Devil’s Advocate: Catchers

I’m sure you have read this somewhere along the way; don’t waste an early draft pick on a catcher. It is a sentiment shared by many people in the fantasy community, including yours truly. In theory this is true, there are a number of worthy catchers that can be had in the mid to late rounds and that earlier pick can be used on something of more value.

In playing devil’s advocate, today I am going to make a case for doing just the opposite. I’m going to argue for taking an elite starting catcher early. I know this goes against everything you’ve been told over the years, but it’s time to unbrainwash the masses and start thinking outside the box to maybe get a competitive edge over your opponents. Let’s break down the main reasons to reach or use an early round pick for an elite catcher and myths for not doing so.

You’re wasting a pick by selecting a catcher early

This is a myth. In 2014 Buster Posey was a 4th round draft pick (on average), going off the board in the same round as players like Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Jay Bruce, Jean Segura, Jose Reyes Matt Carpenter and Shin-Soo Choo. Part of my case has been made for me right here. While there are some solid players in this group, not everyone in this group is a guarantee. Your early picks should not be risky ones; those come later in the draft. Your early picks should come with some kind of guarantee on what you will receive for your investment.

Jean Segura was drafted early on the hopes that he would repeat and improve, but that did not happen. Matt Carpenter was hyped for his career year which he led the league in runs scored even though we all knew he would not repeat those numbers. Jay Bruce is a 30 home run hitter, but there is not much difference between him and someone like Mark Trumbo who could have been gotten three or four rounds later. The earlier rounds are filled with the same kind of reaches. Bryce Harper and Jason Kipnis went off the board in the second and third round respectively, and the reason was, they Should improve. When reading through player reports, if you see the words they should improve, substitute the word might because there is no guarantee.

When you look at the players being selected around Posey, you have to wonder why he isn’t worth it. Unlike Segura and Kipnis, you know what you’re going to get. Bruce and Choo should deliver solid fantasy numbers, but you can get similar numbers in the next few rounds. See what I did there, that is the same arguments those that tell you not to reach for catchers use, value can be found later at this position.

Once Posey is gone, the same argument can be made for selecting someone like Jonathan Lucroy or even Carlos Santana (if he qualifies in your league).

Consistency

Solid run production is not something commonly associated with catchers due to their spot in the lineup and or diminished at bats due to days off. In 2014 Buster Posey came in second for runs scored by catchers being bested only by Jonathan Lucroy. Coming in third on the list was Carlos Santana with 68. Yan Gomes was the only other catcher to surpass the 60 runs plateau with most scoring in the 40 range and just a few with 50. In 2013 it was Santana holding the top spot for runs with 75. Posey and Lucroy only managed to place 7th and 8th on the list with 61 and 59 runs respectively, but they were still in the top 10. These three men along with Joe Mauer were the only 4 catchers to finish in the top 10 for runs scored for the past two seasons.

It is the same story when it comes to RBIs. Posey and Santana were one and two in the category; along with Devin Mesoraco, they were the only 3 to drive in 80+ runs. Lucroy was still there at #7 with 69, not a top dog but still in the top 10. In 2013 Lucroy held the top spot and was only one of two catchers to drive in 80 or more (the other being Yadier Molina). Posey and Santana ranked 6th and 7th and each had a total over 70. Now when I compare the top 10 for RBIs in 2013 and 2014, there are just 4 names that are similar. You already know 3 of them are Posey, Santana and Lucroy, the fourth is Salvador Perez.

Now with batting average you are going to lose some faith in Santana, but he will regain your faith when we cover home runs. Back to the batting average. In 2014 the top two catchers for batting average were Posey and Lucroy (using a minimum of 300 plate appearances). They were also the only two to hit above .300. Compare that to Wilin Rosario who finished in 10th place with a .267 average. Now we go to 2013 where Posey in 3rd with a .294 and Lucroy is 7th with a .280. Again Lucroy is not one of the top guys but still in the top 10 for a third category.

Comparing the two years, there were five players that finished in the top 10 both seasons. Obviously two of them are Posey and Lucroy; the other three are Yadier Molina, Yan Gomes and surprisingly Wilin Rosario. Of those three players, only Yan Gomes placed in the top 10 for runs and RBIs. As for Santana, well he put up a stinker in 2014 but managed to hit .268 in 2013. We’re not looking at him for average anyway; you draft Santana for his power which is next.

Santana was first for home runs in 2014 with 27 and Posey finished 3rd with 22. As for mister Lucroy, he ended up 11th on the list so like Santana with average, he was lacking here for 2014. 2013 was a different story as Lucroy finished in 8th, three spots behind Santana who had another 20 home runs season. This year it was Mister Posey finishing in 11th showing the one weakness in his game. Yan Gomes was down at number 20, but that’s not surprising considering everyone had 100 or more plate appearance than him.

The two-year comparison shows that Santana is a reliable source of power. Other than Santana, Evan Gattis and Jason Castro are the only two players to appear in the top 10 for both seasons. Posey and Lucroy each missed the mark in one of the past two seasons, but they showed enough power in one season and consistency in the other to rank them ahead a majority of the catcher options.

Now some of this you might have known, Posey and Lucroy are both highly sought after commodities. Santana may have surprised you some since his average is poor, but he is still a top 10 player in 3 categories. Yan Gomes could join their ranks, or I should say replace Santana, with another strong showing in 2015.

You can get power for a number of catchers, but not all of those power hitters will score runs. You can get a catcher to drive in runs, but he may hit for a low average. You may get high average guy, but without the supporting stats it is just an empty average. The point is, when you draft a top catcher you are guaranteed top 10 numbers in 3 categories with above average numbers in a 4th.

Peace of Mind

Now while you may get similar numbers from a later round draft pick or even a free agent selection, there is no guarantee. By taking one of the top players at this position, you alleviate the anxiety of having to fish through the waiver wire when your drafted option falls flat (a good number of them do).

Sure Devin Mesoraco could finish in the top 10 or even the top 5, but if the average falls flat you’re left with Brian McCann and a 2 category player. Russell Martin seems like a good value pick for 2015, but he was the 18th rated catcher in 2013 according to ESPN’s player rater. Wilin Rosario appears like a bounce back candidate, but if he loses at bats behind the plate you just wasted a pick. Yasmani Grandal and Travis d’Arnaud could be value picks, or they could make you regret ever adding them to your draft queue. Wilson Ramos could be considered a sleeper, but you just can’t trust him to stay healthy.

Taking Posey with a fourth round pick isn’t crazy and being the first to jump on Lucroy, Santana or even Gomes is not stupid. Other than an injury; something that can happen at any position, taking a catcher early and beating the rush to get a top guy is a smart strategic move. Many laugh at this notion, and odds are they are the same people who ridicule owners who take an elite closer early (something I will cover at a later date). Let them laugh. Let them make their snarky comments and brag that they got Yasmani Grandal with one of their last picks. When you see them scrambling to the waiver wire to find a replacement for their failed pick, you can sit back and quietly chuckle to yourself.

And, when you see that hot catcher on waivers, grab him. Sure you don’t need him, but a few of the guys who laughed at you earlier just might. If they want him, make them trade for him. You might not get much, but you will more than likely get offered something better than you could have found on waivers.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.

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