Targets and Avoids: Catcher

There are two obvious truths about catchers in fantasy:

  1. Catcher is easily the weakest position in fantasy
  2. You can absolutely win your league with any catcher, or without drafting or playing one at all.

With that established, the rules for actually drafting a catcher are simple. You want either power, playing time, or both. You also definitely do not want a catcher who will bring down your overall production, so no taking Russell Martin‘s 10 jacks and dealing with his horrible overall line. Finally, you really can win without a catcher, so do not reach to get one.

This is not an article telling you that players like J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal are not assets to your team. They are. The problem is what you’re giving up when you draft them. Every time you draft a catcher early in a draft, you are missing out on a star at a more important position. If a Realmuto or Grandal falls to you past where you have them ranked, you should absolutely snatch them up.

That’s 173 words to tell you this. However, someone in every draft will reach on a catcher so the best ones won’t fall, but that doesn’t matter at all, so don’t panic and wait for one of these.

Targets:

  • Omar Narvaez

I have Omar Narvaez ranked dead in the middle of my catcher rankings. He should be higher. However, overall rankings are more about specific production and projections than general ability or fit.

Among catchers with at least 150 at-bats in 2018, Narvaez ranked 8th in fWAR and 5th in wRC+. He was good. He has now moved to the Mariners, which is a clear plus for his playing time and job status, but probably a minus for his power. He only hit 9 home runs in 2018, and moving from a relative bandbox in Chicago to the more spacious Safeco Field won’t do him any favors there.

That said, he’s not yet a big name like Realmuto or Buster Posey. There’s no production versus potential debate like Gary Sanchez or Wilson Contreras. And there’s no dream with Narvaez. He’s simply a relatively polished, productive bat in line for major playing time in a re-imagined Seattle lineup, and I’m targeting him in every league I can. No reach required.

  • Danny Jansen

If you can’t get Omar Narvaez, or if you want to wait until the very last round or even waivers to add your catcher, I think Danny Jansen is your guy. Russell Martin was awful in 2018, with a 91 wRC+, a .194 batting average, and an fWAR close to replacement level.

Martin’s also not getting any younger as he’ll open 2019 at 36 years old. Danny Jansen is a well-regarded prospect who actually outpointed Martin in fWAR 0.7 to 0.6 in only 95 at-bats last year. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but his 115 wRC+ at the major league level is actually a step back from his 145 mark at triple-A, so while he may not reach that level of production he is a fair bet to produce if he gets playing time.

Given Martin’s age and most-recent season, it’s not unreasonable to think he can take the job and run with it if he hits. He’s worth a flier with your last roster spot.

Avoids:

Avoid doesn’t mean AVOID – it’s more of a yield sign. Almost anyone can have value if they are drafted in the right place. Here, avoid just means these names are likely to cost you more than they are worth to draft or acquire, or are decent bets for regression. For catcher, I think there are 3: Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, and Salvador Perez.

There’s no real need to drag this out. All 3 of them have had great careers, all 3 have name value, and all 3 aren’t worth what it will take to draft them.

Yadier Molina, like Martin, is aging, and any year could be the year his production takes a dive. He could absolutely keep producing, but catchers in their mid-30’s do not have a strong track record. Similarly, Buster Posey still registers as Buster Posey, a rare MVP from the catcher position, but his power has been in decline for years culminating with a mere 6 home runs in 2018.

Finally, Salvador Perez is the safest bet of the lot, which means others will know that too. Perez also has a lot of miles on him from years of heavy workloads during the Royals’ recent playoff runs, and a total inability to walk which leads him to be a major drain in OBP leagues. He’s also coming off a hand injury, and power numbers for players coming back from hand or wrist injuries are a gamble at best. As with Molina and Posey, I think you’re better off looking elsewhere considering the potential cost.

 

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Seth Bias

Written by 

I'm Seth. I love baseball, especially the Braves, and rock n' roll on vinyl. Books, sandals and tacos too, though I find most of my money for those things going to vinyl these days. Once turned Prince Fielder into Justin Verlander and Paul Goldschmidt in a dynasty league. Also ashamed to say I once cut Jose Ramirez. I don't hate your favorite team unless your favorite team is the Nationals or Phillies. May or may not have cried when David Justice hit that home run in game 6 of the 95 World Series - though if you actually ask me, I'll claim I did not.

2 thoughts on “Targets and Avoids: Catcher”

    1. I can try. It’s going to be easier in h2h leagues than in roto, but it’s do-able in both. The problem with the current crop of catchers is outside of Gary Sanchez, none of them really have 30 home run upside. Outside of Realmuto, none of them run. So basicallly when you grab a catcher early, you’re grabbing a 20 home run bat when a 30 home run bat is available, or grabbing 0 steals when 10 were available. Thus you wait. And guys always fall. A pitcher, an outfielder, someone always falls. So you take the faller over your catcher, because fantasy drafts are always about upside – and the current crop of catchers lack any significant upside. So it ultimately comes down to math. If every offensive position you pick up averages 3 home runs more than a relatively high-end catcher (say 20 for catcher), you’ll eventually make up the catcher’s production in the aggregate in the power categories. Every 30 or 40 home run bat or 10 steal guy you can add at a position is a bat that you’re almost literally not going to find at catcher. Also, most catchers tend to be a drain on batting average, so while you’ll miss the at-bats and hits from a catcher, you may well find your total OPS goes up without one. Also, catchers rarely exceed the 130-140 game marks, so that naturally stunts their production more than a position where you can get 150+ games. None of this is to say you shouldn’t have a catcher. It’s certainly going to be easier if you do. It’s just saying fill every other position first, then take the best of what is still there as your catcher. You might find it’s your only weakness that way. And generally in fantasy, it’s not the team with the strongest top tier that wins, it’s the team with the fewest weaknesses.

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