained oblique, limiting him to the fewest plate appearances of his entire career. Given his weak batting average, I feel like I would have still been closer if he remained healthy all season, but of course he would have ended up much closer to the single digits than he actually did. A good choice in OBP leagues, but in leagues that use batting average, his age would scare me too much.

Yeah, so the formula I use to calculate which ranking differences are largest told me that two vs three for Jonathan Lucroy was like huuuuuuge. Ha. I am assuming I was more bearish on his power as he was coming off the highest HR/FB rate of his career. Of course, I didn’t foresee a career low wOBA, especially crazy when he played all season in two of the best hitter parks in baseball. I’m real curious to see where his perceived value sits for 2018 as he gets to call Coors Field home all season. I’m willing to bet that he becomes a good value.

It’s not like I disliked Willson Contreras, I just felt he was facing both HR/FB and BABIP regression, and likely stuck near the bottom of the Cubs lineup, albeit a strong Cubs lineup. I was wrong about the HR/FB rate (it actually went up!), but right about the BABIP. Most intriguing for me is a wimpy 29.3% fly ball rate. That’s low, which means there’s ample room for upside, which could push his home run total to even greater heights if he adds more lift (he obviously missed the Fly Ball Revolution memo).

I expected HR/FB rate regression from Yasmani Grandal and his value got knocked down by his low projected batting average. I was right about the HR/FB rate decline, but he rode a career best BABIP to a career best batting average that wasn’t such a killer after all. I have no idea what happened to his plate patience though, as his walk rate collapsed into the single digits.

I was kind of clueless about what to expect from Welington Castillo this year given his BABIP and xBABIP marks jumping all over the place each season, while I worried about his playing time. The playing time concern was legit, as he garnered the fewest plate appearances since 2012, but he posted a near identical BABIP to 2016, and enjoyed a HR/FB rate surge to a career high. Amazingly, that was good enough to vault him into the top 10, despite failing to record 400 plate appearances. Man that catcher position is awful!


So overall, I narrowly beat the RG Consensus in this battle, 4-3-1.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Lucroy is a FA so calling Coors home for a full season isn’t a given. He’s going to be a really tough guy to value for next year.