Don’t Wait on Catcher — Target a Top-5 Guy

In the past, I’ve been content to wait on catchers. Sometimes I’d take one early if he was a good draft value, but most of the time I’d wait and end up being one of the last teams to fill the slot. I could usually find a few guys who were sleepers in my book, and I’d gamble on them instead of overpaying for names like Posey and Lucroy.

Before last season, my top sleeper was Cameron Rupp. Another name I’d liked for years was Stephen Vogt. These catchers (and many more) bombed in 2017, whether due to injuries and/or poor skills. I decided that at this point, I was done gambling on new names to break out in big ways. It’s best to go with a top catcher, no matter the league format.

Let’s take a look at last year’s Fantasy Assembly catcher rankings, along with the players’ final results in a standard 5×5 roto league.

Player Projection Actual
Posey 1 3
Lucroy 2 25
Sanchez 3 1
Gattis 4 15
Perez 5 4
Realmuto 6 5
Contreras 7 6
Grandal 8 9
McCann 9 10
Martin 10 26
Castillo 11 8
Molina 12 2
Wieters 13 27
Murphy 14 N/A
Vogt 15 31
Ramos 16 32
d’Arnaud 17 14
Gomes 18 20
Rupp 19 30
Zunino 20 7
Norris 21 43
Cervelli 22 40
Mesoraco 23 51
Hedges 24 19
J. McCann 25 21

Of the 10 catchers who were within 3 slots of where we ranked them, 8 were in the top-11. The top of the class is rather stable, especially the higher you go. Yes, I did end up with the two stinkers in the top-10 (Lucroy, Gattis), but Gattis was due to injuries, and Lucroy’s complete collapse wasn’t projected by anyone, so I can’t beat myself up over it.

It’s true that Zunino, whom we ranked #20, greatly exceeded expectations (#7). Also, Molina, who could be had more cheaply as he ages, bettered our ranking by 10 slots. That seemingly proves in any year, there are some catchers you can gamble on who will provide a large profit.

But then again, look at how many of the catchers outside of the top-12 completely missed their rankings. You could say we hit on d’Arnaud, Gomes, James McCann, and even Austin Hedges, but that just means they were average to mediocre. At the end of the day, 8 of the bottom 13 were worse than we projected by 10+ slots. You’d have a 2 out of 13 (15%) chance to strike gold, but an 8 out of 13 (62%) chance to fail completely. Those aren’t odds I want to take when I’m looking for consistent production from a weak position.

Lessons Learned

The top five catchers in 2017 all had at bat totals above 470. The next five had an at bat range of 341-438. The #10-15 had a range of 263-348. The general correlation is strong, even though a few outliers occur. High AB and low ranks (Lucroy, Wieters, Maldonado) are more likely to happen than low AB and high ranks (Suzuki, Chirinos). The highest ranked catcher with fewer than 350 AB is Wellington Castillo, and though he ended up #8 in catchers, he was only #240 among all MLB players. Positional scarcity plays a role at catcher, and it’s clear that many low AB guys are going to be relevant here, but the top-6 catchers were ranked within the top-160 of all MLB guys. Dropping just two more slots to the #8 catcher means you’re suffering an 80-rank hit. Catchers have to be both healthy and good enough to play a lot in order to earn counting stats and climb the rankings.

It’s also evident that double-digit power is plentiful at the position. However, if you can get it from nearly any guy, it’s less of a concern. I’m looking to batting average as an important factor, and it certainly helps in the rankings. In the top-6, the lowest average is .268. Then there are a few lower averages (.251, .247, .241) at #7, #9, and #10. But #8, #11, and #12 are all above .280. Now, average isn’t as essential as at bats, because even a .280 mark in just 300 AB isn’t very impactful on your team. Also, an empty batting average with no power isn’t going to help you either (see Vazquez, Barnhart). But again, the top catchers are more likely than not to put up a higher average. When you factor in the higher at bats for the top-5, the good average helps your team even more.

A lot of leagues have shifted to single catchers, and that’s where my focus has been. However, if you do have to roster two catchers, you could argue that nearly everyone is hurting and in the same boat, with mediocre talent, so what does it matter? The problem is that in these leagues, you can’t even play the waiver wire for the hot streak names, because they’re all taken already. It’s even more important to grab a top-8 catcher because you are more likely to get consistent production, as opposed to that 62% fail rate of guys outside the top-12.

When our rankings come out Sunday, be sure to look at the top-5. Clearly solid options at the position. In the middle, there’s general agreement, though many of these names come with known risks. But then look at the bottom third of our rankings. There’s a lot of players who aren’t ranked by everyone. We can’t agree on those bottom names. And we’ll likely all be wrong, if last year is any indication. Too many part-time players, with too few counting stats, make for a lousy starting catcher on your team. I’m not willing to spin the roulette wheel on catchers outside the top-10, and whenever possible, I’m going to be spending on a top-5 guy. You should do the same.

*****

Editors Note: This will be the final article for Kevin Jebens here at Fantasy Assembly. Starting next week you can find his work on Baseball Prospectus. Best of luck Kevin, and thank you for your years of service and dedication to getting this site to where it is today. Be sure to follow Kevin on twitter @KevinJebens

 

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Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

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