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May 31, 2017

Updating the Tiers

Catcher

by Mark Barry


Welcome to Baseball Prospectus in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did before Opening Day, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.

If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.

The rankings above assume a 15-team, standard 5x5 Roto scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.

Here's the list of preseason catchers.

Here's the schedule:

Wednesday: Catcher, First Base, Second Base

Thursday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield

Friday: Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher

Five Star

Buster Posey

Much was made about Posey slowing down heading into this season. Yeah, about that... The 30-year-old is slashing .340/.439/.524 with seven homers in the season’s early months. At this point, it’s all about keeping the perennial MVP candidate on the field, which makes his aversion to join in on extracurricular activities of masculinity even more sage.

Four Star

Gary Sanchez

Jonathan Lucroy

Yasmani Grandal

Salvador Perez

It’s amazing when a catcher hits .264 with an OPS approaching .800, and he is considered a disappointment. Yet here we are with Sanchez. Most of the power outage can be traced to a bicep injury and subsequent DL stint, but it also can be attributed to an unsustainable 40 percent HR/FB rate from a season ago. As his injury continues to heal, I would expect the power numbers to surge in correlation for the Yankee backstop.

Lucroy’s season has been, in a word, strange. He is walking less than ever before, but also he’s striking out at an unfathomable 6.5 percent clip, which is, well, unfathomable. A frosty March and April has given way to a warmer May, and it would appear that the slugging catcher is back on track. The home run totals from 2016 are not likely to return, but Lucroy should at least be a batting average asset moving forward.

Perez hits dingers and does little else, although he has increased his walk rate to a Votto-ian (just kidding) 4.2 percent. With Perez, you’re getting lots of innings and a decent number of homers, but also a dead spot in OBP leagues.

Four-Star Trade Target: Yasmani Grandal

Grandal always has been capable of power and patience. This year the Dodgers’ framing wizard has decided to become more aggressive, especially on pitches in the zone. The result has been a massive line of .291/.358/.486, solidifying Grandal as one of the premier options behind the dish. Even if the average is buoyed a bit by a .349 BABIP, the approach changes indicate that Grandal has the chops to be an asset in the batting-average category.

Three Star

Willson Contreras

J.T. Realmuto

Evan Gattis

Russell Martin

It’s been said before, but baseball is all about adjustments. After a solid rookie campaign, pitchers have adjusted to Contreras. He is striking out more than ever, and his swinging-strike rate is over five percentage points higher than league average. He’s still among the leaders at the position in runs and RBIs, thanks to a deep Cubs lineup, but he will need to make an adjustment of his own to remain a top option behind the plate.

In his age-26 season, Realmuto has become an incrementally better player across the board. He’s walking more, striking out less, and hitting for more power. He’s even escaped the dreaded “red ink” defensively, according to FRAA (which doesn’t mean as much for our purposes, but still). The only problem is that Realmuto’s previous claim to fame was that he was one of the few catchers who would run. This season he has swiped only one bag, or two less than noted speed demon Yadier Molina.

Martin’s start to 2017 only fueled the whispers (that grew deafening last season in the playoffs) that his offensive usefulness could be dwindling. He has since rebounded by hitting .268 in May while drawing walks at an elite level. He uncharacteristically is hitting a Hosmer-ian level of grounders this year, which has led to a slow start power-wise, but with the Blue Jays lineup starting to get healthy, Martin could be a good source for counting stats as the year progresses.

Three-Star Trade Target: Evan Gattis

In the age of sacrificing contact for power, Gattis is taking the opposite track, surprisingly enough. This season he has made contact on 80 percent of swings, a number above league average, and up five percentage points from his total last season. He also is striking out only 15.7 percent of the time, a career low. While he is making strides offensively, none have come in the power department. Gattis is hitting more fly balls than ever, but his 6.5 percent HR/FB rate has really put a dent into his homer totals. If that number trends closer to the 17.7 percent he has produced for his career, Gattis could be a sneaky good play despite his current status as the team’s backup.

Two Star

Brian McCann

Welington Castillo

Yadier Molina

Jett Bandy

Matt Wieters

Alex Avila

Austin Hedges

McCann has transitioned to the American League West quite nicely, bringing just the right amount of fun (but seriously not a drop more, or else I swear...) to a loaded Astros lineup. He has been thriving with an excellent approach at the plate, producing more walks (14.8 percent) than strikeouts (12.6 percent) in his first 135 plate appearances, and his best TAv since his days in Atlanta. At first glance, you might think his .250 BABIP could indicate that a bump in batting average could be on the horizon, but McCann’s footspeed, which rivals only, let’s say, a sea turtle, probably makes that tough to rely on for the future.

Apparently, there’s something with switching backstops that sparks a resurgence. In addition to McCann, Castillo, Bandy, Wieters, and Avila all have enjoyed success with their new teams (or in Avila’s case his new old team or old new team—you pick). Castillo missed time earlier this month with a shoulder injury, but has otherwise been good, ripping the ball to the tune of .319/.342/.522 and a 120 wRC+ (good for fourth best among catchers). Everyone’s favorite Bond villain, Jett Bandy, wrestled away the starting job in Milwaukee and has slugged .530 in his first 110 plate appearances. His .284 TAv in a Brewers’ lineup that is suddenly all sorts of fun should help with the counting stats as well.

Hedges is hitting .201/.257/.390 thus far in 2017, and somehow that is markedly better than his previous career numbers. His eight homers rank second for all catchers behind only Sal Perez. He is one of the best defensive catchers in the league, according to FRAA, so he’s going to play, and play a lot.

Two-Star Trade Target: Alex Avila

I’m not sure how we got here, but Avila is kind of, sort of, good? After being injured, bad, or some combination of both for the last five seasons, Avila has gone scorched-earth on the American League to the point where he’s playing first base for the Tigers to keep his bat in the lineup. The 30-year-old righty is hitting .323/.447/.591 in 114 plate appearances and is drawing walks 18.4 percent of the time. That’s, um, good. Now for the cold water. Avila wouldn’t be considered your classic speedster, but somehow has a .453 BABIP. Using the powers of analysis, I would suggest that that number will trend downward. Even if his batting average settles in around the .270 range, he should remain very useful, especially in deeper leagues.

One Star

Travis d’Arnaud

Devon Mesoraco

Stephen Vogt

Tyler Flowers

Yan Gomes

Manny Piña

Cameron Rupp

Martin Maldonado

Francisco Cervelli

James McCann

Jason Castro

Sandy Leon

Derek Norris

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Travis d’Arnaud could be pretty good if he could stay on the field. Injuries again have held the 28-year-old to less than a full load, but he is still producing power and strong plate discipline. His .200 batting average should tick up thanks to a hilariously low .204 BABIP, despite above-average exit velocity numbers.

Mesoraco is on the field (sometimes), and for that we rejoice. Flowers has been good for the Braves, hitting .353/.459/.441 in addition to providing excellent value as a framer. If his HR/FB numbers creep up to previous career marks, he could be an interesting option. Gomes nearly tripled his walk rate from a season ago and has hit .304/.396/.519 since mid-April.

Piña has been serviceable as a backup for the Brew Crew, hitting .301 in 100 plate appearances. Volume of playing time could be the biggest hurdle between Piña and his ability to make an impact on the fantasy landscape. Rupp has been great at drawing walks, but unspectacular everywhere else. He’ll need to recapture some of the power he showed last summer to hold off the likes of Jorge Alfaro in Triple A. The Tigers version of McCann has slugged seven dingers this season, but has seen the erosion of his other skills, most notably the defense.

Somehow Castro hit .276/.350/.485 in 2013, but hasn’t slugged over .377 since. The Twins signed him for his receiving, however, and Castro remains solidly in the top-10 according to BP’s framing metric. This means playing time and that should mean counting stats. So, I guess it turns out Leon is not Carlton Fisk reincarnated (yes, I know Fisk is still around). Norris has filled the Rays’ black hole behind the plate with a slightly less black hole behind the plate. He is swinging at more pitches (especially outside the zone) than any time in his career. He is striking out less, however, and could see an increase in batting average and potentially home runs if his BABIP and HR/FB rates return to career norms.

One-Star Trade Target: Francisco Cervelli

As you’ve likely noticed, it’s hard to find value at catcher. If you are looking for homers, Cervelli won’t be your guy. If you are looking for steals, well, if you’re looking for steals at catcher, I don’t know what to tell you. One area where Cervelli has excelled relatively this season has been with counting stats. He has combined for 39 runs/RBIs, tied for second most among all catchers. After a brutal start, he rebounded to hit .313/.405/.418 in May. Add an improved batting average with an 11.3 percent walk rate for his Pirates career, and Cervelli should have plenty of opportunities to score runs this season. He just won’t hit homers. Or steal bases.

>

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<< Previous Article
Rubbing Mud: Clayton K... (05/30)
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Fantasy Article Updating the Tiers: Fi... (05/31)
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