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February 23, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Catchers

by Marc Normandin

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To complete our run through the infield rankings, this week we'll take a look at catchers. The top ten backstops make up a solid list of players ranging from some of the most productive in the game to guys worth two wins with the bat, while numbers 11 through 20 focus more on some solid players who aren't expected to log as many plate appearances. Things aren't as bad as they are at the middle infield positions though, and you should still be able to find worthwhile catchers floating around at the end of your draft.

In order to make these rankings, I used the 2009 weighted-mean PECOTA projections as a base, and tweaked the results as I saw fit. This isn't a descending list of projected 2009 VORP by any means. Make sure you check out the players' 75th- and 25th-percentile forecasts on their PECOTA cards, as those may help you to make decisions between players you might be debating over.

Since this keeps coming up in the comments, I want to say here that I am ranking the players at their primary position; if you don't see a player here, it's because he's either not good enough or because he's been ranked at a different position. This allows me to cover more players for those of you in deeper leagues.


Rank Name             Team       PA  R  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
 1.  Brian McCann     Braves    564  77 23  94  4  .299/.371/.511  0.97
 2.  Joe Mauer        Twins     612  88 12  68  6  .307/.388/.436  0.85
 3.  Geovany Soto     Cubs      551  76 25  85  1  .288/.370/.519  0.94
 4.  Chris Iannetta   Rockies   421  62 16  59  1  .295/.392/.499  0.96
 5.  Russell Martin   Dodgers   579  86 12  64 14  .293/.382/.434  0.95
 6.  Matt Wieters     Orioles   649 105 31 102  4  .311/.395/.544  1.00
 7.  Ryan Doumit      Pirates   426  53 13  56  3  .281/.344/.453  0.97
 8.  Pablo Sandoval   Giants    565  64 15  74  3  .289/.329/.454  1.04
 9.  Mike Napoli      Angels    332  45 18  51  5  .240/.344/.482  0.92
10.  Jeff Clement     Mariners  426  50 16  58  0  .258/.341/.449  0.86

Ranking McCann, Mauer, and Soto is a problem. McCann is in the middle of a quality lineup and is a great player capable of hitting for average and power with plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. Mauer is more batting average-oriented, but has more pop than most catchers and a boosted slugging mark thanks to that average, and though he stole just one base last year he's usually good for a handful of steals. Soto is one of the most important hitters in the Cubs' lineup, and though I wouldn't rely on him for batting average the same way that I would with the other two, he's got plenty of power to make him worthwhile. Rather than thinking of these players as being ranked numbers one through three, think of it more like #1, #1A, and #1B; they really are that close in value.

Chris Iannetta was finally given an extended shot at catching for the Rockies, and it paid off big time, as he hit .264/.390/.505. PECOTA thinks he'll raise the batting average this year without gaining any additional slugging; the boost in average makes sense given that he'll have his home park of Coors Field working in his favor, but the drop in ISO seems strange to me. I have enough faith in him repeating his power performance that I've put Russell Martin and his well-rounded line and speed a notch below Ianetta in the rankings.

Catcher is perhaps one of the most fascinating positions out there this year thanks to PECOTA's love affair with Matt Wieters. When I first saw Wieters' weighted-mean, I assumed it was the product of some otherworldly expectations from his 75th and 90th percentiles, and that things would be balanced by his lower forecasts. We can see now that this is not the case-Wieters is expected to hit .291/.370/.492 for his 25th-percentile forecast and .280/.355/.461 for his 10th. I'm much more comfortable with those lower lines than I am with his weighted mean and above, as that just seems to be asking far too much of a 23-year-old who's yet to have a taste of major league pitching. I'm not saying that he can't get to that point eventually-maybe even next year, who knows-but I need to see something at the major league level before I can anoint him the new King of the Backstops. While it is possible that he'll fulfill his potential out of the gate, it's also possible that he might tank. Wieters will more than likely be an incredible major league player, but show some patience, because that time may not be right now.

Ryan Doumit made plenty of owners who had struck out at draft time last year very happy by putting together a strong and somewhat unexpected season. Though 2007 was a solid year, not everyone believed that he was capable of repeating or improving upon it. PECOTA thinks he's capable of value, but not the same level of power that he's displayed for the past two years.

Pablo Sandoval is going to be available at more than just catcher, but given the strong fields at both first and third base, I felt that behind the plate was where he would have the most value on draft day. If he doesn't qualify in your league because he fell short of the necessary starts or games played, he's still more than capable at either corner. My lone worry is with his lack of patience at the plate; Sandoval will swing at anything and everything thrown his way. In fact, he swung at over half of the pitches thrown to him outside of the strike zone last year, but he did made contact with nearly 80 percent of those, so it's hard to argue with the results. He's a veritable contact machine, and one who may continue to pull it off despite the patience issues.

Napoli is not going to help you in the batting-average department, but even with just 332 projected plate appearances he's got more power than most of the catchers on this list. PECOTA is very sure about its Jeff Clement projection, and I think both Mariners fans and fantasy owners will take that exact line from him and enjoy it. The batting average is a bit low, but an ISO of nearly .200 with plenty of patience has its uses.


Rank Name             Team       PA   R HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
11.  Chris Snyder     D'backs   372  44 13  48  0  .254/.355/.451  1.04
12.  Miguel Montero   D'backs   281  34 11  40  0  .269/.351/.468  1.07
13.  Jorge Posada     Yankees   257  28  7  33  1  .249/.336/.406  1.13
14.  Victor Martinez  Indians   433  45 10  52  0  .272/.342/.408  0.78
15.  Jesus Flores     Nats      314  32 11  41  1  .252/.316/.432  0.94
16.  Bengie Molina    Giants    389  35 10  53  0  .276/.312/.416  0.79
17.  Dioner Navarro   Rays      381  38  7  43  2  .259/.326/.382  0.90
18.  Ramon Hernandez  Reds      365  37  9  45  0  .259/.318/.396  0.97
19.  Kurt Suzuki      A's       415  43  8  46  2  .263/.335/.386  0.99
20.  John Baker       Marlins   276  31  5  27  2  .248/.330/.377  1.15

Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero split time behind the plate the last two years, so this is an odd ranking for both of them. If Montero was guaranteed full-time play, he would be higher on the list, but since that's not the case he slots in behind Snyder. Although they won't rack up as many counting stats, for leagues where rate stats matter they're both useful players that should still be on the board late due to the playing-time split.

Jorge Posada was terrible (for Posada) last year over 195 plate appearances, but he was also playing with a bum right shoulder until he shut it down for surgery in July. PECOTA sees this situation as a 37-year-old catcher whose age is finally catching up to him, and it expects him to do about the same as last year. I'm more optimistic than this weighted-mean forecast-his 75th-percentile forecast (.267/.352/.441) is of far more interest-but I'm a bit worried that at his age, his shoulder surgery could cost him some production. I'll admit to being conservative here (but only because there are so many other quality options available at the position), so if you aren't worried about his shoulder as much as I am, feel free to bump him up.

Victor Martinez is expected to rebound, but PECOTA doesn't love him the way it used to. His 90th-percentile projection looks like the Martinez of old, and his 75th makes him appear to be as good or better of an option than the eighth- or ninth-ranked catchers, but that weighted-mean forecast is disappointing. He dealt with several minor injuries last year and then underwent elbow surgery, so a fresh start may be just what he needs to put himself back together and bounce that terrible HR/FB rate back up-after seasons of 13.4, 9.3, and 13.2 percent, he was at a Juan Pierre-like 2.5 percent in 2008. I'm confident that he can match or exceed that 75th percentile of .290/.361/.446, and if you gave me enough time to think it over, I might even move him up higher on the list.

Jesus Flores ended up catching all the time when Paul Lo Duca failed to remain healthy or useful, and he made a few small steps in the right direction offensively. He has a huge range of outcomes, with PECOTA either thinking he's capable of turning into an average offensive catcher, an awful hitter, or one of the better ones in the league, so 2009 should be crucial for the 24-year-old as far as our finding out which, but I don't think his .264/.329/.463 75th percentile is outside the realm of possibility. Bengie Molina's list of outcomes isn't quite as wide; PECOTA is quite confident that, to borrow a Denny Green-ism, he is who we think he is with a Beta of 0.79. I think he can hit for more power, and his ranking reflects that.

I'm not sure why PECOTA dislikes Navarro so much-his 2008 numbers check out; he's a line-drive hitter who posted an innocuous looking BABIP, and he doesn't strike out very often. Somewhere between his 75th- and 90th-percentile forecast lies his true value-say .280/.350/.410 or thereabouts. That has value in AL-only leagues, and because his batting average should be around the .280 mark (unless you're convinced by his weighted mean forecast) he's not going to hurt you much in deeper leagues.

Ramon Hernandez has lost much of his value over the years, but a move to hitter-friendly Cincinnati and the weaker National League should bump his stock back up. His listed projection is for the Orioles, so add that value in at draft time. One warning though: Hernandez' road numbers the past few years have been terrible (.238/.305/.370), so if you draft him you're betting on the National League's hitter's parks and poorer competition making up for his decline. Unless you're in an NL-only league, you want to avoid him.

If only Kurt Suzuki could combine his 2007 ISO with his 2008 batting average; then we'd have ourselves an intriguing backstop to talk about for fantasy purposes. That won't happen if he keeps hitting more grounders than fly balls though, so for now his projection seems accurate enough. He's worth taking a shot on in AL-only leagues in the event that he can increase his power and average, but otherwise he's what you'd expect as the 19th-ranked catcher.

John Baker hit .299/.392/.447 last year after hitting well in the minor leagues the past few seasons. His defense had been keeping him out of the majors, but the Marlins gave him a shot at the starting job down the stretch season, with happy results. I don't think he'll maintain last year's pace over a full season, but his 75th percentile (.266/.352/.416) seems like a good starting point; he's worth a look in NL-only leagues. If it turns out that he can maintain a high percentage of line drives, Baker could become a valuable offensive catcher, but right now we just don't have enough of a sample size to work with.

As for the "Just Missed" catchers, we have an interesting crew to consider. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is not well liked by PECOTA, and given his struggles in 2008, I can't come to his defense just yet. If he starts to pick it up though, he's worth your attention given his prospect pedigree. If he doesn't, it's possible that Taylor Teagarden starts to get a look behind the plate; keep an eye out for the possibility of that positional battle. If Victor Martinez can't cut it behind the plate anymore or Ryan Garko moves to the outfield as the Indians have discussed, that opens up a full-time slot for Kelly Shoppach. He was a bit over his head last year, but even with a reduced line he's got plenty of value for a catcher. Lastly, we have Ramon Castro, who should once again only pick up around a third of the plate appearances and still out-produce the Mets' starter by miles.

Related Content:  Patience,  A's,  The Who,  Power Rankings

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<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Team Health Reports: D... (02/23)
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