Draft This, Not That: Catchers

We start off this year’s “Draft This – Not That” series with fantasy baseball’s set it and forget it position. The more literal you take that opening line the more likely you are to be content with a 7th place finish in your league. Read enough fantasy advice and you will not be the guy selecting Buster Posey in round two or three. Kyle Schwarber is going to take the draft season by storm with his popularity given that he isn’t likely to find himself gearing up too frequently, but will hold catcher eligibility for the 2016 season. After that you have the reliable Salvador Perez, a power booster in Brian McCann, and Jonathan Lucroy who should get back to good health and production in 2016. Where things fall after the top four are off the board is anyone’s guess so let’s try and find some value.

Draft This Not That

Draft Blake Swihart – Not Salvador Perez

I am getting bold from the jump on this one. Salvador Perez is the ideal real baseball catcher. He gears up nightly, calls a great game, leads his team, ices the knees and repeats game after game. After two deep post-season runs Perez has also caught more games than anyone else the past two seasons. He will be just 26 in May and I am sure he can handle more of the same making him an ideal catcher for his team. He’s the new Yadier Molina.

That said, his second half of 2015 left reason for concern. More often than not a catcher will see his numbers drop off in the second half of a healthy season. Most of the concern is wrapped up in the power drop off from Perez who hit 15 first half dingers and just 6 in the second half. Given his age I am sure Salvador Perez will make for a fine catcher once again this coming season. If he goes inside of the top 100-120 overall he just won’t find his name on my fantasy roster, but Blake Swihart will.

A young catcher tends to need a little time to acclimate to a new level of professional baseball. Perhaps more so than any other fantasy position. There is simply too much responsibility to a team’s pitching staff for most backstops to get off to a hot start offensively. The switch hitting Swihart can attest to this assertion after posting a slap hitter worthy .602 OPS through his 141 first half plate appearances. The 168 second half plate appearances on the other hand saw Swihart go bonkers with an .805 OPS. He accomplished the second half turnaround by hitting more line drives and using the whole park. The LD% went from 25.8% in the first half to 27.4% in the second half. He was quite pull happy in the first half with a 45.9 Pull%. He cut the Pull% down to 33.9% in the second half and started spraying the ball more frequently to center and the opposite field.

The power may not match whatever output Salvador Perez posts in 2016, but something in the neighborhood of 10-12 homers seems reasonable to project. What Swihart falls short of in home runs by comparison to Perez, he can close the gap on with a handful of extra stolen bases. Perez has stolen just one base in each of the past two seasons. Swihart managed to swipe four bases in 224 less plate appearances than Perez posted in 2015. Swihart also offers slightly more batting average upside than Perez. Because Perez is more likely to have a higher amount of plate appearances in 2016, it is likely his run and RBI totals will eclipse Swihart’s marks in those categories. One note of caution on Swihart is that he could battle Christian Vazquez for a time depending on how well he has healed from Tommy John surgery.  Vazquez is considered to be the superior defensive catcher, but Swihart has some ability to play other positions around the diamond that could keep him on the field even if he was to lose time behind the plate.

For 2016 I project the following stat lines for Perez and Swihart:

Salvador Perez: .265/55/18/70/1
Blake Swihart: .275/50/11/50/7

If these projections become reality, you have to weigh the expected draft day cost of each of these two backstops. In my first NFBC slow draft of the season (started Nov. 27th), Swihart went 110 picks after Perez.

Draft Yan Gomes – Not Brian McCann

Yan Gomes is getting knocked down a peg or two for a poor first half of 2015 that immediately followed a nasty looking sprain to his MCL. I’m willing to write off his first half struggles as a re-acclimation period for Gomes and will instead focus on his second half performance. That second half saw Gomes post a .241/26/9/35/0 line in just 202 plate appearances. I believe you can safely double that total for 2016 and have a shot at a .241/52/18/70/0 line.

McCann on the other hand went in the exact opposite direction as the season progressed. He only managed a second half line of .200/32/12/39/0 in 275 plate appearances. To be fair, the .200 average McCann had in 2015’s second half was largely due to a .191 BABIP that is quite a bit lower than you should expect moving forward.

Both Gomes and McCann are likely slated to hit fifth or sixth in their respective lineups. I feel strongly that the run and RBI totals should be comparable for each player with McCann possibly putting up a small number of extra homers as he gets to launch balls into Yankee Stadium’s right field seats during home games. For 2016 I could see the following numbers for each player:

Brian McCann: .235/60/23/75/0
Yan Gomes: .245/60/20/75/0

With these projections there’s no reason to get in on McCann some 70 to 80 overall picks earlier than Yan Gomes will go off the board as has been shown in early NFBC drafts. I personally will be playing the waiting game, happy to lock up Yan Gomes as my first catcher in two-catcher leagues at around 175-190 overall.

Draft This / Not That Series
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Ron Vackar
Though Ron is a Dodgers fan, he is more likely to be found at Angel Stadium or Petco Park during the regular season. The Dodgers play 9-10 games a year in San Diego so Petco is basically Dodgers Stadium south. By day he is a high school teacher as well as a golf coach and previously coached baseball. When not working, he can be found at home with his beautiful wife and dog Brooklyn.
Ron Vackar

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