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Traditionally, the backstop has been a bitter bane of the fantasy owner’s existence. Owners either spent mega-dollars on one of the heavy hitters at the position or contented themselves to spend the season with a Kurt-Suzuki–sized hole in their lineups. The mayhem came to a crescendo a few years back when Joe Mauer’s ADP crept into the 1st round. However, over the last year or so the position has filled out nicely and depth seems to be the name of the game. Indeed, I’ll likely be waiting on catcher in most of my drafts this year. That is not to say that the position is filled with superstars. On the contrary, many of the players you will see me espousing (and drafting) have aspects of their game that are rather ugly, but no matter how long you wait in the draft, your odds of drafting someone that can help your team remain high.  (Grey also goes over his top 20 catchers for 2012 fantasy baseball there.)

The blue chips at the position are all still near the top, but the position has seen a bit of a changing of the guard. New faces sit atop the position, with Carlos Santana (of Maria Maria fame) first in ADP, and Mike Napoli coming in a close second. I love Santana all things being equal, but I’m hesitating from him at that price tag. Same goes for Napoli, who was stunning in a full season of action finally free of Anaheim tyranny. If pinned up against the wall into drafting a top 5 catcher, I’d much rather the 3-4-5 class that consists of McCann, Mauer and Posey given their value. Alex Avila, Miguel Montero and Matt Wieters round out the crop of catchers that go in the top 10 rounds of standard drafts.

But I digress — the purpose of this piece is to elucidate the depth at the catcher position this year. So let’s take a long look at the situation you would find yourself in if you had waited to draft a catcher until after round 10 of our theoretical standard league. Before we get into some nitty gritty, let’s play a bit a numbers game based on 2012 projections (courtesy of Bill James and Fangraphs):

Player 1- .231 54-24-73-1
Player 2- .274 60-17-73-1
Player 3- .252 51-19-67-0
Player 4- .281 66-21-76-1

Two of these players have ADPs in the top 10 rounds and two have ADPs in our late round bargain bin. You can probably guess that the higher averages belong to the higher tiered players.  Player 1 = JP Arrencibia, Player 2 = Miguel Montero, Player 3 = Geovany Soto, Player 4 = Matt Wieters, but the other counting stats look pretty close to me. And since batting average is the highest variance statistic used in fantasy baseball, basing a strategy of drafting a top tiered catcher based on 20 points of average seems foolish. This trend is further recapitulated by a variety of late rounders with 15-20 HR power and/or other useful skills (Russel Martin, for example — how his ADP is in the 200s is beyond me).

But you may say, “Sure, those projections look similar, but what about upside? Matt Wieters has a lot more upside than Geovany Soto!” and that is obviously a fair point. However, true “breakouts” at catcher are rare, at least breakouts such that they can win you a league. I’d much rather use my 7th round pick on that upside outfielder who may go 30-30 than blow it on a catcher who may hit 30 HRs if the stars align just right, especially if I can get a nice floor of production later on.

For those of you that love deep sleepers or are just among the unlucky few of us forced to play in a 2 catcher league, there are numerous names at the end of your draft that could pay huge dividends as well. Devin Mesoraco, Wilin Rosario and Yasmani Grandal are names to keep an eye on, as is Jesus Montero (if he is eligible in your league). These guys are top prospects who are at various degrees of proximity to breaking into the big leagues. While it is unlikely that any of them make a huge impact in 2012 (especially early on), they still have sizeable upside to couple with one of the solid but unspectacular names above.

The purpose of this piece was not to espouse a certain name at the catcher position that was a must-have value. I hoped to put forth a methodology for approaching one of the games trickier positions. I am not saying that one should ignore the top tiers of catchers; on the contrary, situations may in fact arise where the value of one of those names becomes too great to pass up. However, catcher is also one of those positions that lends itself well to the “Oh crap, I don’t have a catcher — time to reach!” mistake picks.  If you can land a top 5 catcher at a discount, mazel tov! Hopefully after reading this, you won’t panic after failing to land one of those names, and instead remain patient to pluck the useful value player late in your draft.

14 Responses

  1. GT says:
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    If Bill James thinks Soto is hitting above .250 this year then he is the nuts. After years of punting Catchers until the late rounds (NL only league), I’ve finally wised up to the canyon-sized hole in your lineup that exists when you trot out John Buck every week. Great free agent adds can be found at every position throughout the season – except catcher. Seriously, when was the last time someone surprised at this position? It’s all hype guys (Wieters, Soto once), steady nobodys (Lucroy, Thole) and re-treads. When you’re going up against Nick Hundley it feels really good to have McCann in there.

  2. SwaggerJackers says:
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    Ramos, Perez and Meso….whoever is left when the dust settles will be my catcher. Is it bad that I’d rather have any of those guys over Soto?

  3. Long Bawls says:
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    @GT: I’d argue Napoli surprised last season. I was able to pick him up on waivers when his owner traded for another catcher and put someone else in his DL spot; he ended up being a big reason I won. Now, you could say that the guy was an idiot for dropping him even though he was injured, but was the guy who held on to the hope of a great season out of Mauer any smarter? My point is just that, while you take a chance with the expenditure on any top-tier player, you really often don’t get what you pay for in catchers because of the roughness of the position.

    Miguel Montero, Arencibia and Martin are other guys who might have been available as FA in recent seasons and who gave you good production. I’d argue that “proven” guys command an extra-high premium for the exact reason you point out: because the position’s pretty thin. But that just makes a bird in the hand worth three or maybe four in the bush, even if the bird you have has avian flu.

  4. steve b says:
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    well last year I got Avila in the next to last or last round on 4 or 5 teams and yadier molina in the 17th or 18th.And I did much better than the guys that reached for Mauer and Posey .I’ll never take a catcher before the 15th rd at the earliest

  5. Rags says:
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    Two catcher, NL-only. Also a keeper league, where Ramos and Posey are kept. Not quite so deep for me.

  6. Tony says:
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    @steve b: @Long Bawls: i agree, the last couple years i’ve snagged up montero and avila in free agency…. and done much better than guys drafting mauer in the 1st, posey in the 4th, etc…. it all comes down to how the year unfolds, but like erik mentioned in the well-written post, i’d rather gamble on an OF’er who has upside to go 20-20 or 30-30 rather than a catcher who i’m praying goes for 25 hrs and doesn’t crush me in batting average….

    I defly dont reach on catcher, but to each his own.

    @GT: What feels so great about owning Mccann? The overvaluedness of his name? The past 3 years he’s average 21-24 HR’s and 75 ish RBI’s… and a .270 ish average. That’s very bleh for where you have to take him. Don’t get enamored with a name and position “scarcity”, so many do, it will be your downfall….

  7. Ned Shakeshaft says:
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    Yeah Rags, I got a 2 catcher AL auction and everyone is coming after my $16 Wieters.

    With no offence intended to the writers here, I still think catchers are bullcrap. Last year Grey suggested I go with one guy in the $7-$10 range and a $1 guy. I ended up with Wieters ($11) and a carousel of Rays. Worked out just fine, so I’ll probably flip Wieters and go with a similar strategy.

  8. Erik

    Erik says:
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    Hey guys, great discussion here as usual.

    @GT, I think you missed the point a bit. My whole point is that this year, if you wait on catcher, you have better options than NICK HUNDLEY waiting for you. Plus, as others have chimed in, you CAN get lucky with a top 5 catcher off waivers. I got Napoli for a song last year, someone in everyone’s league picked up Avila, etc etc etc. This year is a deep crop. I read a sporting news article tonight that called the fantasy catcher position in a state of “Renaissance,” and I agree.

    @swagger, you mentioned a few names that didn’t appear in my piece that I also like late in drafts. As I said in my post, I am not so much interested in saying the names you should target or not target, I just meant to say that you can wait and still get help at the position.

    @longbawls, here here!

    @steveB, exactly my point- in a shallower class last year people still did fine waiting on a catcher, and this year the class is much deeper.

    @rags and ned, I hear ya guys, I am in a 12 team 2 catcher NL only, where almost everyone is kept. We have McCann and David Ross for a combined 31 dollars. David Ross in 2 catcher formats is a pretty solid 2nd catcher that gets no love because of his “backup” status.

    @tony- good points, McCann hits 24 HRs, Arrencibia hits 22 HRs. The only thing separating them is average, and I said in my piece that I don’t value average very high because it is such a random stat and difficult to predict.

    Don’t get me wrong, McCann WILL hit for higher average than Arrencibia, but that doesn’t mean I am compelled enough to draft him 10 rounds higher… If I am going to draft a premium player at a position, then I had better see glaring COUNTING STAT DIFFERENCES between the top tier and the bottom tier, and this year at catcher I don’t see that. I see a big wash of guys that could all hit between 15-25 HRs… Consider the dropoff in counting stat at catcher versus, let’s say, outfield… big difference.

  9. Ned Shakeshaft says:
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    Yeah on the AL side I bet Torrealba could give you a fairly loud 300-350 AB for a small ;investment.

  10. Erik

    Erik says:
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    Yeah, he’s not a bad option in deeper formats. Whoever invented 2 catcher leagues is sadistic.

  11. Frezdc says:
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    @GT, last year I picked up Avila off of the waiver wire and won my league. Granted, we play in a mixed league, so there is a bigger player pool, and more options on waivers. But, stranger things have happened.

  12. Ronkonkoma says:
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    I have been playing FBB for 3 years now, and I have been punting catcher each year. It has worked every year so far. 2 years ago I picked up Posey when he was called up. Last year Napoli was dropped after he was injured and I scooped him up. I have been 1st place or runnerup each year. I will definitely be using the same strategy again.

  13. Erik

    Erik says:
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    Miguel Montero was originally a waiver catcher phenom, Avila same deal, there are always catchers. Sandoval had that one glitch year at catcher. There are other ways to get a good catcher position than reach on a top 5 guy. I’m glad everyone seems to be getting the point and appreciating my insights.

    Take your upside picks at other positions beside catcher, and just try to get 15-25 HRs out of your catcher spot and you’ll be fine.

  14. The Gibber says:
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    In a 13 team mixed league where we keep 12 players (final year of 5 years keeping), I was offered Carlos Santana for Hosmer. I have Adrian Gonzolez at 1st. Hosmer was my MI. Do you take the trade?

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