The catcher and the why

First of all a special thanks goes out to Fantasy Pros and our own Nick Fleder for putting together our positional rankings. As far as I know, this will be the first time THT has released any form of consensus rankings. It’s a proud day for me, and I know you all will appreciate the painstaking work it takes to get this done. As I’m sure Nick will agree, our rankings weren’t necessarily a draft cheat sheet but a reflection of where we feel these players’ stats will measure up against each other at season’s end.

For day one, we rank the catchers. It’s the most undervalued position in fantasy baseball, so it’s generally difficult to get too excited about backstops. I see my catcher as little more than a seat warmer. Most years, I peg a certain catcher or tier of catchers I think the room is undervaluing, and I make sure I get my guy. I hardly ever draft the number one catcher or even a top five catcher for that matter.

Last year, I targeted Wilson Ramos and Miguel Montero, and that worked out quite well. In leagues with deeper benches, I will usually draft a lower level catcher and pair him with a top prospect. This tag-team method would probably be my favorite strategy in addressing the catcher position. However, all drafts are different, and you can never tell how a draft is going to play out until you are already well into the battle.

I have concluded that Mike Napoli is the number one catcher in 2012. Upon finally getting his chance to shine in Texas, Napoli built a second half that was nothing short of magical.

I didn’t see his 2011 breakout coming. I knew Napoli had prodigious power unrivaled by any other catcher, but I never thought he would hit as consistently as he did. To think he put up 30 HR/75 RBI/.320 AVG in only 439 plate appearances is astonishing. The fact that he continued that success well into the playoffs further solidifies his elite status.

At 32 years old, Napoli isn’t getting any younger, so being “elite” could be a very short experience for him, but his 2011 season wasn’t so different from his 2008 season. The only real difference was plate appearances, batting eye, and some luck, all of which are trending upwards. Obviously he will face some extreme batting average regression; I’ll bet my house he doesn’t hit .320 again. If he’s your guy, I totally understand, but I won’t reach for him in the first three rounds, which is where he will undoubtedly be selected.

Like Napoli, Carlos Santana has caught the imaginations of experts and fans alike.

First, getting 658 plate appearances from your catcher is unfair. No other catcher was within a hundred plate appearances of Santana in 2011. That in itself should drive the value of a catcher, but Santana offers so much more. He’ll be only 25 at the beginning of the season, and he’s also a switch-hitter. He has 30+ home run potential, and I think most scouts see him as a higher batting average guy than he was last season.

The Indians have already saidthat Santana is the face and future of their franchise. so look for them to continue to shelter him more at first base. We all love catchers who spend significant time at other positions. I don’t think any catcher profiles as a better source for RBIs and runs. His awesome potential will cost an owner roughly the same as Napoli, which drives me out of the bidding. I’ll stand on the sidelines and admire Santana, but he probably won’t be my catcher in 2012.

Never, and I will repeat this, never have I ever seen so many viable catchers for a basic 5X5, 12-team standard league. After Napoli and Santana, at least eight catchers could all have the same value as the other. In my rankings you’ll see that I have Brian McCann as my No. 3 catcher, but my No. 8,

After McCann, I struggled among Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters and Miguel Montero for the fourth spot in my rankings. I love the potential of every one for different reasons.

With much angst, I chose Mauer. The reason I like Mauer isn’t because he’s safe. He’s not. It’s not because he’s coming off some sort of breakout season. That’s already happened. When Mauer is healthy he is a great source of runs and RBIs for a catcher. He averaged around 93 runs and 85 RBIs in the three seasons before last year. I think he still had double digit power even though the 28 home runs of 2009 are conclusively an aberration at this point. Target Field will also squander any future power potential.

The No. 1 reason I love Mauer is because he improves your batting average so much that it allows you to draft a Mark Reynolds or Ryan Howard-like player without fear of what those players will do to your batting average. Mauer is still an elite hitter, and he won’t come much cheaper than he will in 2012. If there’s any catcher who has the best chance of finding a way onto all my fantasy teams, it’s Mauer.

Picking Posey over Wieters will be considered blasphemy by my colleagues I’m sure, but I’m don’t care. I’m not as sold on Wieters as everybody else, apparently. He batted only .235 against right-handed pitching in 2011, which is the worst of his career. His career batting average rates have been directly tied to his BABIP successes and failures. I worry that he may constantly struggle with a certain level of volatility.

I also understand that Wieters fits the profile of a guy I typically like, but I’m not convinced that he’s ready yet. I need to see more, and I’m not willing to pay the price to find out. In our THT mock draft, Wieters was selected third overall among catchers. He may warrant such consideration when the season is over, but I’ll play it a little safer. Last tidbit on Wieters: power seems legit, and there’s no reason to think he can’t hit more than 20 home runs again 2012.

Bird-Brained
A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Posey is a poor man’s Mauer. Scouts love the term “Mauer with power,” and I have seen that said about both Wieters and Posey. Where I see Wieters as diet Mauer with power, I see Posey as just Mauer. Posey is obviously less proven than Maue,r but can’t be considered as big an injury risk. One freak play can’t label a player as an injury risk. I’d say he has an injury “mark.” I assume that Posey will be healthy, and the Giants seem ready to play him more at first base this year to preserve that health. I secretly want Posey more than Mauer, but I don’t know if I have the guts to show that in my rankings.

When I entered 2011, I was ready to proceed with Montero as my catcher. He was so cheap, and no one believed he could improve on his successful 2009 season. I would point to his disappointing 2010 season as the reason. I like Montero because Arizona likes Montero. He isn’t going anywhere, and with ISOs much like all the more beloved catchers ranked ahead of him, he has a very underrated power stroke. If he continues to put up solid, across-the-board numbers and sees some increase in his power, Montero should still be a bargain in 2012, but this may be the last year to get him on the cheap. I doubt I will invest in Montero in any leagues other than my N- only leagues. He’s stable, but his ceiling isn’t quite as high as the others ranked ahead of him.

Speaking of stability, Yadier Molina took an impressive leap forward in 2011. He finally established himself as something more than the best defensive catcher and a solid source of batting average. He hit 14 home runs and didn’t compromise his other stats.

If he maintains power somewhere in the same level as last year, there really isn’t a catcher you can consider more stable than Molina. According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Molina looks “buff.” I don’t know how to properly handle these kinds of news tidbits, but if he’s stronger than last year, why not think he can hit a few more home runs? Molina is a pick for guys looking to play it safe. For example, if you’ve already added some riskier selections or unreliables, then Molina is a perfect catcher to use for balance.

I often will draft from a lower tier of catchers, Nos. 9 through 15. If your bench is deep enough, I strongly encourage you to draft one of these lower-tier catchers preferably Wilson Ramos, Geovanny Soto or Kurt Suzuki, then grab the top prospect, which is Devin Mesoraco.

I don’t think there is enough difference among all these catchers to go into too much depth. Soto is power and experience. Suzuki is the RBIs and runs guy of the bunch. Ramos is the head of this group. If not for his kidnapping this winter, I would probably have him in the tier with the more valuable catchers, but I worry about his mind. Stress can be a powerful thing and could affect his performance. So even though he broke out in his first season as a starter, I’m not ready to pronounce him a star.

He is far from a slam-dunk but I could definitely see myself grabbing Mesoraco as his counterpart. That could be a dynamic duo especially in deep, two-catcher or NL-only leagues. I love the up-and-coming prospects, and none is more heralded than Mesoraco. Don’t be surprised if he unseats Ryan Hanigan as the Reds’ primary catcher by the All-Star break. He is every bit as good as his hype.

What is amazing is the number of catchers lying in wait. Salvador Perez seems like he could have some promise, but expectations for him should be tempered. Wilin Rosario is a future star, but he still has some growing to do. Yasmani Grandal, now with the San Diego Padres, could be impressive if given the opportunity. Ryan Lavarnway is the reigning Boston Red Sox minor league player of the year and could be ready to expand on his late season successes.

Basically, there’s a lot to get excited about for the future of fantasy catchers. This list may look very different in 2013.


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MH
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MH
I’m firmly in the camp that believes a breakout is on the horizon for Wieters.  You have to love it when former star prospects both reduce their K% and increase their power within a season, and that’s exactly what Wieters did.  He reduced his K% to a more than manageable last year, but his AVG was down (though still respectable for a catcher with power in the current run environment at .262) due to a .276 BABIP.  I don’t instantly look at BABIPs and see natural regression for hitters, but Wieters is one of the guys who looks to be… Read more »
Ben Pritchett
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Ben Pritchett
MH- You always bring it. I totally agree with what you are saying, and I know every one of the stats you used. Don’t get me wrong, I was leading the Wieters parade when the Orioles brought him up to the club, but he has warning signs. I feel like there are enough of those signs to probably pass on the investment. I don’t think he hits over .280 next year. And like you said we have no idea how much playing time he will get or if it will be enough to allow him to accumulate enough other stats… Read more »
MH
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MH
Thanks for the kind words Ben! Just curious—why don’t you think he hits over .280?  I’m not saying I would project him higher than that (that’s about where I have him), but it seems all it would take is a BABIP swing in the other direction to get him well over that mark, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of reason to think that couldn’t happen.  I honestly think he has the best chance of the group of guys past Santana and Napoli of being the #1 catcher this year and go something crazy like .300-90-100-30.  Mauer… Read more »
Snarf
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Snarf

MH,
What has Schierholtz done to prove that he deserves more playing time than Huff or Belt?  Belt should play everyday at 1b or OF.

I see Posey has undervalued. Melky and Pagan can get on base.  Sandoval showed last year that he’s more of the 2009 guy than the 2010 guy.  I can see a 75/18/90 season from Posey with a .285 average to go along w/it. 

He better pull those numbers off…he’s my $23 keeper.

MH
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MH
@Snarf Its not that I think Schierholtz is any great shakes, but my understanding is Bochy LOVES him and is pretty committed to playing him every day, and the word is that Belt and Huff will compete for first base (which I assume means if Belt wins the job Huff is a bench player filling in once or twice a week at 1B or LF).  I don’t think your numbers for Posey are that far off, but I think you’re aiming a bit high on the counting numbers, partiuclarly the RBI.  He’d pretty much have to play in about 130… Read more »
Snarf
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Snarf

MH

The league is deep (15 teams), single catcher format.  We take into account the 5×5 along w/XBH and OPS. Hitting is more heavily weighed than pitching (7 categories vs 6 categories).  The modifier is only $2 per year ($23 for 2012, $25 for 2013).  At $23 for this season that’s certainly not that much “value” but keeping a C w/500 PA potential is something.

Posey had 600+ ABs in 2009 and 2010.  2011’s freak injury is not enough to say that he’s injury plagued.  He’s also going to play some 1B, so that’ll up his PA too.

Ben Pritchett
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Ben Pritchett
When you break down the settings, I think I agree with you Snarf. With that many cats, Posey could really produce. What’s the worst case scenario. He won’t hit a lot of home runs. Well in your league it awards you on XBH then I think it really limits the risk for Posey. He’s going to hit for AVG and get plenty of plate appearances assuming he’s fully healed which is the real question mark. Furthermore, the Giants came out this week and suggested that Posey will get AT LEAST a day at 1B a week to keep his bat… Read more »
MH
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MH
Yeah I think I’d agree, in that format its probably worth it to take him at $23.  Though he’s actually never had 600 ABs (if you meant PAs, apologies for the semantic nit-pick).  I also don’t mean to imply he’s injury prone, but he did suffer a very serious leg injury that required major surgery and rehab, and catcher is incredibly demanding physically, particularly on the legs.  I’d be a pretty conservative on the playing time expectation (I read the story about him playing first base once a week, but the Bochy is a fickle beast, and things could change… Read more »
DR
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DR

Good Article. But I found one issue, Napoli is 30 not 32.

Ben Pritchett
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Ben Pritchett

You are right DR! I don’t know how I made that mistake. I knew he was 30. Thanks for the catch.

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